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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.”

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

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

China’s Smog Is as Deadly as Smoking, New Research Claims

Current severe smog in northern China is affecting nearly half a billion people

http://time.com/4617295/china-smog-smoking-environment-air-pollution/

Air pollution could be the cause of 1 in 3 deaths in China, new academic research suggests, making everyday life about as deadly as smoking cigarettes in some parts of the country.

According to the South China Morning Post, a recent study of 74 cities analyzed some 3.03 million deaths recorded in 2013, and found that 31.8% of them could be linked to smog.

The study, carried out by researchers at China’s Nanjing University, found that the air was most toxic in the cities of Baoding, Shijiazhuang and Handan, each reporting more than 30,000 deaths in 2013 that could be linked to pollution.

It does not appear that the situation has markedly improved in the years since. Last Friday, Beijing issued a “red alert” warning because of a blanket of thick smog shrouding the capital city and a large swath of northern China, affecting nearly half a billion people. With pollution levels reaching about 500 PM2.5 particles per cubic meter — the WHO ranks safe levels as under 25 — the so-called airpocalypse, has sent tens of thousands fleeing to southern parts of the country, where the air is cleaner.

Hospitals have been crowded with patients suffering respiratory problems, whole highways have been shut down, and hundreds of flights grounded. Classes were also cancelled — although in one case exams were not. Shocking images spread across the Internet showing schoolchildren seated outside wearing jackets and face masks, huddled over desks to take a test in gray, toxic gloom.

The Post reports that the new findings from Nanjing support previous research; the paper says that the International Energy Agency published a report in June claiming that air pollution has trimmed some 25% off life expectancy in China, while a study co-authored by researchers at three renowned universities determined that people in China’s north could lose an average of 5.5 years of life due to smog.

China’s National Energy Administration reportedly said Wednesday that it will enact measures such as limiting high-pollution fuel emissions and launching a satellite carbon-dioxide monitor to mitigate the problem, but many in the country’s vast ultra-industrial cities remain skeptical.

Greenpeace has warned that the economy must urgently be made less dependent on polluting forms of energy and that people living in cold northern climates should be given alternatives to coal, which causes much of the smog.

China’s Lung Cancer Epidemic is a Global Problem

In the West, China is arguably most well-known for its enormous population and the one child policy introduced in the 1970s to control it. Earlier this year, however, that policy was officially rescinded in order to combat a problem that most people generally associate with Europe or Japan: a rapidly falling population.

http://moderndiplomacy.eu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=1961:china-s-lung-cancer-epidemic-is-a-global-problem&Itemid=135

Indeed, after four decades of suppressing population growth, China is now afflicted by the problem of increasing numbers of retirees dovetailing with dwindling numbers of young people joining the workforce. Making things worse, China’s breakneck pace of economic development is now a major cause of preventable deaths every year. Air pollution and rampant smoking rates are making a bad demographical problem worse and Chinese authorities are slowly coming around to the idea that there is a direct connection between its population’s health and its economic prospects.

Today in China there are about 5 workers for every retiree. Given current population trends, by 2040 that ratio will stand at 1.6 workers for every retiree. The average age will rise from under 30 now to 46, with the number of people over 65 reaching 329 million by 2050, up from 100 million in 2005. The burden that this will place on the social services needed to care for the elderly in the face of falling tax revenues from a diminished workforce is only exacerbated by the fact that the country’s runaway cancer rates means that more of its elderly population will be in need of state care. Many of those sick beds will be taken up by lung cancer patients. With 600,000 deaths caused by the disease every year, expected to rise to 700,000 by 2020, China has the highest number of lung cancer patients in the world. And with an estimated 4,000 deaths a day caused by industrial pollution alone, grassroots organizations have finally decided that enough is enough and are beginning to agitate for something to be done to improve living standards.

