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Hong Kong feels the heat as Observatory issues second ‘very hot’ weather warning in October

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Hong Kong swelters in hottest October day for almost 130 years

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How big data and covert surveillance are helping tackle Hong Kong’s problem of illegal dumping

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What you should know about Hong Kong’s new drinking water regulations

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Cleanup as oil hits Hong Kong beaches

Meanwhile, government and community-led beach clean-ups continued to be held in different parts of the city on Wednesday, with dozens of residents filling bags with the sticky grease on Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach.

http://xnewspress.com/2017/08/cleanup-as-oil-hits-hong-kong-beaches/

The spill comes at the height of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends. It has deployed helicopters and nine ships to help find and collect the waste while workers at public beaches are using absorbent blankets and strips to contain the mess.

The impact on the territory’s marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins – also known as pink dolphins – was not immediately clear.

Environmental groups said that oil has seeped up to four inches (10 cm) deep into Hong Kong’s sprawling, sandy beaches making it hard to clean.

Hong Kong has sweltered in temperatures of about 33 degrees Celsius for more than a week, with little relief expected soon, which some environmentalists fear could worsen the problem by oxidising the oil.

Apart from beaches which have been shut, the rest of Hong Kong’s verdant shoreline is likely to have been impacted with the feeding capabilities of many sea creatures such as barnacles, crabs and shells affected, Lee said.

The possibility of an algae bloom formed by decaying palm oil, which would compete with fish for oxygen, would be a huge threat.

Palm oil is commonly used in food packaging and cosmetics.

The congealed palm oil resembles clumps of snow or pieces of Styrofoam and has a consistency similar to Play-Doh.

The South China Morning Post reports Hong Kong government departments have picked up more than 93 tonnes of the oil, which has crystallized.

In July 2012, Typhoon Vicente caused six containers, or 150 tonnes, of plastic pellets to be lost at sea, leading to widespread pollution in Hong Kong waters.

Breakthrough research reveals hypoxia can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment

A team led by The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) has revealed for the first time that hypoxia, a deficiency in oxygen, can cause transgenerational reproductive impairment in fish. This major breakthrough in environmental science was the result of a four-year joint project with team members from four other Hong Kong universities, and is testimony to EdUHK’s high quality research with global impact.

http://www.qswownews.com/2017/08/08/breakthrough-research-reveals-hypoxia-can-cause-transgenerational-reproductive-impairment/

From 2012 to 2016, the team compared the reproductive ability of marine medaka fish and the subsequent three generations of their offspring raised in seawater under normal and low levels of oxygen (hypoxia).

This important discovery has been published in the authoritative scientific journal Nature Communications. Team leader Professor Rudolf Wu, research chair professor of biological sciences at EdUHK, said that “recent climate change has caused the sea temperature to rise and oxygen level to drop. This, together with the large amount of nutrient-rich wastewater being disposed of in the ocean has caused excessive phytoplankton growth, which has led to hypoxia.”

To determine how the imminent threat of hypoxia would affect marine life, the team put marine medaka fish into two groups: one group kept in seawater with normal levels of oxygen and the other group in seawater with low oxygen (the hypoxic group). The offspring produced by the hypoxic group were then divided into two groups, with one returned to seawater with normal oxygen and the other kept under the low oxygen condition. The team then compared the reproductive ability, epigenetics and protein and gene expression of all three groups.

The team found that the second and third generations produced by hypoxic fish had lower levels of male hormones, poorer sperm quality and lower sperm motility and fertilisation success, despite having lived in seawater with a normal oxygen level throughout their lives. The observed reproductive impairment was associated with relevant epigenetic changes and changes in gene and protein expressions. This transgenerational effect revealed is of particular importance to Hong Kong and China, where hypoxia caused by pollution commonly occurs over large areas.

This breakthrough also has significant implications for humans. There is clinic evidence showing that men suffering from sleep apnea, who experience oxygen deprivation while sleeping, have lower sex hormone levels and sex drives. Other studies have shown that people who live at high altitudes with lower oxygen levels have lower sex hormone levels than those who live in lowlands. “Since the epigenetics and sex hormone regulation mechanisms are highly conserved and similar in both fish and humans, hypoxia may also lead to transgenerational reproductive impairment in male adult humans,” said Professor Wu.

This new finding by Professor Wu’s team shows that the adverse consequences of hypoxia are much more severe than currently perceived. “Despite some people arguing that improvements in environmental quality must be cost-effective,” he said, “we must also take into account that pollution may cause permanent reproductive impairments in future generations.”

