ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

For all the complaints about the haze at the Olympics, the air in Beijing is actually at its cleanest in 10 years. That is after a massive effort for the games. That cleanup has come at a cost to the local economy of some industrial cities near Beijing. Their factories were forced to close down temporarily.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from one of those cities, Tangshan.

LOUISA LIM: The roar of industry in this great northern town has quieted into a hum recently. Here in Tangshan, just 90 miles from Beijing, 267 factories have been closed down for the Olympics. They're mainly big polluters like steelworks, cement plants and power generators. Some have been closed since the beginning of July. Others shut their doors just recently.

An elderly (unintelligible) lives here. He set up shop in the middle of a street in a sleepy village housing workers from a major steelworks. Some of the factory's 4,000 employees are still working, but many others are at home on enforced holiday.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: (Speaking foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: We're getting $3 a day while the factory's shut, one worker tells me. He won't give his name because he doesn't want to jeopardize his job. It's a third of what we normally earn, he says. Some of my co-workers are finding it hard to get by. But others clearly don't mind the downtime.

Gao Yushan is one of those. I haven't had a holiday for 20 years, he says happily. And it's just beautiful to be able to watch the Olympics and take a break. Mr. Gao is on the front lines of the conflict between economic development and the environment. As his experience shows, making money has been the priority until now.

China's economy has grown 5,000 percent over the past 27 years, and that's happened at the expense of the environment. The result, the World Bank has said China has 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities.

Mrs. SUN (Owner, Car Repair Shop): (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: It's so much cleaner, says the owner of a car repair shop, who gives her name as Mrs. Sun, looking up at the bleak gray sky. Normally we have so, so many big trucks on this road, she says, but now there are far fewer. That's just one (unintelligible) effect to the factories shut down.

Mr. WANG: (Speaking foreign language)

LIM: The Olympic Games are no good for business, says a local mechanic who we have his name as Mr. Wang. Polluting factories have been closed down. Raw materials can't be brought in, and goods can't be carried out where factories simply can't operate. Workers here are very depressed.

Locals say many of these factories were having a hard time anyway. With raw materials going up in price, some were even selling goods at a loss. And now officials are promising new measures to improve Beijing's air quality even after the Olympic Games.

None of the resting workers yet know when they'll be going back to work. Some are now beginning to worry their livelihoods may be sacrificed in China's bid to clean up its environment before it's too late.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Tangshan.

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