Residents of China’s smog-filled cities have suffered for years, but it was a documentary released this year about China’s environmental problems that finally sounded a clarion call for Chinese people to rally to. Produced by Chai Jing, a former China Central news anchorwoman, the documentary racked up hundreds of millions of views before being scrubbed from the Internet by the authorities fearing that it could create a groundswell of discontent that could spill over into mass protests. Realizing the depth of feeling, the government has scrambled to get out ahead of the situation and declared its own ‘war on pollution’, culminating with President Xi’s historic agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions sign the Paris climate agreement.

As up hill a struggle as reducing industrial pollution will prove for the Chinese authorities, the other leading cause of lung cancer in China is set to present even more of a challenge. Nearly 70 percent of Chinese men are addicted to tobacco, one in three of whom are expected to die from the habit – by 2030, over two million people would die every year from smoking if nothing changes. Current tobacco reduction efforts in the country are hampered by poor enforcement and the massive influence of the state owned cigarette manufacturer, China National Tobacco Corporation, which supports millions of jobs among tobacco farmers and retailers.

Further frustrating the drive to curb tobacco use is the fact that China has signed up to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which does not recognize e-cigarettes as an efficient way of quitting, despite the fact that over 10 million people have given up the habit thanks to vaping. The FCTC’s latest meeting in New Delhi raised new obstacles to the prospect of the organization softening its stance, after delegates blocked journalists and e-cigarette producers from even observing the meetings. In line with the Convention’s advice, China is expected to take measures that will restrict e-cigarettes and tobacco alike, with the ultimate aim of banning both.

While these obstacles may seem nearly insurmountable to China’s anti-tobacco agenda, there are lessons that can be carried over from its anti-pollution drive. International pressure has played a big part in getting China to face up to its killer smog and chemical problem, a problem with which Western countries are all too familiar from their own experiences in the previous century.

As noted in Chai’s documentary, when it comes to dealing with these issues China finds itself in a comparable position to the West in the 1950s, quickly growing and struggling to contain the environmental fallout. Ending on a bright note, the documentary references London and Los Angeles, both of which were regularly choked by haze in the 1940s and 50s, but managed to massively curb their pollution levels once they faced them head on. In getting to grips with its own problems, China is going to need all the help it can get from international partners and institutions if it is to save some of the millions of lives expected to be lost to lung cancer over the coming decades. Given the increasing importance to the world economy of a healthy and plentiful Chinese workforce, their success or failure in this endeavor is of global significance.

China’s hairy crab scandal reveals depth of pollution crisis

Toxin-tainted crustaceans raise doubts over clean-up of showpiece lake

https://www.ft.com/content/df0c7b9a-abc4-11e6-9cb3-bb8207902122

Every autumn, Hong Kong restaurants serve a seasonal delicacy: hairy crabs, shipped the same day from lakes around the Chinese city of Suzhou.

But the territory’s food safety inspectors recently made a shocking discovery: some crabs in this year’s consignment contained dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals. Even worse, the crabs appeared to come from Lake Tai, a model in China’s fight against pollution after a multiyear, multibillion-dollar clean-up.

Has the clean-up failed? Or is something else amiss? The answer, says crab breeder Wang Yue, lies in “bathing crabs”, which carry the Lake Tai name but have spent minimal time in its waters.

Mr Wang and his family tend hundreds of crabs in baskets hung from bamboo posts in shallow Lake Tai, also known as Taihu. He estimates the market for crabs has grown to three times what families like his can produce, so crabs grown elsewhere are brought to the lake for a few days so that they can be sold on at a premium — a practice known as giving them a “bath”.

“The crabs here are sweet and tasty because the water is fresh. But people in other cities don’t know the difference,” he said. “Some people can make a lot of money by pretending they come from Lake Tai.”

Lake Tai and nearby Yangcheng Lake provide top-quality hairy crabs. But so many are cultivated elsewhere — in nearby lakes, ponds dug into former rice fields or even under solar farms — that prices have been depressed and breeders on Lake Tai struggle to break even.

The bathing crabs affair appears to be a classic Chinese food safety story, where an explosion in production outpaces regulators’ ability to police quality. But the bigger problem is the long shadow cast by China’s polluters.

A showcase environmental clean-up has markedly improved water quality at Lake Tai. But the costly success does little to address China’s broader soil pollution crisis.