The EdUHK-led team’s findings sound a very timely warning note for us all – if appropriate environmental protection measures are not taken now, the damage to both human and marine life may well be irreversible and unbearable.

Why Hong Kong is scared of trees: the fight for urban forestry in city that sees them as a threat, not an enhancement

With the responsibility for planting new trees in the hands of civil servants and a fixation on the danger of falling trees, is it any wonder the city lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to ‘greening’?

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2105451/why-hong-kong-scared-trees-fight-urban-forestry-city-tree-phobia

The Chinese city of Liuzhou has begun construction of a pioneering “forest city”, designed by Italian architect Stefano Boeri, in which 40,000 trees will create a green urban paradise for residents.

The project, in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in the country’s southwest, is only one example of the determination of cities across China to embrace what is known as “green infrastructure”, but experts say it is unlikely anything similar will happen in Hong Kong in the near future.

An artist’s impression of the world’s first forest city, currently under construction in Liuzhou, China. Photo: Stefano Boeri Architects

An artist’s impression of the world’s first forest city, currently under construction in Liuzhou, China. Photo: Stefano Boeri Architects

“In Western cities and [in China], green infrastructure is now an established concept, but Hong Kong only does grey infrastructure,” says Patrick Lau Hing-tat, chairman of EADG (Earth Asia Design Group), a landscape architect and councillor for Eastern district.

It’s universally acknowledged that trees, shrubs and plants are essential components of a modern city. They absorb carbon dioxide, improve air quality, filter roadside pollution, slow down storm water run-off, enhance urban aesthetics, promote ecological biodiversity, dampen noise, provide shade, mitigate urban heat island effect and counteract the general stress of city life. Yet, despite the obvious benefits for its residents, Hong Kong has failed to embrace green infrastructure or the vision of the urban forest.

“We haven’t even started yet,” says Lau, who employs about 50 staff in his Hong Kong headquarters in Causeway Bay, adding that 80 per cent of his green infrastructure projects are in China.

He says rapidly growing Chinese cities attract migrants from rural parts of the country, creating a demand for trees and green spaces. Local officials often regard green infrastructure as a quick way of making a positive impact and raising land values at a relatively low cost, compared to hard infrastructure projects such as bridges, railways and tunnels.

By contrast, in Hong Kong there are distinct signs of mass hylophobia. You are more likely to meet a tree hater than a tree hugger, and Hong Kong media is more likely to report on the deadly dangers of trees than their multiple benefits as an eco-service in a polluted and overheated city.

In July this year, headlines were made when a tree collapsed on four passing vehicles outside a public housing estate in Fanling. In April, it was reported that the bereaved family of a pregnant woman, fatally injured by a falling tree in Mid-Levels in 2014, is suing the owners of the property where the tree was located.

Hong Kong is probably unique in regarding the tree as a dangerous threat requiring careful management and risk assessment. Local urban planners and landscape architects say that instead of a bold plan of urban forestry, the government has settled on a muddled and limp policy of “greening”.

The worst examples include fake flowers painted on the plywood hoardings surrounding construction sites, potted plastic plants and even AstroTurf. One expert, who asked not to be named, complained that Hong Kong’s roadside planting resembled “leftover salad” and advocated that the whole of Tamar Park should be “ripped up” and redesigned as a mini country park, overgrowing with lush and diverse indigenous vegetation.

“The term greening has become so superficial that we now prefer to talk about urban forestry, which is about designing and managing a natural system of trees, plants, shrubs, insects and animals within a city, just as you would in a country park,” says Lau. He claims government departments have no understanding of the basic concepts of green infrastructure or urban forestry.

“You can interview 10 civil servants and I can guarantee you, nine will not have the first clue about the idea of urban forestry,” he says.

There is no shortage of information, schemes and awards with regard to what officials call “greening Hong Kong”. Government says it has been incorporating roof greening designs since 2001 and developing Greening Master Plans since 2004. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department runs a Green Hong Kong campaign and a Best Landscape Award. The housing authority runs a scheme called Green Delight in Estates and claims to plant one tree for every 15 flats built. Despite the hyperbole, the statistics are not encouraging.

According to government figures, in 2016/17, the number of trees planted in the city was less than one third of the total planted 10 years ago. Lau says the fundamental problem is that the entire greening and urban forestry project is run by government department managers, not designers or architects. The emphasis is always on engineering and ease of maintenance, not grand visions of green eco-cities, because “no one wants the extra maintenance burden”.

