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A month before the Olympics, Beijing still failing air-quality test

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(Read caption) The Olympic Stadium known as the 'Bird's Nest is barely visible through a thick haze in Beijing on June 25, 2008.

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A month before athletes from around the world will gather in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, the BBC has found that the city still fails to meet international air-quality standards set by the World Health Organization.

Using a hand-held device that detects concentrations of PM10 (particulates of 10 micrometers or less), BBC reporter James Reynolds found that Beijing failed the WHO standards six days out of seven. On one of these days, the pollution reading was seven times WHO's recommended guideline.

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According to a blog post by Mr. Reynolds, WHO's air-quality guideline for PM10 is a maximum of 50 micrograms/cubic meter. Here are Reynold's daily readings, taken from a fixed point in central Beijing

01/07/08 : 121 micrograms/cubic meter
02/07/08 : 172
03/07/08 : 122
04/07/08 : 351
05/07/08 : 112
06/07/08 : 27
07/07/08 : 242

By contrast, the BBC's readings taken in London fell within WHO's guidelines.

Beijing is taking a number of drastic steps to improve its air quality before the Games. Starting July 20, the city will halve the number of cars permitted on the street with an "even/odd" license plate system. Factories in the surrounding area will shut down, and construction will come to a halt. Even spray-painting will be banned for the duration of the Games.

But some athletes aren't taking any chances. The Canadian broadcaster CTV reported Wednesday that Canada's cycling team will stay out of Beijing until the last minute, training in Tokyo instead. Spiegel says that outdoor athletes such as cyclists, marathoners, and triathletes are particularly at risk: The average endurance athlete inhales up to 150 liters of air a minute – more than 10 times that of an office worker.

Last November, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said that he would consider postponing events because of pollution concerns, a possibility that Beijing's Olympics organizers have bristled at.