By TINI TRAN
Associated Press Writer
BEIJING (AP) -- More factory closures and traffic restrictions could be in the works under an emergency plan to clean Beijing's noxious air for the Olympic Games, the government said Thursday.
The host city's polluted air has been one of the biggest worries for Olympic organizers and prompted drastic measures earlier this month that included pulling half the city's 3.3 million vehicles off the road, halting most construction and closing some factories in the capital and surrounding provinces.
But much depends on Mother Nature's cooperation. Without wind and rain to sweep away accumulated pollution, traffic and emission curbs will have a limited effect and may need to be ratcheted up.
Chinese authorities have outlined a series of contingency measures that would kick in if air quality does not improve once the games begin Aug. 8.
"If there are unfavorable weather conditions, and the air quality is forecast to not meet the standards in the following 48 hours, the command center would suggest the contingency plans be initiated," the measure stated.
The new emergency measures, drafted by China's Environmental Protection Ministry, include shutting down an additional 220 factories and further restricting vehicle usage across Beijing, along with the nearby city of Tianjin and surrounding Hebei province, according to a public notice posted Thursday on the government's Web site.
In Beijing, a total of 105 machinery, chemical and construction material factories would be shut down temporarily. In Tianjin, 80 miles to the southeast, 56 factories would be closed, while 61 factories would be shut in Hebei.
In addition, besides current restrictions banning odd and even license plates on alternate days, automobiles in Beijing whose last digit matches the last digit of the date would be banned. Tianjin and Hebei would begin implementing similar restrictions.
All construction across Beijing would also be halted.
From the start, athletes participating in the Aug. 8-24 games have raised concerns about the impact of the city's pollution on their health and performances.
Some of the 10,500 Olympic athletes began arriving in large numbers this week, while others headed to train in neighboring South Korea, Japan and elsewhere to avoid Beijing's air for as long as possible. Some Olympic delegations, including the U.S. Olympic Committee, are making protective masks available to their athletes.
Concerns were raised over air quality prior to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984 and Athens, Greece, in 2004 and in both cases favorable wind conditions alleviated the problem.
On Thursday, Beijing's air pollution index rose to 69 from a low of 44 the previous day, but remained within the national standard for acceptable air. The haze that normally cloaks the city lightened following heavy rains during the day.
A reading below 50 is considered good by Chinese authorities and between 51 and 100 is moderate. But even the moderate levels are above the World Health Organization's guidelines for healthy air.
Wednesday's reading was the lowest since July 20, when the measures first came into effect. A typhoon that hit southeastern China earlier this week brought a cooling wind and some rain that helped sweep away pollutants and provide a respite from the heat and humidity.
China's Meteorological Administration forecast rain on Friday, but said it would clear up by Saturday. Light winds were expected in the capital over the next three days.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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