Over the past decade, central planners drew up blueprints to tackle smog, water pollution and soil pollution by closing or moving factories, regulating emissions and improving monitoring — the playbook used at Lake Tai.

The result has been a steady improvement in COD, a measure of the organic content in water and one of Beijing’s environmental targets. But the dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls found in the crabs could come from poorly regulated waste incinerators or steel sintering elsewhere in the Yangtze Delta region, or wherever the bathing crabs are raised.

“It may be discharged as air emissions but if it showed up in crabmeat it’s because the emissions got into the water and the soil, the sediment,” said Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist. Persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs “are hard to decompose. They are persistent. They will stay in the environment for a long time.”

From Mr Wang’s weir, the water smells fresh. A bucket of snails on his porch and the egrets perching on the bamboo struts testify to the improvement in water quality.

It used to be much worse. In the 1990s, 1bn tonnes of rubbish, waste water, pig manure and fertiliser entered Lake Tai every year. Petrochemicals, smelting and textiles turned the waterlogged region into one of the wealthiest in China. Local governments turned a blind eye to polluters.

In 2007 a toxic algae bloom cut off drinking water to 2m people for 10 days. Weeks earlier, authorities arrested a local man campaigning against factories dumping waste in the lake. He was jailed for three years.

After the algae bloom, Beijing declared the lake a natural disaster zone and ordered it cleaned by 2012. It shut factories and moved foundries to industrial zones, installed waste water treatment plants and discouraged pig farm expansion. A widened channel to the Yangtze river helped water circulate.

“There are 35m to 40m people around this lake who rely on its water. So the government had to prioritise it,” said Fang Yingjun, head of Lüse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Center, a non-governmental organisation. “Every year we go to the same spot to check the water for algae and every year it’s better. It really is much better. So much money has been spent.”

It was not easy. The warm, shallow lake is the perfect spot for organic pollutants to trigger algae blooms. At 2,338 sq km, it is one and a half times the size of Greater London — big enough to hide plenty of sins.

“You can’t really see the polluted water any more but companies are still good at disguise,” said Wu Lihong, the campaigner who was jailed. Lake residents still spot underwater pipes leading from factories. This summer a secret landfill for waste from Shanghai was discovered on an island in the lake.

And while Beijing focused on Lake Tai, it also encouraged polluting factories to migrate from wealthier areas to the poor hinterland. Meanwhile, ecommerce and cheap airfares allowed new crab farms to spring up around China.

Bathing crabs are likely to remain a barometer of China’s ability to clean up its environment for years to come.

Detroit Incinerator Is Hotspot for Health Problems, Environmentalists Claim

The country’s biggest trash-burning facility has been issued with a notice to sue, with local residents complaining of the bad smell and pollution it produces

http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/39851-detroit-incinerator-is-hotspot-for-health-problems-environmentalists-claim

At the intersection of two highways just outside downtown Detroit, a hulking relic of the city’s past looms over the skyline: the largest municipal trash incinerator in the US. It’s a facility that has raised concerns of nearby residents since its construction in the 1980s.

And some days, it stinks.

“The odors, if you ride I-94, you get this foul, rotten egg smell,” said Sandra Turner-Handy, who lives about three miles from the facility.

The 59-year-old said her son used to work a block away from the incinerator and said the smell was “constant”. Her granddaughter developed asthma while attending a school near the incinerator, but hasn’t used an inhaler since she graduated and moved away.

The persistent odor and emission of other polluting substances are among 40 alleged Clean Air Act and state violations that have been logged against the company that owns the facility, Detroit Renewable Energy, since March 2015, according to a notice to sue by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

“It’s the things that you can’t smell that are the most harmful,” said Turner-Handy. “And how do residents report something that they can’t smell?”

In 2015, the incinerator burned more than 650,000 tons of garbage, according to the notice. And since the beginning of that year, the incinerator has been fined for persistently violating an earlier agreement with the state for alleged state violations.

