Visitors to the upcoming Olympics in London will want to keep tabs on gold, silver, and bronze rankings…and air pollution levels. The website London Air provides up-to-date air quality updates for all Olympic venues in a city that has the highest levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution of any capital city in Europe, levels comparable to Beijing, according to the Clean Air in London campaign.
Unlike Beijing, where government officials shut down factories and banned half of all cars leading up to and during the 2008 Olympics, London is relying largely on voluntary efforts to reduce traffic and associated breathing problems for residents, visitors, and athletes.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, “the combination of rigorous exercise and London pollution may be a predictor of extra breathing troubles for competitors who have asthma or a related condition called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).” EIB affects an estimated 20 percent of top athletes and 1 in 6 Olympic athletes, according to the group.
“Elite athletes in the Olympics have an increased prevalence of EIB,” says William S. Silvers, MD, of the group’s Sports Medicine Committee. “They may not have suspected it, since they don’t have chronic asthma but rather a narrowing of the airways that comes specifically with exercise.” Air pollution can affect athletes’ performance. CNN notes: “Silvers suggests it could mean the difference between first and second place for Olympic athletes with breathing problems. Marathon runners could be particularly affected.”
A recent study found that Beijing residents benefited from air pollution restrictions during the 2008 games, but only as long as the restrictions were in effect. Clean Air in London reports that London has repeatedly failed to meet European Union clean-air standards. (h/t ThinkProgress)
Image by iStock/CaroleGomez
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”