What does it mean when Chinese officials say the pollution in Beijing during the Olympics will be mild? It probably depends on who you are. If you are a resident of Beijing you may have reason to believe it. The steps the Chinese officials are taking, like restricting car traffic, may actually reduce the pollution to a level that allows more breathing and less wheezing. But, if you're a traveler to the fair Olympic city, you may feel like you landed in Los Angeles on the worst smog day in a decade.
Let the wheezing begin.
Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine warn of potential serious health complications for those traveling to Beijing. The level of pollution is far higher than travelers from the United States and other developed nations are accustomed to. As a result, the added strain can put certain individuals at an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Previous studies have shown that as microscopic air pollution particles invade the lungs they cause the blood to become thicker and stickier. This raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes within the 24-hour period following exposure. Those especially at risk include individuals with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and those who smoke.
Getting safely out of Beijing doesn't settle the issue. The long plane ride home may be your most vulnerable point. "If you spend a few weeks in Beijing, your blood might become thicker and sticky and then when you fly 12 hours back to the U.S. that further increases your risk. If clots migrate into the lungs and cause pulmonary embolism, that can kill you," warned Gokhan Mutlu, MD, an assistant professor of medicine.
The researchers recommend that men over the age of forty take daily aspirin to prevent their blood from becoming too thick. They also suggest staying indoors during peak traffic times, and exercising your legs frequently during the flight home.
The only pollution hazard for those watching the Olympics on television appears to be a slight green tinge.To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the Summer Olympics, see this from The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.