(Trick cyclist Ines Brunn's used mask filter)
The U.S. Olympic track cycling team created a stir by showing up this week in Beijing wearing filtration masks in fear of the high concentration of air pollutants there. This issue has been a hot topic among endurance athletes who depend on exceptional aerobic performance to be competitive. Currently most athletes are only staying in Beijing when necessary, and training in near by regions like South Korea. [Treehugger]
The Chinese government has gone head over heals to make headway in reducing air pollution, but even significant cuts to vehicle traffic and regulation of some of it's factories has not resulted in sustained reductions to air pollution. The only thing that has improved air quality significantly has been rainfall, which some have speculated has been driven by artificial cloud seeding. The official government line has been, the gray sky is a natural haze and not smog, but actual sensor data suggests there is a lot green washing going on. [Wired]
Although it has been a public relations nightmare for the Chinese, having an international spotlight on the issue of air pollution can only help put pressure on cities and nations around the world to clean up their act unless they want to be embarrassed before an international audience. Brown clouds of pollutants carried by winds across borders increasingly underline that concerns of air quality and global warming extend across national lines.
The cyclists have now apologized for the interpretation of their wearing masks as a protest, but I don't think they should have to. They are professionals who depend on their lung capacity, and the Olympic officials provided all of the athletes with these masks due to the breathing concerns in the city.
For a more light hearted take on the issue, Bike Snob has some alternative ideas on how to deal with the pollution in Beijing.