Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

India reported 1.1 million deaths due to air pollution in 2015, says a global study

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/pollution/india-reported-1-1-million-deaths-due-to-air-pollution-in-2015-says-a-global-study/printarticle/57145119.cms

The government here may be in denial mode on linking premature deaths to air pollution, but a new study on global air pollution by the US-based institutes claims that the India’s worsening air pollution caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015 and the country now “rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world.”

The special report on ‘global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden’, released on Tuesday, noted that the number of premature deaths in China caused by dangerous fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, has stabilised in recent years but has risen sharply in India.

It also said that both the countries together were responsible for over half of the total global attributable deaths while India had registered an alarming increase of nearly 50% in premature deaths from particulate matter between 1990 and 2015.

Besides data analysis on air pollution, the report also carries an interactive website on the issue highlighting that 92% of the world’s population lives in the areas with unhealthy air.

“We are seeing increasing air pollution problems worldwide, and this new report and website details why that air pollution is a major contributor to early death,” said Dan Greenbaum, President of the Health Effects Institute (HEI), the global research institute that designed and implemented the study.

He said, “The trends we report show that we have seen progress in some parts of the world – but serious challenges remain.”

The State of Global Air 2017 is the first of a new series of annual reports and accompanying interactive website, designed and implemented by the Health Effects Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia.

The IHME is an independent population health research center that publishes the annual Global Burden of Diseases — a systematic scientific effort to quantify the magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries, and risk factors in populations across the world. Its results are published every year in The Lancet medical journal.

“Although there are many parts of the world where air pollution has grown worse, there has also been improvement in the US and Europe. The US Clean Air Act and actions by the European Commission have made substantial progress in reducing people exposed to PM pollution since 1990,” said a statement issued by the HEI.

Referring to the study, it said, “The US has experienced a reduction of about 27% in average annual population exposures to fine particulate matter with smaller declines in Europe. Yet some 88,000 Americans and 258,000 Europeans still face increased risks of dying early due to PM levels today”.

The report noted that the highest concentrations of combustion-related fine particulate matter were in South and Southeast Asia, China and Central and Western Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 where household solid fuel use, coal-fired power plants, transportation, and open burning of agricultural and other wastes were among the most important contributors to outdoor air pollution.

“The Global Burden of Disease leads a growing worldwide consensus – among the WHO, World Bank, International Energy Agency and others – that air pollution poses a major global public health challenges,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice President of HEI and Chair of Clean Air Asia.

He said, “Nowhere is that risk more evident than in the rapidly growing economies of Asia.”

The study finds that increasing exposure and a growing and aging population have meant that India now rivals China for among the highest air pollution health burdens in the world, with both countries facing some 1.1 million early deaths from air pollution in 2015.

It said the long-term exposure to fine particulate matter — the most significant element of air pollution — contributed to 4.2 million premature deaths and to a loss of 103 million healthy years of life in 2015, making air pollution the 5th highest cause of death among all health risks, including smoking, diet, and high blood pressure.

India has, however, always been sceptical of such reports. Though the government here did never deny the negative impact of air pollution on human healths, it preferred not to speak about numbers.

Even recently during Budget session of the Parliament, the government had on February 6 said that there was no conclusive data to link deaths exclusively with air pollution. It, however, admitted that the air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory ailments and diseases.

“There is no conclusive data available in the country to establish direct co-relationship of death exclusively with air pollution. Health effects of air pollution are synergistic manifestation of factors which include food habits, occupational habits, socio-economic status, medical history, immunity, heredity etc. of the individuals,” said the country’s environment minister Anil Madhav Dave.

Dave, in his written response to a Parliament question in Rajya Sabha, had said, “Air pollution could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases.”

Tube ‘higher than driving’ for air pollution, study finds

Travelling on the Underground exposes commuters to more than eight times as much air pollution as those who drive to work, a university study has found.

Monitors worn by commuters found those who travelled on the Tube were exposed to 68mg of harmful pollutant PM10, whereas car drivers had 8.2mg.

The University of Surrey study found when train windows were open, commuters were exposed to more pollutants.

Drivers were not as exposed because cars filter the pollutants out.

But although drivers are not exposed to as many pollutants, the types given out by cars are more harmful than the ones found on the Underground.

