Runners coughed and gagged as they limbered up. Thick smog shrouded the Tsing Ma Bridge. Pollution index readings on this morning in February 2006 were at 149, the highest in months. Any reading over 100 is considered unhealthy.
But the 40,000 runners who had signed up to participate in China's largest footrace, the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon, were ready to go, unaware of the tragedy ahead. By the end of the day, Tsang Kam-yin, a 53-year-old three-time marathoner would collapse and die about a third of the way through the event. About 20 runners would be hospitalized, many for respiratory ailments. In Internet postings following the race, runners complained about asthma attacks and hacking fits after crossing the finish line.
"Everyone who took part in the marathon was at risk of harm to their health from pollution," Anthony J. Hedley, an official with the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, wrote after the race, chiding the organizers for not taking more precautions.
Environmental experts suggest that a cleaner Chinese capital could be the legacy of the 2008 event. But they also note that China needs more than a quick-fix for its broader environmental crisis-in-the-making. They say China's problems stem from a weak legal system, corruption, poverty, two decades of double-digit industrial growth, government policies that put job growth ahead of the environment, and Communist propaganda that over-promoted man's ability to conquer nature.
The effects of pollution can be seen everywhere. Smokestack factories spew toxins and particulates into the air. Rivers teem with sewage. According to Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2006 report, acidification has spread to 30% of China's cropland. Another study, by the Atlanta-based Georgia Institute of Technology, reports that the range of ozone exposure in agricultural regions in the Yangtze River Delta is enough to reduce yields by 10%.
According to a summarizing article on Energy.FinancialNirvana:
Pollution in China is a major issue with 2008 Beijing Olympics right around the corner
technorati greenhouse, emissions, policy, global warming, environment, carbon, China, Olympics