Skip to content

    Asthma Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Olympics in Beijing: Air Quality Woes

    Athletes and Spectators Worry About Health Impact of Beijing's Air Pollution
    By Don Fernandez
    WebMD Health News

    July 25, 2008 -- Athletes from around the world -- representing the pinnacle of physical skill and conditioning -- will be converging in Beijing next month for the 2008 Olympic Games -- pushing the limits of their bodies and striving for international greatness.

    The air they'll be breathing, though, isn't in the same league. Athletes may be competing in thick soot and smog, dangerous ozone levels, and air quality ranked among the world's worst.

    These environmental conditions are alarming athletes, doctors, and other health advocates, who are questioning how Beijing's air quality will affect the Olympic athletes' performance -- along with the short-term health of competitors, who have been training years for this event.

    "It's like living in the middle of a construction zone," says Bob Lanier, MD, a Fort Worth-based allergy and asthma specialist who visits Beijing several times a year. "It's like any big city. I think that when athletes get off the plane they're going to be really paranoid, because it has been really bad."

    One nation has already taken a stand against the smog.

    Athletics Australia recently ignited a firestorm when it announced it was banning its track and field competitors from marching at the opening ceremony of the games due to concerns about Beijing's air quality. Instead, the team will remain in training camps in Japan and Hong Kong until their competitions.

    But are these legitimate worries or overcautious measures? Lanier, who holds an academic appointment at Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, says the city's air-quality conditions during the past few years in the city have gone from "terrible" to "not so bad." He says in terms of air quality, there are worse places to hold such an event that are closer to home.

    "If you had the choice of holding the Olympics in L.A. or Beijing, I'd probably choose Beijing," he says.

    Nonetheless, China remains notorious for polluted air. The World Bank has cited China as having 16 of the 20 most air-polluted cities on Earth. The European Space Agency, utilizing satellite imagery, has found that Beijing and its surrounding areas have the world's highest levels of nitrogen dioxide, a substance poisonous to the lungs.

    1 | 2 | 3

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    When Is Your Asthma Worse?

    Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

    Start Now

    Today on WebMD

    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    5 common triggers.
    group jogging in park
    Should you avoid fitness activities?
     
    asthma inhaler
    Learn about your options.
    man feeling faint
    What’s the difference?
     
    Madison Wisconsin Capitol
    Slideshow
    woman wearing cpap mask
    Article
     
    red wine pouring into glass
    Slideshow
    Woman holding inhaler
    Quiz
     
    Man outdoors coughing
    Article
    Lung and bronchial tube graphic
    Article
     
    10 Worst Asthma Cities
    Slideshow
    runner
    Article