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Beijing Olympics Air Quality: lessons from Atlanta

I was reminded today of the growing concern about air pollution during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Air quality in Beijing regularly exceeds the upper limits of safety, causing great damage to health and economic productivity. Planes can’t land. Respiratory disease is on the rise. Olympic athletes fear not being able to perform at their peaks.

In response, Beijing will freeze construction and reduce car traffic. By coincidence I happened to come across a journal article about the conscious reduction of air pollution in Atlanta during the 1996 games. Vehicular traffic during peak periods was forced to decrease 22.5 percent. As a result, ozone levels subsequently decreased by 27.9 percent and asthma attacks reduced by 40 percent. (source: M.S. Friedman et al., “Impact of changes in transportation and commuting behaviours during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta on air quality and childhood asthma,” Journal of American Medical Association 285 (2001): 897-905.)

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