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Official: Beijing's air quality best in a decade
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The air quality in Beijing so far this month has been the best for any summer period over the last 10 years -- and within Olympic standards, a city official said on Tuesday.

"From Aug. 1 to 18, Beijing's air quality was within the standards to host the Olympics," said Municipal Bureau of Environmental Protection deputy director Du Shaozhong.

"Of the 18 days, Beijing reported grade I air quality in nine days, and in the other nine days, the air quality was grade II."

Du told a press conference the air quality would be grade I again on Tuesday, five days before the closing of the Beijing Games on Aug 24.

In the Chinese air quality monitoring system, grade I is excellent with the air pollution index (API) from 1 to 50. Grade II is fairly good, with an API reading from 51 to 100.

In the first 18 days of August, the average daily API reading was 56, much lower than 81 for the same period last year, he said.

This was the best average summer API record for the last 10 years. July July 2006 saw five days of excellent air quality and last August had only two such days.

Air quality would remain excellent if the weather was conducive to dispersing pollutants. Even without such conditions, the air quality would be grade II, within the standards for the Olympics, Du said.

He attributed the improved air quality to efforts by authorities in Beijing and neighboring regions to curbing air pollution control over the last nine years, especially this year.

"These figures prove that measures to improve air quality for the Beijing Games, particularly the temporary measures to cut emissions, have been playing a positive role. We are earnestly fulfilling our commitment to ensuring good air quality during the Olympics," he said.

"Without the emission-cutting measures, such as the temporary closure of some factories, the closure of heavily polluting plants and vehicle use restrictions, we would not have improved Beijing's air quality," he said.

Beijing municipal government has said it invested more than 140 billion yuan (20.5 billion U.S. dollars) since 1998 into more than 200 projects dedicated to improving the city's air quality.

Before the Games, it implemented drastic measures to reduce pollution, including ordering about two-thirds of Beijing's 3.3 million cars off the road on alternate days under an even-odd license plate system from July 20 to Sept. 20, during the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Neighboring Tianjin municipality and Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong provinces, and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, were also helping by closing major polluters, removing high-emission cars from roads and restoring grassland vegetation.

Du said Beijing's air quality had been improving gradually since 1998, when Beijing started to monitor air quality and the number of fairly good or excellent days was only 100. The figure reached 246 in 2007.

Du thanked residents of Beijing and neighboring regions for their contributions to improving air quality.

He said the Olympic Games was helping raise environmental protection awareness among the public, but more education was still needed.

(Xinhua News Agency August 19, 2008)

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