The law center also said in the filing that the incinerator presents a clear example of an environmental justice problem, as a majority of the trash burnt at the facility is imported from outlying communities, which pay $10 a ton less than Detroit to dispose of garbage.

“In short, Detroit is subsidizing other communities throughout the State of Michigan, the Midwest, and Canada to dispose of its garbage at the Incinerator,” the filing said, with the incinerator “located in a neighborhood that is composed mostly of low-income people of color and is heavily overburdened by air pollution”.

There’s a long-running debate over whether incineration is better for the environment than landfills. But communities located near incinerators have long lamented that they bear the brunt of its adverse impacts on air quality.

Citing statistics from the EPA, the center said 7,280 residents live within one mile of the incinerator, of whom 60% live below the federal poverty line and 87% are people of color. An EPA report also found that the area is a “hotspot for respiratory related health impacts when compared to other Michigan communities”, according to the law center.

The notice to sue also names Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, along with the state and federal environment agencies. The agencies have 60 days to commence an enforcement action, the law center said, and if neither pursues any, a lawsuit may be filed on behalf of residents to enforce the Clean Air Act.

Detroit Renewable Energy, which says the facility provides energy to more than 140 buildings in the downtown and midtown neighborhoods, downplayed the litany of claims in the notice of intent.

In a statement, the company said that it has invested approximately $6m over the last few years to “improve odor management” at the facility. The company said it employs nearly 300 residents, operates a “sophisticated” waste-to-energy facility, and “places the highest priority on complying with the strict and complex requirements established by the EPA and the state environmental department.

“In short, we have done our part,” the company said. “Any claim to the contrary would simply be false.”

The law center says otherwise.

Beyond odor, the notice of intent to sue also highlights an additional 19 violations for emitting carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter above legal thresholds. The incinerator creates a “significant amount” of particulate matter, said Nick Schroeck, executive director of the center, which “can get lodged in people’s lungs”.

The incinerator can’t be directly linked to cases of asthma, but the filing said “particulate matter emissions have been shown to trigger asthma incidents, particularly amongst children”.

Activists are pushing for a ballot initiative for November 2017 to close down the facility in favor of cleaner-energy-producing methods.

“We initially approached this topic sort of by looking at what it was we could do that would be effective within the confines of city law, of state law, and how a ballot initiative could actually rectify a problem in the city,” said Mac Farr, treasurer and spokesman for Sustainable Detroit. “And we could take a policy change and use it to both unify the city and also make the lives of Detroiters better. This was the topic that we settled on.”

Farr said the group’s motivations for the ballot initiative stem from the “public health ramifications” of the incinerator.

“We have some of the highest rates of asthma [in Detroit], the highest that are clustered directly downwind of this incinerator,” he said. “It’s four to five times the statewide average, and there’s a public health dimension to this that needs to be addressed.”

Farr said the group hopes the ballot petition will force city officials to examine the issue, but it has no clear solution for how Detroit should dispose of waste without an incinerator. He suggested a more “robust, citywide recycling program” could “divert a lot of material out of the waste stream if we were to shut off incineration as a method of disposal”.

Officials estimated earlier this year that only 11% of households in the city are recycling.

Dr Abdul El-Sayed, executive director and health officer at the Detroit health department, said issues surrounding the incinerator hadn’t been on his department’s radar until recently, but it’s now “very squarely on my plate”.

“I think it’s obvious that when you burn anything, it’s going to produce material that goes up into the air. That material can do a number of hazardous things,” El-Sayed said. “I think it’s clear that those things are not good for the lungs, and the eyes and some of the other organs … the heart. It’s, generally, not the cleanest, most efficient way of addressing the problem with garbage.”

Protecting people and planet from ‘invisible killer’ is focus of UN health campaign to tackle air pollution

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Coalition for Climate and Clean Air (CCAC) and the Government of Norway has launched a global awareness campaign on the dangers of air pollution – especially ‘invisible killers’ such as black carbon, ground-level ozone and methane – for the health of individuals and the planet.

Titled BreatheLife: Clean air. A healthy future, the campaign aims to mobilize cities and their inhabitants on issues of health and protecting the planet from the effects of air pollution.