‘Environmental injustice’

The study found PM levels were highest on trains on the Victoria and Northern lines, because they all had their windows open, heightening the effect of pollutants when going through tunnels.

The study did not include people who commute on foot or cycle.

The study also found:

• Passengers on the District Line in trains with closed windows were exposed to far lower concentrations of PM than those travelling on trains with open windows on the same line
• Bus commuters were exposed to an average of 38mg of PM10, roughly half as much as Tube passengers but five times as much as cars
• The morning commute has more pollutants than the afternoon and evening journeys
• Although car drivers were the least exposed, they caused the most pollutants.

Dr Prashant Kumar, who led the study, said: “We found that there is definitely an element of environmental injustice among those commuting in London, with those who create the most pollution having the least exposure to it.

“The relatively new airtight trains with closed windows showed a significant difference to the levels of particles people are exposed to over time, suggesting that operators should consider this aspect during any upgrade of Underground trains, along with the ways to improve ventilation in underground tunnels.”

Drop in roadside air pollutants in Hong Kong thanks to government measures

I refer to Natalie Siu Hoi-tung’s letter on pollution in Hong Kong (“Air pollution impact can’t be ignored [1]”, January 27).

We can’t agree more that air pollution must not be ignored. The government has been taking action to improve air quality.

Locally, we have capped the emissions of power plants via statutory technical memorandums (TM) since 2008 and have been progressively tightening the caps. Since 2014, we have implemented an incentive-cum-regulatory scheme to progressively phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019.

We have also deployed remote sensors to strengthen emission control for petrol and liquefied petroleum gas vehicles.

In July 2015, Hong Kong became the first Asian city to mandate ocean-going vessels at berth to switch to low-sulphur fuel. A new regulation was introduced in June 2015 requiring newly imported non-road mobile machinery to comply with statutory emission standards.

Regionally, we have been collaborating with the mainland authorities to reduce emissions in the whole Pearl River Delta region. Emission reduction targets have been set for key air pollutants for 2015 and 2020.

Joint efforts have been made in various scientific studies/programmes, for example, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Joint Regional PM2.5 Study, which will help provide a scientific base in formulating policies to alleviate regional air pollution.

The above measures have borne fruit. From 2012 to 2016, our roadside and ambient air pollutants have dropped by up to 30 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, while the ambient level of ozone has seen a slight decline of 3 per cent. However, amid the improvement trends, there are still episodes of high pollution when pollutants are transported from the delta region under unfavourable meteorological conditions. Hence, we have to continue our efforts to improve air quality.

We will continue to review the emission caps under the TM for power plants and we are preparing to tighten the emission standards for newly registered vehicles to Euro VI.

We will collaborate with the mainland authorities to set up a domestic emission control area in the Pearl River Delta waters in 2019, such that all vessels in the area will have to use low-sulphur fuel. Furthermore, we have embarked on a review of the air quality objectives (AQOs) to identify new practicable air quality improvement measures and assess the scope of tightening the AQOs made possible by their implementation. The review will be completed next year.

Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director (air policy), Environmental Protection Department
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2070763/drop-roadside-air-pollutants-hong-kong-thanks-government-measures

How we discovered pollution-poisoned crustaceans in the Mariana Trench

Even animals from the deepest places on Earth have accumulated pollutants made by humans. That’s the unfortunate finding of a new study by myself with colleagues from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

http://theconversation.com/how-we-discovered-pollution-poisoned-crustaceans-in-the-mariana-trench-72900

Up until now I have tended to stick to the nice side of deep sea biology: discovery and exploration. My colleagues and I are quite at ease in ocean trenches as scientists there can usually work without having to wrestle with anthropogenic impacts like litter or noise and chemical pollution. It is Earth at its most pristine.

But in this instance, while investigating the ecology of Pacific trenches, and with such a unique opportunity to collect deep sea specimens, we couldn’t resist having a quick look for man’s mighty footprint.

We tested various different species of tiny scavenging crustaceans known as amphipods that we gathered between 7,000 and 10,500 metres in depth in the Mariana and the Kermadec trenches in the western Pacific. We found that regardless of depth, regardless of species, regardless of trench, these animals were loaded with the two types of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) we were looking for.

