Hong Kong suffers Chronic Air Pollution

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    Hong Kong’s worsening air pollution is driving away expatriates and threatening foreign investment according to a survey released Sunday by the American Chamber of Commerce. A poll of 140 top executives working for the chamber’s member companies showed that almost four out of five knew someone who had either left Hong Kong or was thinking of leaving because of poor air quality.

    The survey also revealed that 95 per cent of respondents were worried about air quality in Hong Kong and the potential long-term effects on the health of themselves and their children.

    Hong Kong pollution threatening foreign investment – survey


    Another international news item – from Reuters – on HK air pollution, inc impacts on business people from overseas, several of whom even leave because the air’s so bad.

    Hong Kong’s international business community, drawn for years by the city’s low taxes and strong legal system, has become increasingly critical of the bad air tainting its business-friendly credentials. "It’s a major concern to the chamber and its members and their families," said Deborah Biber, the Chief Executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce. The British Chamber of Commerce called on Hong Kong’s leader, Donald Tsang, to make the environment his top policy priority in the coming few years, saying the deteriorating environment was "adversely affecting … our enviable international status." BREATHING BAD AIR While the economic costs of bad air have been difficult to quantify, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found in a recent survey that four out of five business executives knew someone who was thinking of leaving or had left the territory because of the poor air. … A Thai-American managing director of a large investment bank, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue with his firm, left Hong Kong in June — for a second time — because his 10-year-old son’s asthma condition worsened substantially during Hong Kong’s smoggy winters. … The Hong Kong and Guangdong governments have pledged to cut pollutants including sulphur dioxide by 40 percent by 2010. But with the mainland’s electricity-hungry manufacturing boom showing no signs of abating, there are fears in the Hong Kong business community that air quality could deteriorate further. … For the first six months of this year, Hong Kong suffered 65 days of smog reduced visibility of less than five kilometres, making it difficult at times to glimpse buildings across the harbour. Its particulate levels are around 40 percent higher than in Los Angeles, the most polluted city in the United States.

    Bad air taints Hong Kong’s business reputation


    Just checked forecast on HK Observatory website, and for next week, four consecutive days forecast to be “fine and dry but hazy”. With light north winds, we can figure this “haze” will result from smog – which is to be expected far more frequently in coming months, after the respite during summer (with more rain, plus more winds from over the sea, where the air is way cleaner than over mainland China).

    First time I’ve noticed the Obs has a special symbol for “haze”


    Back in late July, the Hong Kong Government announced the Action Blue Sky campaign, with the natty English slogan “Clean Air for a Cool Hong Kong” (which means what, exactly, in this sub-tropical locale? – if the air is cleaner, will we move towards the Arctic? Or maybe we’ll be much more laid back, just like, wow, man, so coool).

    Reading info on the campaign, seems there’s plenty of talk – trying to persuade various people that reducing pollution is a good idea. But precious little action.
    Lately seen report re Advisory Committee on the Environment meeting, and fudging n dilly-dallying over new Air Quality Objectives.

    Small wonder then that, as get return of northeast monsoon, also get return of skies that too often aren’t blue, but greyish-white. Bleah!


    Shot here from Cheung Chau today – looks like there are few clouds above us (certainly nothing evident on satellite images), and yet the sky isn’t blue, but greyish-white, with the only blue just visible right overhead. HK Observatory mentions "some haze" yet, curiously, their haze icon not showing today, or in 7-day forecast: just a sun icon for today. cheung_chau_sky_5Oct06.jpg


    So much for hopes the Golden Week Holiday may mean clearer air, as factories maybe closing on mainland. And, so much for Action Blue Sky – no word from Donald T and the project team about the whitish skies prevailing at present. Again a shot from Cheung Chau (today); have to look up high to see almost decent blue. And as for seeing Lantau Peak through the murk – well, another day, such as in summer… cc_7Oct_smog.jpg


    Soon after I took the above, a slow ferry chugged out from Cheung Chau, adding its own contribution to the grime in the sky. cc_ferry_smoke_n_smog.jpg


    From the New York Times (an editorial):

    Anyone who has ever fallen under Hong Kong’s exotic spell in recent years knows how taking a deep breath can make the magic disappear. The air throughout Hong Kong’s tropical landscape has grown steadily more polluted – tainted by dark, unhealthy clouds from power plants, traffic and underregulated smokestacks from the Chinese mainland.
    Hong Kong’s average air pollution levels can be so high – double or even triple the World Health Organization limit – that some analysts estimate the air contributes to an extra 2,000 deaths a year. Leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly promised to cut down on environmental toxins in the air, land and water.

    Such departures have finally begun to raise concerns in Hong Kong’s business community. The local Chamber of Commerce issued an urgent request for the government to commit to “genuine reductions in air pollution” after it found that “an alarming 95 percent” of executives interviewed were worried or very worried about air quality and its effects on their health. But in a disheartening development this week, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Donald Tsang, missed yet another opportunity to lay out a workable plan for clearing the air quickly.
    This is not a hopeless situation, as leaders in Mexico City could attest. Once a place where residents courted asthma with every step outside, Mexico City approved what is generally regarded as one of the best and most comprehensive approaches to air pollution in 1990. The measures included everything from new fuel composition standards to new emission standards for vehicles. As a result, Mexico City halved some forms of air pollution in only five years. If Hong Kong even committed to cutting its pollution in half, that would be a good start.

    Something in Hong Kong’s air


    email newsletter from Christine Loh, of Civic Exchange: This may turn out to be a bad week for Donald Tsang’s (DT) career as a politician. As Hong Kong takes more pounding in the international media (NY Times has an editorial [see above]) on its poor air quality, DT showed he has yet to grasp the basics of air pollution. He needs now to make quick amends to show he is in command of at least his own knowledge. Most importantly, the government needs to acknowledge air pollution and public health are linked. A. How DT sees the air problem … radio transcript Backchat RTHK 8:00-8:30 am October 13 “… let me tell you the facts. There have been improvements … There are major pollutants in the air. There are sulphur dioxide … nitrogen oxides of all kinds and there are the Respirable Suspended Particulates, and then the fourth one is volatile organic compounds. Now, as far as NOx, the nitrogen oxide, and RSP and VOC are concerned, since 1997 each of these things have declined in terms of percentage. NOx has declined by 16% since 1997, and RSP 28% and VOC by 23%. Now we have only one problem sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide in fact has increased by 47% and the main emitter of this is our power stations so that’s the reasons we are concentrating our efforts in improving and upgrading our power stations and we are doing that in the context of the next scheme of control we are negotiating with the power companies and I am determined, and I’ve said so in my policy address, and we will certainly resolve this question once and for all as far as the power companies are concerned. Now why do people feel that they don’t see that the air is poorer? It is a question of visibility. Is the air right, not so so the road side air quality but what we see into the air that is a small particle, that is small particulates which is coming from the mainland that may not effect us or the thing we breath but it effects our feeling that the air is not as good as before. Now this is something that we need a different set of solutions. We are working as you know with Guangdong Authorities to make sure that we have a concerted effort, to make a concerted effort to resolve that problem and you will see from my policy address that we are working on that … We must make sure that ourselves, we have to make sure that the community is good for our people and is welcoming to all sorts of people, businessmen coming here to work, expatriates coming here to live here, to settle the family and tourist coming here happily and I am certainly will work hard to towards those goals”. B. What Tsang tried to say … see if you agree 1. There is haze i.e. loss of visibility. 3. The small particulates which come from the mainland are the main causes of the haze. 4. The haze “may not effect us or the thing we breathe but it effects our feeling that the air is not as good as before”. 5. Roadside air pollution is poor. C. What is wrong with what Tsang said? 1. A large amount (70%+) of the particulates originate across the border, and yes, they affect the entire visibility of the region BUT to claim the loss of visibility “may not affect us or the thing we breathe” is UNTRUE. 2. Particulates are one of the most damaging pollutants to health because the smaller particles can penetrate into our blood and organs. The loss of visibility is an excellent indicator of worsening pollution. 3. To also say that it is the loss of visibility that gives people the “feeling” that the air is not as good as before implies the impact is more a “feeling” than a reality when it is clearly a reality. D. Observations … refusal to make the health link 1. DT’s incoherence and tortuous statement indicates his government is trying desperately not to make the direct link between air pollution and public health. 2. If an honest admission of the link was made, the government would need to show the people it must do very much more and do it quickly to improve air quality to the point where pollution no longer poses a significant health risk as it does at present. 4. Hong Kong people must make DT pledge during his election campaign to serve a 5-year term (2007-2012) to show a convincing comprehensive plan to clean-up. p.s. Civic Exchange presented such a plan to DT on 11/9/2006 – “An Air Management Plan”


    So, three months since the Hong Kong Government launched the Action Blue Sky Campaign, the autumn skies are whiter and greyer than I can ever remember – and this even when there are few or no clouds in the sky.

    Now have Donald Tsang pretty much giving up on achieving cleaner air in foreseeable future, and blathering about pollution as if it’s cosmetic issue rather than public health crisis.

    Media articles continue, inc in Taipei Times:


    While environmental, tourism and business lobbies urge the government to take action to restore Hong Kong’s formerly clear skies, Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) told local radio that the pall of pollution hanging over the city is a crisis of visibility rather than of public health.

    In comments on the radio and during a major speech to businessmen, Tsang stressed the problems of murky skies caused by rising smog rather than evidence that emissions are causing severe health problems.

    “Why do people feel that they don’t see, that the air is poorer? It is a question of visibility,” Tsang told a phone-in program on local RTHK radio over the weekend.

    “Is the air right? Not so,” he said. “Small particulates, which [are] coming from the mainland [China] may not affect us or [what] we breathe, but it affects our feeling that the air is not as good as before,” he said.

    Later, in a speech to the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, he reiterated his position by trying to separate the issue of visibility from air quality.

    “Visibility, of course, is a question of degree. We are talking about small particulates. Do not equate visibility directly with just very bad air. We are doing our best. Visibility is important. What about blue skies? Blue skies implies visibility and for that reason that certainly is my priority,” he said.

    Pollution has become a hot political issue in Hong Kong as smog levels have risen to often dangerous levels. Poor air quality cut visibility to less than 1km on more than 50 days last year.

    More worrying, however, is evidence from the medical community that pollution-related illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma are claiming lives in ever greater numbers.

    The key tourism industry is also complaining about the problem, with a tour guides association saying 10 percent of customers had gone down with smog-related illnesses while holidaying there.

    Tsang slammed by critics over HK skies


    Hello, Donald Tsang, hope you have a little time to read about health impacts of respirable suspended particles. Try, for instance, this CNN item, which mentions Hong Kong, and includes:

    What is most disturbing, is the increasing evidence of a link between ultrafine particle pollution and an incidence of heart disease. According to an article in "Heart," the journal of the British Cardiac Society: "Epidemiology has clearly shown a link between increases in particulate air pollution and deaths and admissions caused by heart failure, myocardial infarction and arrhythmia." While scientists have yet to fully explain exactly how the presence of the ultra-fine pollutants causes increased heart disease, "the association of air pollution with cardiac mortality and morbidity is beyond doubt," the journal says. Many pollution researchers believe vehicle exhausts pump out microscopic specks of carbon which are coated with chemicals such as chromium, peroxide and hydrocarbons resulting from the burnt fuel. These particles measure less than one-tenth of a micron across. They are so small that they can pass easily through the walls of a human lung and penetrate into the body’s red blood cells. From there, they wreak health havoc, penetrating the body’s cells and disabling them. Recent laboratory studies suggest these ultrafine particles can be up to 50 times more damaging than bigger particles, possibly triggering heart attacks. Diesel emissions are thought to be disproportionately responsible for pumping out ultra-fine particles, making people living or working close to major transport routes especially vulnerable.

    Invisible enemy spurs health worries Asia confronts growing problem of ultrafine particles See also new thread I’ve started: Airborne particulates in Hong Kong – health risks


    I’ve done short article on this site, on ways it might be possible to clean air (partly, anyway) indoors – chiefly using filters; but also with help from plants.
    Might be worth a read; comments welcome (tho ideally in a new thread).

    On smoggy days, can we clean the air indoors?


    I sent the following letter to the editor of the South China Morning Post; edited version appeared on Friday 27 October:

    Three months into the Hong Kong Government’s Action Blue Sky Campaign, we are shrouded below the greyest autumn skies I’ve seen – even on days when there are few or no clouds in the sky.

    Chief Executive Donald Tsang has lately tried to obfuscate the issue, suggesting the air pollution problem is chiefly a matter of reduced visibility, and small particulates “may not affect us”. Now, just as he seems befuddled by pollution, Mr Tsang may not be too familiar with the Internet, and a search engine called Google, but to help him I have employed both to look for information on “respirable suspended particles”. And I have readily found information indicating they indeed affect our health.

    For instance, in a report by CNN, I found: ‘According to an article in “Heart,” the journal of the British Cardiac Society: “Epidemiology has clearly shown a link between increases in particulate air pollution and deaths and admissions caused by heart failure, myocardial infarction and arrhythmia.”

    ‘While scientists have yet to fully explain exactly how the presence of the ultra-fine pollutants causes increased heart disease, “the association of air pollution with cardiac mortality and morbidity is beyond doubt,” the journal says.

    ‘Many pollution researchers believe vehicle exhausts pump out microscopic specks of carbon which are coated with chemicals such as chromium, peroxide and hydrocarbons resulting from the burnt fuel.’

    Given such information, we might hope “strong government” would result in robust action, not simply yet more talking, with some moves towards more fuel efficient vehicles even as the government opts to buy gas-guzzling luxury cars, and plans more highways, and the huge bridge to Zhuhai.

    The huge bridge scheme should be abandoned if the government is serious about the Action Blue Sky Campaign. For not only will the bridge increase road traffic, especially container vehicles, in western Hong Kong, it is also aimed at spurring development on the west shores of the Pearl River. This increased development will in turn increase air pollution, condemning us to ever greyer skies, and a rising toll from noxious gases, and particulates.

    The CNN report – which I also cited in post above- is at:
    Invisible enemy spurs health worries
    Asia confronts growing problem of ultrafine particles


    Last month set the record for Hong Kong Observatory’s tally of number of hours in a month with “reduced visibility” – ie “visibility below 8 kilometres when there is no fog, mist, or precipitation”: a whopping 546 hours – almost 18 hours per day, recorded at HK International Airport.

    Records from the HK Observatory (since 1968) and Hong Kong International Airport (since 1997) show highest record monthly totals for hours with reduced visibility are all from 2002: indeed, only one monthly record dates from 2002.

    At HK Obs, the numbers of hours with reduced visibillity have increased markedly in recent years. Until 1980, the highest annual total was 388 hours. It wasn’t till 1994 (503 hours) that an annual total exceeded 500 hours; yet since then, the annual total has climbed sharply, first passing 1000 in 2003 (1117 hours), then reaching 1570 hours in 2004 and 1503 hours last year.

    At the airport, the annual total for hours with reduced visibility reached 2438 hours last year.

    As you might expect, totals are markedly lower in summer, when cleaner southerly breezes tend to blow.

    So, Donald Tsang – the government has a few challenges if to make progress with the Action Blue Sky campaign.

    Number of hours of Reduced Visibility observed at the Hong Kong Observatory since 1968
    Number of hours of Reduced Visibility observed at the Hong Kong International Airport since 1997

    HONG KONG (XFN-ASIA) – The chairman of Hong Kongs stock exchange has warned that worsening air quality here is a threat to the territorys competitiveness, the Financial Times reported on its website.

    You hear pretty often that young people with young families are reluctant to come to Hong Kong because of the quality of the air, Ronald Arculli said in an interview with the FT. We need to have quality people servicing the market from all walks of life.

    He said doctors advised sending his two young grandsons to live abroad on pollution-related medical grounds and they are now living in the Philippines.

    Hong Kong stock exchange chairman warns of worsening pollution – report

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