Moreover, By WHO and CCAC joining forces, ‘BreatheLife’ brings together expertise and partners that can tackle both the climate and health impacts of air pollution.

According to WHO, air pollution kills nearly seven million people each year, nearly 12 per cent of deaths worldwide. It is responsible for 35 per cent of deaths due to lung disease, 27 per cent of deaths from heart disease, 34 per cent of deaths from stroke, and 36 per cent of deaths from lung cancer.

Urban air pollution levels also tend to be higher in many low and middle-income cities and in poor neighbourhoods of high-income cities. This means reductions in pollutants can have particularly large health benefits for lower income groups as well as for children, elderly, and women, the agency explains.

The campaign seeks to cut in half the number of deaths from air pollution by 2030 – the target year for the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

‘Breathe Life’ highlights the practical policies that cities can implement to improve the air quality through better housing, transport infrastructure, managements of waste and energy systems. It also educates individuals and communities about the measures they can take daily to achieve cleaner air, such as stopping the incineration of waste, development of green spaces and the choice of walking or cycling.

Nine in ten people breathe air that is not safe. Air pollution is an invisible killer that we may face on a simple walk home or even in our homes.

Improved vehicle standards, prioritization of clean public transport, and the adoption of stoves and more efficient alternative fuel for cooking, lighting and heating are also part of the actions put forward by the campaign the goal of saving more lives and protect the environment.

For WHO and its partners, this series of measures to achieve a reduction of pollutants could significantly reduce the number of annual deaths from air pollution.

Something in the air: Is Hong Kong’s pollution problem worsening?

https://www.timeout.com/hong-kong/blog/something-in-the-air-is-hong-kongs-pollution-problem-worsening-092116

The government is trumpeting recent figures that show air pollution is significantly decreasing but is the news as good as it sounds? And what other forms of pollution should Hongkongers worry about?

Christie Tse and Joyce Au find out

“See the people walking by right now? Leisurely walking past, enjoying life, breathing the fresh air?” asks Dr Bob Tsui, vicechairman of NGO Clear The Air, as he points out his office window overlooking the streets of Jordan. You are being ‘attacked through your eyes, your cornea, your nostrils, your mouth and your skin” all the time, he follows up. As you’re reading this, tiny deadly pollution particles called magnetites are slowly moving up your nostrils, penetrating your brain tissue, nervous system and lungs. In a crowded, polluted city like Hong Kong, your body is constantly under attack, every second of every day according to Dr Tsui.

According to government statistics, though, air pollution has been decreasing for several years now. The Environmental Protection Department reckons that between 2011 and 2015, average concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide at roadside monitoring stations fell by 26 percent, 21 percent, 19 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The figures sound impressive and the government has been running adverts on TV trumpeting its success at clearing the air.

However, all is not rosy. Recent studies conducted by scientists in Mexico City have discovered a correlation between 100 and 200 nanometer magnetites released through the exhaust pipes of taxis and buses and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This new information has sparked concern in the local scientific community since roadside pollution remains one of the leading causes of air pollution in our jam-packed city. “In the past 20 years, Hong Kong has not once met its own Air Quality Index standard or that of the World Health Organisation’s,” exclaims Patrick Fung, CEO of NGO Clean Air Network. Paul Zimmerman, Southern District councillor, believes this is unforgiveable, as ‘it’s almost like violence is around you the whole time’, he tells us.

And that’s not the half of it. You may think you can avoid pollution by simply turning recluse and staying at home, but you’d be very wrong.

Studies conducted at the University of Hong Kong reveal that our own kitchens discharge carcinogenic particles into the air every time food is made with vegetable oil. Dr Tsui states that vegetable oil is ‘the most dangerous oil you can use’ since it contributes to air pollution. Clear The Air has published an article that details the process by which vegetable oil, when subjected to high temperatures, oxidises into cancer causing chemicals. “People wonder how they get sick because they eat well all their lives,” Dr Tsui remarks, “but they don’t realise they’re constantly surrounded by these cancerous particles.”