In creatures that live in shallower waters, exposure to POPs can reduce reproductive success and thus population growth. It’s hard to study deeper animals alive under controlled conditions but can assume the pollutants have a similar effect. There were striking variations between trenches and between the sorts of pollutant, but the salient finding is that humanity’s footprint is thoroughly imprinted on some of the most extreme and remote environments on Earth.

In the deep sea these pollutants are particularly concerning as they are inherently hydrophobic, which means they will bind to anything that isn’t water. This includes tiny specs of “marine snow” or larger carcasses that fall through the ocean, which is how the deep sea receives most of its energy. Therefore the primary mechanism of food supply to great depths is also a very efficient way to deliver pollution.

But where did it all come from? Take one of the two types of pollutants for example, a category known as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. About 1.3m tonnes were produced between the 1930s and 1970s to use in paints, plastics, electronic equipment and more. Of this, 65% is now contained in landfills or still within electrical equipment. But more worryingly, the other 35% was accidentally released into the environment.

These pollutants are invulnerable to natural degradation and so persist in the environment for decades, therefore once they find their way into rivers, coast lines and the open ocean there’s plenty of time to sink many kilometres below the waves.

And once a pollutant finds itself in the greatest ocean depth, where else is there to go? The bottom of the Mariana Trench, for example, the deepest point on Earth, was found to host highly-contaminated amphipods. Once these POPs are in the food web there are no mechanisms for dispersal or reversal from such great depths, and hence the bio-accumulation will only continue.

The only positive from this story is that, once people realised these chemicals were an awful contribution to the world, POPs were banned by the 2001 Stockholm Convention. At this point one would hope some major lessons were learned. But no, we don’t look have to look far to realise this taught us nothing. Just take a look at the plague of plastic microbeads (and other microplastics) turning up in the ocean following a brief excursion from, say, a cosmetics bottle, across someone’s face or armpit and then sent on the long journey down the plug hole.

It seems that once again, we have a shocking example of our own stupidity, as people gradually realise that plastic microbeads are, funnily enough, made of plastic, and that stuff that goes down the sink doesn’t magically disappear into another dimension.

The deep sea is closer than you think

We have all likely heard that “Mount Everest would fit into the Mariana Trench with over a mile to spare” or some other pointless analogy regarding the number of elephants standing on a car illustrating the high pressures in the oceans. These all serve to needlessly distance ourselves from these remote marine frontiers.

Of course, the pressure and depth are immense, which do require incredible physiological adaptations for survival, and equally clever engineering solutions for exploration, but the 11km that so easily swallows Mount Everest is still only 11km. Think of it like this: 11km is only half the length of Manhattan Island, I could legally drive it in less than six minutes, and Mo Farah could run it in less than 30 minutes.

The reality is that the deep sea just isn’t that remote, and the great depth and pressures are only an imaginary defence against the effects of what we do “up here”. The bottom line is that the deep sea – most of planet Earth – is anything but exempt from the consequences of what happens above it, and it’s about time we appreciated that.

Climate Science Denier Myron Ebell Explains How the Trump Team Will Gut the EPA, Abandon the Paris Agreement

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/01/31/myron-ebell-epa-transition-how-trump-gut-epa-abandon-paris-agreement

As senators get set to vote Wednesday on the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, the man who was charged with leading the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team gave some clues as to how it might be run.

Myron Ebell is one of the country’s most prominent climate science deniers, is the Director of Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and until inauguration day was leading the EPA transition team at the behest of the then president-elect.

At a press event in London on Monday, attended and covered by DeSmog UK’s Mat Hope, Ebell admitted that he had never actually spoken to Trump, and that he was recruited to the transition team by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

What did Ebell’s transition team actually do?

“We did produce an action plan and an advisory document,” he said, but refused to discuss the contents of the “confidential” document. Coincidentally, in December, the CEI released a set of policy proposals called “Free to Prosper: A Pro-growth agenda for the 155th Congress,” which included a 26-page chapter on energy and the environment, though there is no way of knowing for sure if there is any overlap between the CEI proposal and Ebell’s action plan.

Although Ebell is no longer involved with the administration in any way, he made bold predictions and spoke confidently about how the Trump team would work to dismantle the EPA and pull out of the Paris Agreement, while finding plenty of time to bash the “climate industrial complex” and deny the consensus of climate scientists.