A look at the Civil Engineering and Development Department’s online examples of its “green master plan” for Central district can hardly be described as inspirational. It includes a meticulously pruned ornamental hedge, about 75cm high, which lines the sun-baked pedestrian walkway from the Central ferry piers to the IFC mall.

Just over two years ago, Deborah Kuh Wen-gee was recruited from outside government to head the Greening, Landscape and Tree Management Section of the Development Bureau.

A respected landscape architect, she was to be the much-needed breath of fresh air and champion of a new and strategic government policy on greening, landscaping and tree management. She talks with enthusiasm about the 400 indigenous species of tree in Hong Kong that are rarely seen in the city, and the need for “sexy diverse vegetation”, on the roads and streets, which is the “front line” of the battle for a green city.

She also thinks there are lots of misconception about greening.

“Not all green is good,” Kuh says. She justifies the drastic drop in the numbers of new trees being planted, saying that quality and the correct location of tree planting is more important than superficially impressive statistics.

“Everyone thinks that by planting more trees, we will get more shade, but big-leaf and big-branch trees might trap humidity,” she says.

Kuh also appears to harbour frustration about Hong Kong’s obsession with preserving old trees regardless of their natural life cycle. She says many of these old trees planted during the colonial era, are “aggressive alien species”, plagued by brown root disease, which “devastates our green landscape”.

“If we can remove these old and diseased trees we can plant something new and indigenous,” she says, but this ambition often puts her in conflict with local neighbourhoods and green groups. The tree protection lobby has some vocal advocates and government has already identified some 500 “old and valuable trees” that are afforded special protection.

Ironically, in a city plagued by tree phobia, it is very difficult to obtain approval to remove trees, even dead ones.

Kuh’s section is a policy body and it is not part of its remit to head into the city with shovels, planting trees and shrubs; that’s the job of government departments. However, without an inspirational example of what can be achieved with urban forestry, it’s almost impossible for them to ignite the public’s imagination. Perhaps with that in mind, they have initiated a collaborative project with the faculty of design and environment at the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong.

A design drawing for the traffic island rain garden at Wylie Road in Ho Man Tin.

A design drawing for the traffic island rain garden at Wylie Road in Ho Man Tin.

The project leader, landscape architecture lecturer Michael Thomas, says that two large traffic islands, one in Wylie Road, Kowloon and the other on the North Lantau Highway in Tung Chung, have been approved for urban forestry design. The site in Wylie Road will be a subtropical rain garden that will not only offer cosmetic greening but will be an effective road drainage ecosystem.

“The indigenous vegetation will take the rainwater and add it naturally to the groundwater system, not into concrete storm-water pipes that pour the water straight into the sea, together with all the local pollutants,” he says.

It’s very small in scale, no time frame has yet been agreed for the work, and Thomas, who has been in Hong Kong for more than a decade, is struck by the local tree phobia.

“There is a problem here that we fixate on trees and the risk of them falling over,” he says.

Even the catalyst for the creation of Kuh’s department was a government report, “People, Trees, Harmony”, which was produced in response to a tragic accident in Stanley when a teenage student was killed by a falling tree in 2008.

Tree management, tree complaints, tree risk avoidance and the notion that trees are a deadly threat to public safety remain at the heart of government thinking.

Lau has a vision of the country parks “extending as green fingers” along streets and pedestrian walkways into to the heart of the city, with natural vegetation providing shade, improved air quality, cooler air and, maybe, even higher land values. Compared to large-scale infrastructure projects, the costs are tiny, the benefits for all Hongkongers would be enormous and Kuh agrees with the principles.

“Fundamentally, we are about reintroducing nature to the city,” she says. But for that simple vision to be realised, Hong Kong needs to overcome its deep-rooted tree phobia.

Questions over two-day delay on notice of palm oil spill that left 11 Hong Kong beaches closed

Smelly, congealed clumps from spill in mainland waters mar island beauty spots in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2105625/hong-kong-beaches-closed-after-mystery-oil-washes

Environmental experts have questioned why it took two days for mainland authorities to inform Hong Kong about a ship collision and palm oil spill that left nearly a dozen local beaches closed to the public at the weekend.

The accident took place on Thursday, but mainland authorities only reported the incident on Saturday. Affected Hong Kong residents learned of the spill on Sunday when beaches were closed.

