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China To Shut Factories To Curb Pollution


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.



And I'm Michele Norris.

Less than a month ago before the Beijing Olympics, industries all over north China are shutting down or scaling back production. It's part of an effort to remove the shadow of soot and smog that hangs over the Chinese capital much of the year. Air quality has been a big concern especially among Olympic athletes worried they won't be able to perform at their best.

We now to go NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn for an update on this situation. Anthony, what's now being shut down and where are these factories located?

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, the pollution in Beijing takes a lot of contributions from about five or six other provinces in Northern China. There are lots of steel mills in Tangshan City out to the east. There are lots of coal-fired powered plants in Inter Mongolia out to the west, and a lot of those already started shutting down in February. And between July 20th and September 20th when the Paralympics ends, a lot more are going to be shut down, some of them for good.

NORRIS: Now, what's happening in the capital city itself, in Beijing?


KUHN: Beijing is a city that's very much under construction, just so many cranes and open construction sites from which dust is picked up and thrown into the air. And a lot of those will be shut down, too. The workers and decorators will all be going home for an extended vacation back in the countryside where they came from.

NORRIS: So, if they shut down the construction sites, if all the businesses that serve the construction sites wind up shutting down as well, what's the economic impact of all this?

KUHN: Actually, it's a lot less than you might think. And I think this is an interesting indicator of, you know, how much the Olympics actually are going to affect China. People say that prices will rise and, yes, the power supply may get a little bit tight. But actually, Beijing accounts for only 3.5 percent of the national economy. The national steel output will maybe only be decreased by 10 percent or so, so not really that much. And for those people who are going to have to go home on vacation, they're pretty much resigned to it because there's nothing they can do.

NORRIS: Now, they measure the particulate matter when they try to get a sense of how good or how bad the air quality is. But when things are really bad, you can see and you can feel it. What was the air quality like in Beijing today? And will the air actually be cleared by that very important date, 8-8-08?

KUHN: Well, today was a rainy day and so whenever there's a big rain or a big wind, it clears the junk out of the air. But what's going to happen on August 8th is anybody's guess, although they've already taken many cars off the streets. The weather has been very variable over the weekend. We had two days of absolute crystal clear air. Before that, we had very thick smog. So, clearly, it's going to take time for all the measures they're taking now to take effect.

NORRIS: Anthony, is it not just the shutdown of the factories and the removal of cars? It sounds like there are other factors as well - wind, whether or not you have precipitation leading up to that important day.

KUHN: Yes. Wind patterns are very important. And in that part of the year, actually, the wind comes up from the south instead of from the Northwest. And it tends to hang over the city and be very humid. Beijing has said, if necessary, they will sieve the clouds with artillery fire and make it rain to clear the air. So they're going to pull out all the stops and do whatever they have to try and get the best weather possible.

NORRIS: Thank you, Anthony.

KUHN: Thanks, Michele.

NORRIS: That was Anthony Kuhn speaking to us from Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.