“The people of America have rejected the ‘expertariat’ about one thing after another including climate policy… climate scientists are in this for the glamour and the fame.”

“If we’re going to have some warming it should have started… it has been vastly exaggerated.”

Ebell indicated that Trump’s trust in Steve Bannon, the controversial former manager of Breitbart News who is now one of Trump’s closest advisors, was proof enough that Trump’s administration would take a torch to international climate action.

When pressed by reporters on the Paris Agreement, who brought up the fact that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson said in his confirmation hearing that “it’s important that the U.S. maintains its seat at the table,” Ebell seemed confident that Tillerson wouldn’t get his way. “If Rex Tillerson disagrees with the president — who will win that? The president was elected and Rex Tillerson was appointed. I’d say the president was odds on to win.”

He also said that even if the U.S. wasn’t able to ditch the Paris Agreement immediately, the “cleanest” way to abandon the deal would be to “withdraw from the framework convention” entirely. Ebell was referring to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body that holds the annual climate conferences and serves as the overarching body under which all international climate diplomacy is conducted.

Speaking specifically about the EPA, Ebell suggested that after Pruitt is confirmed, the agency will make a priority of stripping “harmful” air and water pollution regulations, and that the web of climate-related rules and actions would be systematically dismantled. Of the Climate Action Plan in particular, Ebell said, “There are numerous grounds that it should be undone and I hope that it will be undone.”

Ebell did not mention, however, that the EPA’s climate regulations stem from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants that should be covered by the Clean Air Act.

Ebell was speaking as a man no longer serving in the administration, as he resigned when Trump took office and presumably wasn’t asked to stay on board to lead the “beachhead” teams that are now lining the agency up for Pruitt’s likely arrival.

Some are speculating that Ebell’s move away is a sign that the Trump team is shifting away from the extreme climate deniers of the far right, and replacing them with personnel, like Tillerson, who at least publicly acknowledge the existence of manmade climate change. Regardless, it will be critical to track the early actions of the EPA after Pruitt presumably takes the helm, to see how they align with proposals that CEI put forth in December. For his part, Ebell is back at the fossil fuel industry–funded CEI full time.

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-air-pollution-alzheimers-20170131-story.html

With environmental regulations expected to come under heavy fire from the Trump administration, new research offers powerful evidence of a link between air pollution and dementia risk.

For older women, breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates nearly doubles the likelihood of developing dementia, finds a study published Tuesday. And the cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in women who carry a genetic variant, known as APOE-e4, which puts them at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a nationwide study that tracked the cognitive health of women between the ages of 65 and 79 for 10 years, those who had the APOE-e4 variant were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia if they were exposed to high levels of air pollution than APOE-e4 carriers who were not.

Among carriers of that gene, older women exposed to heavy air pollution were close to four times likelier than those who breathed mostly clean air to develop “global cognitive decline” — a measurable loss of memory and reasoning skills short of dementia.

While scientists have long tallied the health costs of air pollution in asthma, lung disease and cardiovascular disease, the impact of air pollutants on brain health has only begun to come to light. This study gleans new insights into how, and how powerfully, a key component of urban smog scrambles the aging brain.

Published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the research looks at a large population of American women, at lab mice, and at brain tissue in petri dishes to establish a link between serious cognitive decline and the very fine particles of pollution emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and the burning of biomass products such as wood.

All three of these biomedical research methods suggest that exposure to high levels of fine air pollutants increases both dementia’s classic behavioral signs of disorientation and memory loss as well as its less obvious hallmarks. These include amyloid beta protein clumps in the brain and the die-off of cells in the brain’s hippocampus, a key center for memory formation.

Using air pollution standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found significant differences on all those measures between those who breathed clean air and those exposed to pollution levels deemed unsafe.

In lab mice, breathing air collected over the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles led to brain concentrations of amyloid protein that were more dense and more likely to form dangerous clumps than breathing air that satisfied EPA standards before 2012. When lab mice were bred with a strong predisposition to develop dementia and its hallmarks, the brain differences between pollution-breathing animals and those that breathed clean air were starker.

