Article by: Angelo Manaloto
It was the morning of October 19 when the atmosphere along the streets of Beijing seemed suffused with an aura of peculiarity. The anomaly was not in the heavy smog that veiled over Beijing—a city that is unfortunately no stranger to air pollution—but more so in the runners wearing masks in what seemed to be a race for air.
Since 1981, the Chinese Athletic Association has held the Beijing Marathon on an annual basis as part of its wider cultural movement for exposure to foreign influences and innovations. However, this year’s event was interrupted by Beijing’s air pollution; the layer of smog blanketing the city was rated “severely polluted” by the city’s environmental center—the most critical level in its air quality index. Furthermore, the United States Embassy dubbed it as “hazardous.” Investigations by the World Health Organization (WHO) gave the air quality a reading of 344 grams per cubic meter of PM 2.5 (PM refers to the tiny particles capable of penetrating the lungs and causing cancer); the maximum limit recommended by the WHO is 25 grams per cubic meter.
In spite of this, organizers refused to push the date of the marathon, arguing that it would be unfeasible considering the amount of tedious planning required for its setup. Furthermore, over 46% of the participants had flown from different countries in order to partake in the marathon, making a postponed date even more impractical. In an attempt to amend the unfortunate conditions, organizers provided 140,000 sponges at different supply stations along the marathon’s route for runners to clean skin exposed to the impure air.
China’s pollution problem has garnered a notorious reputation following years of extensive economical and industrial development. Public criticism of the complacence of the Chinese government with regards to the issue has definitely moved it up along the the Communist party’s agenda; however, progress can only be gauged by time.