Beijing's Pollution Rises in 4-Day Test Of Restricted Driving

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

BEIJING, Aug. 20 -- Despite a move by authorities to slash the number of motorists in Beijing by more than a million during a pre-Olympics pollution test, the city's skies remained a hazy white Monday evening and pollution levels showed a slight increase over the four-day trial period, Beijing's Environmental Protection Bureau said.

A top Chinese environmental official attributed the increase to humid weather and said pollution levels had been higher just before the test began.

Pollution remains a challenge for organizers of next summer's Olympic Games. Authorities fear Beijing's smoggy skies could threaten athletes' health and have said events might be postponed as a result. The problem reflects the difficulties China faces as it struggles to meet environmental goals without curbing economic growth.

Traffic flowed easily Friday through Monday as a result of the restrictions, which limited car use to alternate days based on whether license plates ended in odd or even numbers.

But humid weather and lack of wind trapped particles in the city, even as vehicle emissions such as nitrogen dioxide were reduced, Zhao Yue, vice director of the Environmental Protection Bureau, said on the agency's Web site.

Zhao insisted that the driving ban had improved air quality. "If there had been no car restrictions to reduce emissions, the air quality would not be able to meet the current standard after one or two days," he said.

According to data published by the bureau, the index of particulate matter -- a measure of fine particles that can be easily inhaled deep into the lungs -- rose from 91 on Friday to 93 on Saturday and 95 on Sunday. On Monday afternoon, the bureau said, the index was 100.

A report on the Web site of the state-run New China News Agency said, however, that Monday's index was 95. The report said that all four days were an improvement over the 116 index on Thursday, before the restrictions took effect. [On Tuesday, the environmental bureau's Web site reported Monday's index as 95.] China's Communist Party has ordered local journalists to emphasize the positive side of the driving ban.

It was unclear how the index was calculated or which kinds of particles it measured.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company