In 2011, a study in the journal Lancet found that those who lived close to densely trafficked roads were at a far higher risk of stroke and dementia than those who lived farther away. A year later, a team led by Alzheimer’s disease researcher Dr. Samuel Gandy at Mt. Sinai in New York first established that air pollutants induced inflammation, cell death and the buildup of amyloid protein in the brains of mice.

The new study extends those findings.

Authored by geriatric and environmental health specialists at USC, the new study estimates that before the EPA set new air pollution standards in 2012, some 21% of new cases of dementia and of accelerated cognitive decline could likely have been attributed to air pollution.

There is potential legal significance to the researchers’ finding that women (and mice) who carried a genetic predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s disease were far more sensitive to air pollution’s effects. In devising pollution standards, the EPA is currently required to consider their health impact on “vulnerable populations.” The agency is also required to use its regulatory authority to take steps to protect those populations.

Air pollution has been declining steadily since the EPA promulgated new standards in 2012. But Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an environmental health specialist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said it’s not clear that even current standards are safe for aging brains, or for brains that are genetically vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

The Trump administration has signaled it will look to scrap or substantially rewrite Obama administration regulations that tightened emissions from power plants and established tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb climate change and reduce air pollution.

“If people in the current administration are trying to reduce the cost of treating diseases, including dementia, then they should know that relaxing the Clean Air Act regulations will do the opposite,” Chen said.

Waste management problems are getting worse in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2064988/waste-management-problems-are-getting-worse-hong-kong#add-comment

Rarely has an organisation performed as miserably, every year, as the Environmental Protection Department in its waste management programme.

Its failure was highlighted in reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee last year. Predictably, the department’s latest waste management report, for 2015, is no different.

Its two major targets have moved in the wrong direction five years in a row – the amount of waste per person disposed daily increased, while the waste recovery rate decreased. From 2014 to 2015, waste disposed went up (from 1.35 to 1.39kg), while waste recovered went down (from 36.5 to 35.4 per cent). That’s the worst performance in a decade.

In the Environment Bureau’s waste-management blueprint issued in 2013, the objective for the amount of waste per person disposed daily was set at 1kg by 2017 and 0.8kg by 2022. The recovery rate was to be 55 per cent by 2022.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has talked up the blueprint for the past two years. But at a January 17 press conference, he was mum about waste management performance, except for an 8 per cent decrease in food waste, which is just 30 per cent of total domestic waste.

I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable.

Wong and his department seem incapable of grasping the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered.

Imposing a waste-charging scheme cannot lower significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there’s a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered.

And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. He omitted the crucial factor in their success: waste separation at source is required by law.

Waste-recovery companies in Hong Kong have to sell paper, plastic and metal to the mainland at market prices, which cannot be controlled by the Environment Bureau.

This means the current 36 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent, which is the rate achieved by countries that successfully manage their waste.

At its 36 per cent waste recovery rate, Hong Kong needs to reduce waste generation by 40 per cent from the current level to achieve the 0.8kg average amount of waste per person disposed daily by 2022. In their dreams.

Tom Yam, Lantau

China orders local meteorological bureaus to stop issuing smog alerts

China is suspending local meteorological bureaus from issuing smog alerts, media reported Wednesday, raising suspicions the government is attempting to suppress information about the country’s air pollution as public anger over the issue grows.

China’s Meteorological Administration notified local bureaus Tuesday to “immediately stop issuing smog alerts”, according to a photo of a notice posted on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.

Instead, the local departments can issue alerts for “fog” when visibility is less than 10 km, according to the notice.

The notice was issued because local “meterological bureaus and the environmental protection administration often disagree when they issue smog-related information,” a representative from the China Meteorological Administration told the Chinese website The Paper.

“A joint alerting mechanism will be formulated to consult how to and who should issue alerts for smog,” the representative said.

One single department will now be responsible for issuing smog alerts, The Paper reported.

The reports met with stinging criticism from online commentators who have long doubted the credibility of official data on air pollution.

“Before, they cheated us separately, and now, they are going to cheat us together,” one person said on Weibo.

“Even though they are working on a unified alert standard, they should not stop the existing alert system,” another replied.

The Chinese government has a colour-coded system of smog alerts, topping out at red when severe pollution is likely to last more than 72 hours.