The worst part of all of this is that the toxic kitchen discharge is completely preventable. According to Dr Tsui, the government has the ability and resources to go into restaurants and check their deep friers for dangerous particles.

“It’s a simple test strip and they can do it very easily,” he tells us. “But I have made this announcement for years and the government has not taken any action!” By placing steam jet filters in the kitchen stove, the carcinogenic particles could be released into water. This wouldn’t contaminate the water, according to Dr Tsui, because by the time the dangerous particles pass through the filter and hit the water, many things happen chemically to make the particles no longer harmful.

And cooking oil and air pollution are not the only worries we need have in Hong Kong. After the waves of rubbish that washed up on our beaches over the summer, Hongkongers should be acutely aware of the problem of landfill. Around 30 percent of landfill is made of Styrofoam and in 500 years, that same Styrofoam will still not have decomposed. What’s worse, Styrofoam is mainly composed of styrene, an extremely dangerous chemical that has been linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, impaired memory and concentration, damage to the nervous systems and depression. “Styrene is dangerous,” Dr Tsui declares. “Styrene is vicious. Styrene should not exist in the food chain and yet, every restaurant [in Hong Kong] today still uses Styrofoam takeout boxes.” Worryingly, when we eat hot food or drink hot liquid from Styrofoam plates, boxes or cups, it’s possible for us to consume the styrene that leaches out of the hazardous material.

Once we’ve ingested these dangerous chemicals, they can swim into our bloodstreams, penetrate our organs and cause irrevocable damage to our bodies. Even Styrofoam that’s out in the ocean can ultimately affect us since when marine life, such as fish, consume it, styrene enters the food chain and eventually, Dr Tsui believes, ‘we’ll eat the darn thing’.

Dr Tsui asks: “How can the government be so blind and be so idiotic to allow this to go on?” Just as toxic kitchen discharges are preventable, so too is the use of Styrofoam. Not just in the food industry but all industries. Instead of using Styrofoam boxes for takeaway meals, companies should start using biodegradable containers, Clear The Air advocates. This minor innovation is also very much within the grasp of companies’ capabilities. Fibre generated from corn can be made to make the boxes and then coated in honey wax. Best of all, these resources are biodegradable.

Another solution that the government and corporations can consider implementing, according to Clear The Air, is changing the original chemical composition used to make Styrofoam. The government could order corporations to put titanium dioxide polymers in the Styrofoam so that once the material is dumped on landfill or into the ocean and exposed to UV light, the Styrofoam will disintegrate into carbon dioxide and water, which equates to less harmful pollution.

There are many little things we can do to contribute to a more environmentally friendly society, such as switching off the lights when we leave a room, turning off the air conditioner when we leave the house, adding insulated panels to our windows and attaching solar panels to our roofs. The list is endless. But while every little helps, these changes are too-little-too-late because, ultimately, it is up to our local authority to enact the kind of legislative reform required to make a real difference. As Dr Tsui so clearly puts it: “No matter how rich or how poor you are, you are subjected to this kind of invisible attack. The government needs to stop with the [political games] and start working on practical solutions to eradicate pollution-induced cancer.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to asking the government for help, every issue seems like an urgent matter. Compared to global threats such as deadly diseases like the zika virus or even more mundane local issues like affordable housing, the largely invisible problem of pollution is all too often pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities.

The public, not just the government, underestimate the drastic consequences of air contamination since the effects are not as apparent as many other similarly pressing matters. But pollution is an urgent problem because it surrounds us all. It’s in the air we breathe, the places we walk and the supposedly safe confines of our own homes. We live and breathe pollution whether we like it or not, so it’s about time we paid attention.

For more information visit cleartheair.org.hk.

EPA ruling on aircraft emissions paves way for new regulations

US agency’s declaration that jet engine exhaust endangers public health represents key milestone, reports Climate Central

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/26/epa-ruling-on-aircraft-emissions-paves-way-for-new-regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared that jet engine exhaust endangers public health by contributing to climate change, a key milestone as it works to develop regulations that will cut carbon emissions from commercial aircraft.

