Beijing still facing challenges to improve air before Olympics

By Wing-Gar Cheng

Beijing still faces challenges to improve air quality for the Olympics in August because neighboring provinces are slow in implementing policies to lower pollution, a government official said.

Neighboring provinces including Hebei and Inner Mongolia must close polluting factories and order power plants to cut emissions by the end of June to improve air quality in time for the games, Environment Protection Minister Zhou Shengxian said on the ministry's Web site yesterday.

Athletes have voiced concerns about Beijing's pollution and the International Olympic Committee has said it may postpone endurance events in the event of smog. Beijing sought the help of five neighboring provinces in an effort to cut pollution and safeguard the health of athletes during the Aug. 8-24 games.

"Improving air quality for the Beijing Olympics is still an arduous task," Zhou told a government meeting. "Implementation of some environment projects has been slow, especially since the provinces are in different stages of development."

Factories and power plants that are unable to install desulfurizing equipment in time for the Olympics may have to shut down or cut production, Zhou said.

Beijing has spent 120 billion yuan ($17 billion) on more than 200 projects to improve air quality. The five provinces are Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong.

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