China unveils emergency pollution plans for Games

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has announced a slew of emergency measures in and around Beijing in case air pollution remains poor during the Olympics, including taking more cars off the roads and slashing production at more than 220 factories.

An aerial view of the Forbidden City shrouded in haze in Beijing July 28, 2008. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

The radical plan would be carried out if air quality was forecast to be short of acceptable standards for the upcoming 48 hours due to “extremely unfavorable weather conditions”, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said.

A sultry haze has shrouded Beijing for much of the last week, but officials have sought to ease worries, blaming it on an unusually long bout of hot, humid weather and say the combination is unlikely to be repeated during the Games.

The city’s chronic pollution, a source of respiratory illness, has been one of the biggest worries for Games organizers, who have had to deflect international criticism over air quality as they struggle to contain the environmental effects of China’s breakneck economic growth.

The government has already cleared about half the capital’s 3.3 million cars from its streets -- by restricting vehicles with odd or even license plate numbers on alternate days -- and shuttered factories dozens of miles away.

But according to the latest plan, even more Beijingers could soon be forced to use public transport.

In addition to the odd-and-even number system, cars whose plate's last digit matches the last number of the date would be banned under the contingency plan, the Ministry said in a statement on its website (

The odd-and-even system would also be extended to the nearby city of Tianjin and four urban areas in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, the statement said.

A total of 105 electronic, chemical, furniture and construction material factories in Beijing would suspend production or the part of the production process that emits pollutants, it said.

In Tianjin, 56 coal-fired power plants and other factories would be affected by the plan. In Hebei the number would be 61 and small steel plants would have to cut production significantly.

The measures, which could be put into effect during the August 8-24 Olympics and September 6-17 Paralympics, were aimed at “earnestly fulfilling the environmental protection pledges” Beijing made in its Olympic bid, the statement said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it may reschedule endurance events such as the marathon to prevent health risks if pollution is bad.

Reporting by Guo Shipeng; Editing by Ken Wills and Alex Richardson