Large commercial jets account for 11% of all emissions from the global transportation sector. Aircraft emissions are expected to grow by 50% by 2050 as demand for air travel increases.

Regulating aircraft emissions is part of the Obama administration’s goal under the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The international pact aims to to keep global warming from exceeding 2°C (3.6°F).

“Addressing pollution from aircraft is an important element of US efforts to address climate change,” Janet McCabe, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, said in a statement. “EPA has already set effective GHG standards for cars and trucks and any future aircraft engine standards will also provide important climate and public health benefits.”

Both the EPA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), are developing regulations that will cut carbon emissions from commercial aircraft. The ICAO is expected to finalise its emissions standards in 2017, but the EPA could not proceed with developing its own standards in the US until it concluded that jet engine exhaust poses a public health threat.

Jet engine exhaust emits carbon dioxide, which drives climate change by warming the atmosphere, leading to increasing global temperatures, rising seas and extreme weather. Public health will suffer as heatwaves become more frequent and intense, rising seas inundate coastal cities, extreme storms lead to more deaths and catastrophic wildfires burn more forests and reduce air quality.

“The endangerment finding is key because it obligates the EPA to take regulatory action to cut carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft – it triggers a legal mandate,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the International Council on Clean Transportation.

New emissions standards may become more important as climate change affects the atmosphere. Studies show that climate change will increase wind speeds in some areas of the globe, forcing airplanes flying through them to burn more fuel.
Total global carbon dioxide emissions could see a boost as flight times increase in the stronger winds.

The proposed ICAO standards, supported by the US and 22 other countries, call for a 4% reduction in fuel consumption in new commercial aircraft built after 2028 and from aircraft currently in production delivered after 2023.

Airplane makers are already building more fuel efficient aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, and they are expected to already meet the proposed ICAO emissions standards.

Kodjak said the ICAO’s proposed standards will not sufficiently cut airplane emissions to reduce their climate impact, and the EPA’s process for developing new standards for US airplanes could be an opportunity to make emissions cuts even stricter.

US-based aircraft are responsible for 29% of all greenhouse gas emissions from commercial aircraft worldwide, according to the EPA.

Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water

http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201607/06/P201607060745.htm

Following is a question by Dr Hon Helena Wong and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):

Question:

The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water released at the end of May this year has pointed out that “what we have seen is a collective failure on the part of all stakeholders to guard against the use of non-compliant solder in the plumbing system … every party transferred the duty of supervision to the other(s), resulting in a classic case of buck-passing. Trust was misplaced and in the end it was the residents who suffered the most”. Subsequently at a press conference, the Secretary for Development, Secretary for Transport and Housing as well as Director of Water Supplies apologised to the affected residents for the incidents of excessive lead content in drinking water (the lead-tainted water incidents), but the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) did not. CS remarked that “even though the inquiry of the Commission has revealed that there has been inadequate alertness among government departments and a flawed regulatory system, it does not necessarily mean that there is any individual public officer who has not abided by the law or has neglected his or her duties and should thus be held personally responsible”. On the other hand, the aforesaid report recommended that “in order to put the minds of all public rental housing (PRH) residents at ease, the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again using an appropriate sampling protocol that would include the testing of stagnant water as well”. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that when the accountability system for principal officials was launched in 2002, the authorities indicated that “principal officials under the accountability system … will be accountable to the Chief Executive for the success or failure of matters falling within their respective portfolios. They will accept total responsibility and in an extreme case, they may have to step down for serious failures relating to their respective portfolios. These include serious failures in policy outcome and serious mishaps in the implementation of the relevant policies”, if the authorities have assessed whether, in the lead-tainted water incidents, there is any serious failure in policy outcome and any serious mishap in the implementation of the relevant policies on the part of the principal officials concerned, and whether such officials should be held responsible and step down; if the authorities have assessed, of the outcome; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the justifications, and whether they have reviewed if the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a “buck-passing system for high ranking officials”;

(2) whether it will request CS to apologise to the public for the lead-tainted water incidents; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will immediately conduct sample tests on the lead content of the “initial draw-off” taken from all PRH estates, and whether they will make public all the data obtained from the water tests and blood tests conducted in relation to the lead-tainted water incidents; if they will not, of the reasons for that?

Reply:

Acting President,

Following the briefing by myself, relevant Directors of Bureaux and civil service colleagues for the Legislative Council (LegCo) House Committee on September 1 and October 8 last year on the situation of the lead in drinking water incident at public rental housing (PRH) estates, we will attend the special meeting of the House Committee again on July 11 to brief Members on how the Government will follow up on the recommendations of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Report). Also, we have already submitted a detailed information paper and, therefore, I will reply concisely to the question raised by Dr Hon Helena Wong today.

For the three parts of the question, my reply is as follows:

(1) As early as October 16, 2015 at the LegCo motion debate on excess lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I have already taken the initiative to acknowledge that the incident has clearly reflected the inadequacies of the monitoring system of the Housing Department (HD) and the Water Supplies Department (WSD). At the press conference to make public the Report on May 31 this year, we have accepted the criticisms of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Commission), i.e. the checking system of the two departments, for ensuring that the drinking water in PRH estates does not contain excess lead, has failed to function in reality. The Director of Housing and the Director of Water Supplies have already apologised to the public and the affected residents for the systemic failure and imperfect implementation. The policy areas of housing and water supply are under the purview of the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) and the Secretary for Development (SDEV) respectively. As politically appointed principal officials, STH Professor Anthony Cheung and SDEV Paul Chan are responsible for supervising their executive departments to ensure the effective implementation of the policies and the provision of sound service to the public. The two Secretaries of Bureaux did not evade their political responsibility, and apologised for the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates. Under the supervision of the Directors of Bureaux, the two departments have endeavoured to investigate comprehensively the drinking water situation, implement measures for affected residents and follow up on the various recommendations of the Commission. Hence, I do not agree with the suggestion that “the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a buck-passing system for high ranking officials”.

(2) Under the political appointment system, the Chief Secretary for Administration plays an important role in terms of policy coordination. For the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I convened the first high-level inter-departmental meeting in the morning of July 11 last year (i.e. the next day after HD confirmed and made public the first sample with excess lead) to co-ordinate the follow-up actions of relevant bureaux and departments. So far 20 meetings have been held and a number of measures have been taken promptly. Following the release of the Commission’s Report, I will continue to provide steer for the work of relevant bureaux and departments to ensure that the formulation and implementation of policies will be coordinated properly.

(3) As regards the Commission’s recommendation that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again, WSD must first deal with the water sampling protocols. As the experts of the Commission also agreed, there was no universally accepted practice at the moment. The action levels for lead concentration in water tested also vary from place to place. Moreover, water testing is just a means to achieve our objective of ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water. As such, the issue and the follow-up work must be considered in a holistic manner in order to allay public concerns and minimise unnecessary nuisance caused to them.

The Commission also supported our proposal to set up an international expert panel on water safety to provide expert advice to Hong Kong on matters related to water quality standards, regulatory and monitoring regime for water quality, water sampling protocols, etc. The international expert panel as set up by the Development Bureau will convene the first video conferencing meeting today, with a view to putting forward a proposal as soon as possible which is suitable for the actual situation in Hong Kong, and covers the water sampling protocols, appropriate lead content level, and the action levels for lead concentration in water tested. Based on the views of the international expert panel, WSD will follow up as appropriate, including the recommendation of the Commission that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again.

As regards making public the results for water tests and blood tests, the Housing Authority (HA) and WSD conducted water sampling tests for all PRH estates concerned between July and November 2015. HA has disseminated to the public the test results for drinking water samples taken from the PRH estates through various channels, including press conferences, press releases and papers issued to LegCo and HA. The Government has also published the overall test results of the blood lead levels of residents in the affected PRH estates as well as the students/staff of the affected schools. The Department of Health and the Hospital Authority have also provided blood test reports and blood lead level data to individuals receiving these tests. As blood lead levels of individuals are personal data, it would not be appropriate to disclose them to the public.

Thank you, Acting President.