Your Heart on Air Pollution: An Olympic Case Study

China’s radical blue-sky measures during the 2008 Olympics actually improved Beijingers’ cardiovascular health — if only for a few weeks.


In 2008, the Chinese government conducted one of the largest real-time environmental experiments ever undertaken: In order to get air quality up to par for the summer Olympics in Beijing–in of the world’s most polluted metropolis–the government halved the number of cars allowed to drive the city’s roads, shut down coal-burning factories in the area, and halted construction projects, among other efforts. And it worked. Air quality met the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) standards during the Olympics and subsequent Paralympic Games; both Athletes and Beijing residents could breathe a little easier – at least for a while.

U.S. Olympic distance runner Amy Yoder Begley, who had previously visited Beijing, declared air quality “better than expected” upon arriving for the 2008 games. The IOC was pleased too. “I think, objectively, we can say that the Chinese authorities have done everything that is feasible and humanly possible to solve the situation or to address the situation,” Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge reported during a press conference. “What they have done is extraordinary.”

After the games came to an end, however, many of the temporary pollution-reducing measures were relaxed, and pollution levels climbed once more.

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The Climate Desk is a journalistic collaboration dedicated to exploring the impact—human, environmental, economic, political—of a changing climate. The partners are The Atlantic, Center for Investigative Reporting, Grist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Slate, and Wired.