“A notification mechanism [in place] should in theory state [the problem] as soon as possible but it’s hard to define how many days that is,” said Dr Tsang Po-keung, an associate professor of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s Advisory Council on the Environment.

“For some marine life, two days could be too late.”

Residents of Lamma and Lantau islands noticed congealed palm oil washed up on several beaches in the area on Sunday after it spilled into the sea when two boats crashed in mainland waters.

A similar substance was also spotted in Victoria Harbour.

Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island, as well as Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach and Tong Fuk Beach were all affected. So were both Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach.

Beaches at Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, South Bay, St Stephen’s Beach and Chung Hom Kok were also shut.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department hoisted the red flag at all 11 beaches, warning people not to go in the water. Parts of Cheung Chau were also reportedly affected.

closed-beaches

Tsang said the notification mechanism should be modified to specify how many days authorities should be given to report such incidents.

“This time they may think it’s fine because it’s just palm oil, but what if next time it is gasoline?” he said.

City University chair professor of biology Paul Lam Kwan-sing said the spill did not amount to an environmental disaster but was “not a good thing”.

“Palm oil is a crystallised liquid … which will slowly be decomposed by micro-organisms. The problem is that it is a real eyesore for beachgoers,” he said.

He agreed that the notification mechanism needed to be faster and information flow more transparent.

“Both sides [Guangdong and Hong Kong] should work it out, establish a hotline and specify exactly under what circumstances the mechanism should be activated,” he said.

A spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the beach closures came after “white, oily” substances were found in the waters and “a white granular substance” washed up on beaches.

“Beach staff immediately deployed oil-absorbent felts and strips to prevent the spread of the oil, and the relevant government departments have been notified to clean up the oil and monitor the water quality of the affected beaches,” the spokesman said.

A Marine Department spokesman confirmed two ships had collided somewhere in the Pearl River estuary, in mainland waters, on Thursday and said that had caused some of the vessel’s cargo, palm oil, to leak into the sea.

Lamma resident Sheila McClelland spotted the oil clumps floating in the water and lying on the beach as she was on her way to work and said she noticed a “faintly chemical odour” as she inspected the solid lumps.

“I pressed it with my foot and it was solid. It was a bit like play dough but not as nice,” she said. “I’ve lived here for a couple of decades and I’ve seen many forms of pollution and unpleasant stuff from oil, syringes and of course the [2012] pellet spill. But nothing like this.”

In July 2012, seven containers fell from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets, which washed up on Hong Kong beaches, sparking concern for marine life.

Lamma resident Stanley Chan Kam-wai, a conservation manager for the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, said cleaning up Sunday’s spill could be “as difficult as, if not more difficult than, cleaning up the mess” from the 2012 incident.

“Some of the oil is starting to congeal so once you press on it, it just disintegrates into powder like snow,” he said. “I’m very concerned about how the government will clean this up.”

He said by late afternoon on Sunday the smell was starting to turn rancid like the odours in alleyways behind fried snack shops.

The concern, he said, was that while most government beaches were being cleaned, the oil on non-government-run beaches would be left to rot.

Other Lamma residents on Sunday posted pictures of the substance on Facebook.

“At first glance it looked like blocks of styrofoam or cooked rice,” said one long-time Lamma resident, who spotted the stuff on Power Station Beach on Sunday morning. “It had a sort of bubbly consistency. It was along the high-tide line covering, I’d say, about two-thirds of the beach. [I’ve]never seen it before.”

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the fruit pulp of oil palm trees. Because of its versatility and low cost, it is used in many food products from fried food and margarine to ice cream, as well as in consumer products such as lipstick, shampoo and detergent.

Gary Stokes of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society said palm oil could absorb toxins in the water, making it more hazardous than in its raw form.

“People think just because it’s palm oil it’s safe but in large, highly concentrated amounts, it can’t be good for anyone,” he said.

Stokes said children and beach-goers were seen playing with the oily clumps on the shore on Sunday. “Government public communications over these kinds of accidents have definitely got to be worked on. I know it’s the weekend, but that’s when most people visit the beach,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Department said it had sent a boat to help in the clean-up.

Spills from shipping are fairly common in Hong Kong.

Last May, a 50-metre-long slick was spotted floating off Tsing Yi following a collision between an oil tanker and a mainland-registered cargo vessel.

About 493 confirmed oil spills were recorded between 2005 and 2014, according to the Marine Department, 135 of which were caused by shipping accidents or refuelling.

The causes of the rest were unknown.

Mai Po Nature Reserve Infrastructure Upgrade Project

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Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong