Hong Kong suffers Chronic Air Pollution

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    from today's South China Morning Post:

    Hong Kong's roadside pollution levels were the worst ever last year, according to the Environmental  Protection Department.

    Readings at the three roadside monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok showed that pollution levels were above the 100 mark more than 20 per cent of the time. This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 per cent of the time.

    Exposure to bad air pollution can cause or aggravate respiratory problems or heart disease.

    Environmentalists renewed their calls for the immediate introduction of new air quality objectives, claiming that the government had deliberately delayed their introduction to ease the way for major infrastructure projects.

    The department blamed the figures on unfavourable weather conditions, worsening background pollution and the ageing vehicles on our streets.

    It said a number of measures were in the pipeline to improve air quality, while the new air quality objectives would be tabled to the legislature as soon as possible.

    At the roadside stations, hourly readings are taken throughout the year on major pollutants such as  respirable suspended particles and nitrogen oxides. A reading over 100 means at least one pollutant fails the air quality objectives.

    The station in Central showed the worst figures, with excessive readings a quarter of the time, followed by Causeway Bay at 21 per cent, and Mong Kok at 17 per cent.

    The total number of hours with excessive readings was even more than in 2010, when a sandstorm hit the city in March and pushed up the figures. In that year the three stations had an average excess API reading of 17 per cent.

    Pollution readings at 11 general stations, which reflect more background and regional pollution, however, remained steady and similar to previous years.

    The department said increased nitrogen dioxide levels at the roadside and poor weather conditions were behind the worsening air pollution readings. While other pollutants such as sulphur dioxide have fallen, the department said the nitrogen dioxide level by the roadside has reached the highest since 1999, at 123 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

    It said the increase was related to the formation of photochemical smog, which was more active last year because there was 16 per cent more sunshine. The lack of rainfall, down by almost 40 per cent on 2010, was another unfavourable factor as it lessened the removal of pollutants from the air.

    To combat the nitrogen dioxide pollution, a department spokeswoman said, catalytic reduction devices were being tested on older buses, while remote sensing technology would be used to strengthen the control of petrol and LPG vehicles.

    James Middleton of Clear the Air said people did not need reminders from the department to tell them that air quality was getting worse, and officials were obviously turning a blind eye even at the health risk to themselves and their children.

    "The government servants working for the EPD have children too – they share the filth in our air. The deliberate prevarication obviously comes from the very top," Middleton said. "This is a complete disrespect and disregard of the duty of care the administration owes to the health of the people of Hong Kong."

    Middleton said he suspected the government's failure to update air quality objectives enacted 24 years ago was deliberate so that infrastructure projects such as a third airport runway and waste incinerator could pass environmental impact studies.

    In a separate set of monitoring  results, on the concentration of fine particles, those with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, the annual  average roadside reading at both Central and Mong Kok marginally failed the proposed new air quality standard of 35 micrograms.

    The department has not published the data, but the figures were obtained recently by Clear the Air. Fine particles are not a statutory air pollutant at present. Scientists say these particles can infiltrate the blood vessels and lungs, causing more damage than larger particles.

    The department said the average concentration of fine particles at monitored locations had declined by more than a quarter over the past five years. It also said at least 60 per cent of the fine particles were generated across the border.



    S China Morning Post article:

    Hong Kong is lagging behind the mainland when it comes to tackling air pollution, a think tank says in a summary of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's performance in office.

    The conclusion from Civic Exchange came after the environment minister said on Wednesday that the city would measure pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) at all its monitoring stations by March, a week after Beijing pledged to make similar data publicly available.

    Former lawmaker Christine Loh Kung-wai, of Civic Exchange, said the mainland's recent launch of a consultation to upgrade air quality objectives had put pressure on the Hong Kong government, which had yet to update its 24-year-old objectives despite Tsang's pledge to do so last year.

    "The mainland is much more aggressive than Hong Kong in dealing with setting air quality objectives," she said. "This has happened because Hong Kong's senior officials lack the understanding and courage to set demanding [objectives] and to use them as a tool to address the epidemic of public health impacts."

    Beijing will publish its PM2.5 data by January 23, Xinhua reported last week. The announcement came after the US embassy in Beijing began releasing its own PM2.5 readings via Twitter.

    Civic Exchange's head of environmental strategy, Mike Kilburn, said though many mainland cities would take years to reach the new emissions targets – released recently for public consultation – the central government had set targets with the aim of driving down pollution levels.

    By contrast, Hong Kong set less stringent targets that were easier to achieve, perhaps for political reasons, Kilburn said.

    Citing figures from the University of Hong Kong's Hedley Environmental Index, Loh said more than 7,200 local deaths had been connected to air pollution in the seven years Tsang had been at the city's helm.

    Dr Wong Ming-chit, of the School of Public Health at HKU, agreed with the group's conclusion that the administration's ability and commitment to improve air quality – roadside and shipping pollution in particular – was questionable.

    "These are problems that haven't been solved for many years. And these are pressing issues because people's health is at stake," he said. "When you think about it, several thousands deaths is a big number. The public panic even when several people die from bird flu."

    The Environmental Protection Department last week revealed that roadside air pollution levels last year were the worst on record.

    A consultation on updating Hong Kong's standards ended two years ago and the government vowed to put the new objectives before the legislature as soon as possible.

    PM2.5 refers to suspended particles of 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter. They are smaller and more dangerous to health than PM10, for which the department publishes measurements on its website.

    These smaller particles enter the lungs and contribute to many health problems including acute respiratory symptoms and child bronchitis, cause premature death owing to their toxicity, and cause cardiovascular illnesses, according to various studies.


    Also SCM Post (laisee):

    The latest report from Civic Exchange on Hong Kong's air quality, "Air Quality: Report Card of the Donald Tsang Administration (2005-2012)", is a damming indictment of the chief executive's efforts to improve Hong Kong's noxious air.

    It points to a litany of half measures, outright failures, dilatoriness, evasion and poor governance. You do not get a sense from reading this report that the government is in any hurry to do anything meaningful about improving the quality of the air we breathe. The impression is one of a government bending over backwards not to improve it. Its prevarication over the introduction of new air quality objectives (AQOs) being one example.

    Hong Kong's were set in 1987 and at the time were close to those of the World Health Organisation. The AQOs set the limits for emissions above which public health is impaired. The WHO has since revised its guidelines twice, while Hong Kong has implacably retained the outdated AQOs. The effect of this, the report says, is that the WHO guidelines are frequently exceeded in Hong Kong at the roadside by a factor of four or five times.

    Unsurprisingly this has impacted on public health. According to the Hedley Index, which uses a peer-reviewed methodology to measure the effect of air pollution on health, smog has directly resulted in some 7,240 premature deaths, 528,388 avoidable hospital bed days and 49.26 million avoidable doctor visits from January 2005 to December 2011. The index assesses the cost of the dirty air to Hong Kong at HK$15.43 billion during the period. These figures have not been challenged by the government or medical practitioners.

    The government makes much of its one big success, which is in sharply lowering sulphur dioxide emissions that was achieved by making Hong Kong's power companies fix scrubbers to power stations. The government tries to pretend that Hong Kong's air pollution is largely a regional problem and can only be solved in collaboration with officials in the Pearl River Delta. In so doing, it seeks to sidestep the issue that the most concentrated air pollution occurs at street level largely as a result of dirty engines in buses and trucks. The Hong Kong government can solve this issue. Instead, it drags its feet and wastes time with watered down idling-engine legislation.

    One point the Civic Exchange reports spells out very clearly is that government reluctance to introduce new air quality objectives is largely because they would make it impossible to proceed with new infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the third runway and possibly the new incinerator. This is because each project requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report that has to be approved, and the AQOs are a key part of these reports. The EIA for the bridge had to be finished to secure approval, but it will be harder to fudge EIAs in future, Civic Exchange warns. The impression given by the government is that it is playing a kind of administrative game, but seems oblivious to the harmful effects of air pollution on public health. In stark contrast to the Hong Kong government's approach of seeking to avoid setting targets as a basis for policy, the mainland has recently set aggressive new AQOs with a view to driving policy. Civic Exchange has a second report entitled, "Principles and Measures To Improve Air Quality Policy Recommendations for a New Administration". Find both at http://www.civic-exchange.org



    Daily Telegraph article:

    Last year, a report from office supplier Regus revealed that an astonishing three-quarters of companies in Hong Kong saw pollution as a problem in recruiting and retaining international talent, while a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that nearly half (48 per cent) of its members knew of professionals who had left to escape the contaminated air.

    Sylvia, a British banker who did not wish to give her full name, claims to know many expats who have returned to their home countries because of pollution, or asked for transfers to other major Asian hubs such as Singapore – largely, she says, due to health concerns.

     “A friend of mine used to get plenty of headaches and migraines when he lived in Hong Kong for a few years; when he returned to the US the migraines stopped overnight," she explains. "Another friend's husband has a job here in Hong Kong but since his wife and daughter have asthma, they live in Singapore and he commutes here during the week.”

    How much damage the pollution issue could end up wreaking on Hong Kong's attractiveness as a business centre is subject to hot debate. Sylvia admits that there is a long-term risk that "Hong Kong will lose top talent and industry to its rival Singapore,” but believes that even if many expats leave, the economy will not be seriously hurt.

    “There's hundreds of Westerners arriving every day,” she says simply. “The downturn in Europe means there are more and more people seeking work, and more companies relocating their staff here. Hong Kong's economy has always been better than most; it experiences downturns but then it recovers very quickly.”


    Hans Leijten, the regional vice president for Regus in East Asia is not so sure however. “Singapore is seen as a much greener and cleaner alternative, and it is gaining a competitive edge particularly when it comes to expats with families,” he warns.

    "While Hong Kong's economy and job market are still extremely strong and it remains a top destination for expatriates, the quality of the environment and its effect on their health is certainly weighing heavily on the minds of those working there."

    Is Hong Kong's pollution driving expats away?



      I just created a new petition and I hope you can sign — it’s called: Cleaner air for Hong Kong

      This issue is very important to me, and together we can do something about it! If you sign and then share with your friends and contacts, we’ll soon reach our goal of 100 signatures and build pressure to get the decision we want.

      Click here to read more about it and sign:

      Campaigns like this always start small, but they grow when people like us get involved — please take a second right now to help out by signing and passing it on.

      Thanks so much,
      Nigel Pearson


      Hi Nigel:

      I've signed; worthwhile cause but maybe English could be revised a bit – including to clarify if you mean clean the air thro ensuring cleaner ship exhaust fumes [maybe with info on how this should be achieved]

      Also, I'd think far better if also have Chinese text.



      This thread could just go on and on and on, as seems air pollution problem will remain severe, even worsening, with minimal government resolve to tackle it [both in HK, and in region] S China Morning Post today:

      Heat warning well and good, but what about the killer air?

      LAI SEE, Howard Winn


      Good to see that the observatory issued a hot weather warning yesterday. This advised that, to prevent heat stroke, people should avoid prolonged activities outdoors. If you were outside, you should have been wearing a wide-brimmed hat and light-coloured, loose-fitting clothes and staying in shaded areas as much as possible. The observatory's press statement urged television and radio to issue the warning as soon as possible. However, it is a shame there was no urgency attached to a far bigger threat – the air pollution levels.

      The government's air pollution index had all pollutants as "very high". Given that these levels haven't been adjusted since the 1980s, they are way out of date and way below the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The Environmental Protection Department's advice for yesterday's pollution levels was for children, the elderly and people with existing heart or respiratory illnesses to avoid prolonged stays in areas with heavy traffic and to reduce physical exertion in such areas as far as possible.

      According to the department's website, the respirable suspended particulates (RSP) at roadside level in Central between 8am and 6pm yesterday ranged between 23.9 and 171.7 micrograms per cubic metre (mcm). The WHO guidelines stipulate that, over a 24-hour period, a safe level is 50mcm. Above that level, the pollution begins to affect health.

      The Hong Kong government's 24-hour level is 180mcm. So levels of RSP were as much as three times higher than WHO guidelines, and more. Nitrogen dioxide levels were also high, ranging between 173 and 513mcm, more than twice the WHO guidelines of 200mcm per hour – and thus more than twice the levels at which NO2 begins to affect one's health. The Hedley Environmental index, which can be found at http://hedleyindex.sph.hku.hk/home.php, was off the scale yesterday, with its pointer past the "very dangerous" level.

      We also hear from Professor Anthony Hedley at the University of Hong Kong that the medical literature is now replete with studies on health impacts, especially in maternal and child health, with diverse and serious outcomes such as leukaemia, congenital heart disease and growth retardation in pregnancy at levels considerably lower than the current WHO annual limit. He has recently shown that compliance with the present short-term limits for NO2 will not achieve the annual limit of 40mcm in a high-pollution environment like Hong Kong.

      The air pollution we are discussing here is roadside pollution, which is created in Hong Kong and can be tackled by a government with political will. The main sources are buses and trucks with old diesel engines.

      The government's disregard for public health in this area is scandalous, particularly for a territory that likes to style itself as Asia's world city. We await with some interest to see if the new Environment Bureau chief has any intention of doing something about this.

      I've sent email with this article to a few people inc EPD director Anissa Wong:

      It is way past time that EPD got involved in health – the reason for combating air pollution

      I interviewed Stuart Reed, as he left EPD years ago; seemed he was highly concerned about such issues.

      EPD nowadays seems little more than about measurements – and of course pushing for incinerator.

      What's wrong with you people?

      Don't you care?

      Also, this air pollution has made news w Bloomberg, noting that the government has issued health advisory:

      Hong Kong’s roadside air pollution hit the worst levels in more than two years as a typhoon approaching Taiwan brought hot weather and trapped pollutants, prompting the government to issue a health warning.

      The Air Pollution Index was “severe” at the roadside- monitoring station in Central and “very high” in both Causeway Bay and Mongkok as of 7 a.m. local time, the city’s Environmental Protection Department said on its website. The roadside index in Central reached 212, the highest level since March 23, 2010.




      RTHK report from 14 Nov 2012:

      The Director of Audit has criticised the government's new air quality objectives, to be introduced two years from now, saying they will not adequately protect public health. Furthermore, he pointed out that Hong Kong had never achieved the air pollution improvement goals set a quarter of a century ago, and took the Environmental Protection Department to task for its failings.

      The audit report came as high levels of air pollution again hit the territory with the reading at the roadside monitoring station in Central soaring to 140.

      High levels were also recorded at the other two roadside stations in Causeway Bay and Mongkok.

      Earlier this year the government said the territory's air quality objectives would be revised to more stringent levels from 2014.

      But the auditor warned that the objectives would not provide adequate protection of public health, as they were mostly set on interim targets of the World Health Organisation, rather than its strictest standards.




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