The notice sets off a series of emergency measures, ranging from taking cars off the road to closing heavily polluting factories.

Local authorities have long hesitated to issue the notices over fears that they will harm economic performance, even when pollution levels are literally off the charts.

In late 2015, China issued its first ever red alert in response to public anger over the government’s reluctance to take action after a wave of suffocating smog hit the country’s northeast.

In the past, local and national authorities have issued contradictory, confusing alerts, one ordering factories and schools to be closed and one not.

Bad air is a source of enduring public anger in China, which has seen fast economic growth in recent decades but at the cost of widespread environmental problems.

In recent weeks, parents in particular have expressed outrage over the miasma that regularly affect hundreds of millions and has led to high levels of lung cancer, demanding that schools be equipped with air purifiers.

Earlier this month, many took to social media to express their anger about the thick smog that choked Beijing for over a week around the New Year but found their articles quickly deleted, a move that only increased their frustration.

“When people are gagged, the sky will be blue,” said one sarcasm-laced Weibo comment.

Hong Kong’s ‘producer pays’ e-waste levy to range from HK$15 to HK$165 per item

A long-awaited “producer pays” levy fee covering certain waste electrical and electronic equipment is likely to range between HK$15 and HK$165, according to a government paper.

Once fully implemented, manufacturers and importers will have to be registered and must bear the costs of properly recycling the items.

The proposed charges are HK$15 per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air-conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. They must be paid to the government on a quarterly basis.

Appliance sellers are also required to collect old appliances upon request from purchasers of new ones and deliver them to a licensed recycler for free.

Environmental Protection Department assistant director Samson Lai said the charges recovered the full costs of recycling and the scheme could be reviewed when appropriate. But he admitted that some retailers might try to pass some of the costs to consumers.

“The idea is based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle and creating a closed-loop recycling system in which e-waste is collected, processed and turned into resources via proper treatment,” he said. “It will also help reduce pressure on landfills.”

About 70,000 tonnes of e-waste is disposed of in the city each year, 80 per cent of which is exported and the rest usually landfilled locally – a situation the government says is unsustainable.

The government’s new treatment and recycling facility in Tuen Mun, scheduled for commissioning this year and operated by ALBA IWS, will have the capacity to handle 30,000 tonnes.

The latest updates will be discussed at the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel next week. Draft legislative amendments will be tabled to the council for scrutiny in the second quarter, with implementation expected in the third.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at the Green Earth, welcomed the updates but believed the levy rates were still quite low and would have minimal impact on producers.

Meanwhile, a report released on Sunday by United Nations University, the UN’s academic arm, found Hong Kong to have the highest e-waste per capita generation out of a dozen Asian countries, followed by Singapore and Taiwan.

The report attributed the average increase in e-waste generation over the region – 63 per cent from 2010 to 2015 – to more gadgets and consumers and devices being replaced more frequently.

Hong Kong and Singapore’s levels, it said, were particularly high because they did not yet have specific e-waste legislation. Both also had significant trans-boundary movements of e-waste generated domestically and in transit from other countries.

“Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” co-author Ruediger Kuehr said.

An investigation by environmental group ¬Basel Action Network last year found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the US [3].

Under the new scheme, a permit will be required for the importing and exporting of regulated e- waste. Regulated e-waste will also no longer be accepted at landfills.
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2062599/hong-kongs-producer-pays-e-waste-levy-range-hk15

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Paul Stapleton warns that the Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index [2] scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index (aqicn.org) [3], which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities.

They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively. Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.

In defence of the Air Quality Health Index, many other pollutants, such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are included in its composite measure, and their levels may have been “low”. However, even if their levels are low and only the PM2.5 is high, that does not mean it is safe to be outdoors for extended periods, especially for young children whose lungs are particularly prone to damage [6] by pollutants in the air.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy I noticed this past week is not an isolated incident. Regularly, the index forecasts the level of air pollution in Hong Kong to be “low to moderate” on the following day when the PM2.5 reading turns out to be at levels much higher than that acceptable by international standards. Sadly, the government’s daily forecast lends a false sense of security about air quality. In the end, it may be best to look out of the window and judge for oneself.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong

________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2061239/hong-kongs-official-air-quality-index-failing-warn-deadly