London’s Smog Could Keep Olympic Athletes From Breathing Easy

“High temperatures and easterly winds that are forecast to persist until Friday look likely to create a ‘perfect storm’ of smog pollution that could affect the performance of athletes at the start of the Olympics, ” reports The Guardian.

And this isn’t the first time The Guardian has brought attention to the issue. In April 2011, they said, “The prospect of the air pollution penalty is becoming a major source of  embarrassment to the government and Olympic organizers who set a goal of making the Games ‘the greenest ever’ but have already watered down green measures planned for the event.”

They went on to observe that, “London is one of the most polluted cities in Europe, with official studies showing that air pollution – mainly from traffic – causes more premature deaths than passive smoking and traffic accidents combined.”

Just before the Beijing games in August 2008, Sky News reported, “All Olympic athletes are in danger of suffering severe asthma attacks, skin conditions, infections and sickness due to Beijing’s pollution.”

The news out of Athens wasn’t much better in 2004. In July of that year, CNN said, “Environmental experts have cautioned that the air pollution in Athens may be a problem for some athletes at this year’s games…Published reports show that high levels of particle pollution, combined with emissions from automobiles and industry cause major concentrations of ozone and nitrogen oxide to build in the atmosphere. This buildup occurs mostly during the summer when pollutants are baked by the intense Mediterranean heat and humidity.”

The “Good News/Bad News” part of this story is that in May, CBS News reported that, “An interesting new study of the 2008 Beijing Olympics lends new evidence to the link between air pollution and heart health. The study found that the Chinese government’s cleanup efforts to reduce the smog and chronic air pollution that plagues the city led to a temporary boost in heart health, only to worsen after the games.”

“During the Olympics, the researchers observed significant reductions in biomarkers called ‘Von Willebrand factor’ and ‘soluble CD62P levels’ that are associated with blood clotting. Following the Olympics, soluble CD62P levels shot back up along with systolic blood pressure levels, changes that are associated with atherosclerotic plaque instability, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.”

That doesn’t hold out much hope for Londoners in the long run. But with any luck, The Guardian’s observation that, “However cooler weather with isolated showers is forecast for the weekend with westerly winds potentially improving air quality by then” will at least mean relief for Olympic athletes.

Article by Lawrence Karol and