August 6th, 2008
12:13 PM ET

The nitty gritty on Beijing’s air

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

With the Olympics coming up, there is a lot of concern surrounding the pollution. As the athletes have started to arrive, many of them are wearing masks. They say it is to protect themselves, whereas some in the Chinese government say it is only to be insulting.

Here are a few things to consider. According to a new study out of Northwestern University, the level of particulate matter in the air in Chicago is 20 micrograms/m3. That probably means nothing to you, other than telling you the average level of pollution of a big U.S. city. Here is what caught my eye. The level of particulate matter in Beijing: 260 micrograms/m3 — 13 times as much as Chicago. (See Study)

It is well known that high levels of particulate matter can cause inflammation in the lungs, and that a protein called Interleukin 6 is released in response. The end result may be that your blood gets a little stickier and thicker. That can cause problems such as heart attacks or strokes, especially in those with a pre-existing history.


Filed under: Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Olympics
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Jo Anne Cummings

    This should be a wake-up call to the rest of the world. This could be us if we don't do something now.

    August 6, 2008 at 10:09 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I've read reports that the Chinese have done a lot to try to get their air clean enough for the athletes in the Olympics. They closed highly polluting industries for several months; when that didn't help as much as they wanted they closed some more industries. They told people they could only drive their car every other day and enforced it.

    The smog has lessened but has not given way to the "blue sky" environment Beijing was trying to get to. After doing all this even though the air isn't what China would like for it to be, I can see where they might be insulted by athletes wearing masks but I also don't blame the athletes for doing that – I'd do it too. Perhaps this is an object lesson for China and the rest of us – the air quality is truly bad, especially in China, and it can't be fixed quickly.

    For the moment though I just hope that the Olympic athletes can participate in their events and come away from China without their health compromised by the air there.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    August 6, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  3. Sharon from Indy

    Dr. Gupta:
    I am surprised the athletes are even going to China.

    I have driven through Chicago during heightened pollution alerts and a very, very, very dirty windshield was an indication on how bad it can get.

    It is going to be very interesting to see how the races and events will be affected by the pollution levels. So, will these pristine athletes be able to cope? How many will protest or just walk away? I doubt many will leave but China will hold a "black mark" as an Olympic host for a long time after these summer games.

    August 6, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  4. Heather

    I think the Chinese athletes will have home court advantage with having trained in this filthy toxic air.

    August 6, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Michael

    I visited Beijing in the early 90's and was struck by how bad "the weather" was during our visit. I soon wised-up and discovered it wasn't "weather or fog" at all, it was the worst air pollution I've ever experienced. Forget the masks, if I'm ever unfortunate enough to have to visit there again, I'm renting a spacesuit with my own private air supply and wearing that. The Chinese government should not be insulted by athletes whose job it is to take care of their health, they should be insulted by their own lack of action in doing anything tangible about their air quality – not to mention human rights, Tibet, and on and on and on.

    August 6, 2008 at 2:59 pm |
  6. Ashley H

    That air looks horrible,how are the atheletes and civilians in china going to deal with that air?Something has to be done.

    August 6, 2008 at 2:53 pm |
  7. Shemmy

    i think the athletes should wear masks,they have a right to protect themselves. if the Chinese government finds it so insulting maybe they should do something about the pollution rather than crying like helpless babies.i know for certain that other countries would not like their star athletes to become ill.

    August 6, 2008 at 12:48 pm |
  8. Cindy

    If the air is that bad I can't blame the Olympic athletes for wearing masks. They have to keep themselves as healthy as they can to compete at their best. Actually I don't even think that I'd go there!


    August 6, 2008 at 12:46 pm |