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Civic Exchange

Web Index Tracks Real-time Health, Economic Impact Of Air Pollution

An index believed to be the first anywhere to offer continuous, real-time measurement of the economic and health impacts of air pollution was launched yesterday in Hong Kong on a website that claims to reveal the “cold hard facts” about the city’s air quality. The Hedley Environmental Index was developed by the University of Hong Kong’s department of community medicine and school of public health in conjunction with independent think-tank Civic Exchange, to improve public awareness of the consequences of air pollution.

They also hope to influence government officials, lawmakers, district councillors, businesses and schools.

The website carries an air-quality tracker, which compares the real-time air quality data supplied by the Environmental Protection Department with the World Health Organisation’s recommended limits on pollutants.

The comparison shows that most of the time air quality is well below the WHO recommendations.

The index and tracker have been launched just weeks before the government is expected to announce the results of its review of the city’s air-quality objectives and issue proposals for public consultation.

The most innovative part of the index is its constantly updated tally of the cumulative costs of air pollution. Users can search for figures for a day or part of it, a particular month or year, for example.

With a few clicks, they can find out the costs – in money, premature deaths, hospital bed-days and visits to the doctor – of air pollution.

At 6pm yesterday, the index showed that this year, more than 1,100 people in Hong Kong had died prematurely and economic losses of more than HK$2.2 billion had been incurred because of air pollution.

In an earlier report, Civic Exchange estimated that 1,600 premature deaths a year would be avoided in Hong Kong if air quality improved to levels close to those recommended by the WHO. No country has yet adopted those guidelines.

The tracker also shows how air quality has changed over the years.

The website does not carry the official Air Pollution Index (API).

“The API is a museum piece. It is outdated and is a fossil. From the pollution point of view, it should be ignored,” said Anthony Hedley, of the university’s department of community medicine, after whom the new index was named.

Professor Hedley criticised the government’s recent proposal to adopt the lowest WHO air-quality guidelines – intended for developing countries – as a “complete waste of time” and said he could not understand the reasoning behind it.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of Civic Exchange, said the Hedley index would be useful to various groups, particularly those more vulnerable to air pollution such as children and the elderly.

“The index lays down a marker, minute by minute, that tells us all exactly how much we have to do,” Ms Loh said.

Sarah McGee, of the university’s school of public health, said the air-pollution costs had been derived using methodology widely adopted internationally and were “conservative estimates”.

On the Web

To see the index and tracker, visit

Pollution Alerts And Effects On Internet Tracker

HK Standard – Friday, December 19, 2008

An air pollution tracker has been launched to give readings online on smog and its associated costs in real time.

The Hedley Environmental Index, which provides readings from the Environmental Protection Department’s general and roadside stations, was commissioned by the Civic Exchange and developed by the Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health of Hong Kong University.

“By showing how far our pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines, and how much this is costing us in dollars and affecting lives, HEI lays down a minute by minute marker that tells us how much we have to do,” Civic Exchange chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai said.

“You may check the weather and the air pollution index, but low, moderate and high API readings given by the government are vague at best.”

The tracker will allow users to have a better grasp of the air quality to expect, Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said.

SPH chairman Anthony Hedley added: “The index makes clear that we are facing an epidemic of heart and lung disease. The current standard doesn’t offer … an indication of the damage to their health or how to reduce their exposure,”

HEI can be found at hedleyindex. TIMOTHY CHUI

Civic Exchange Book proposes Asia as “Game-Changer” in Climate Change Negotiations

New Energy FinanceMichael Liebreich 10 November 2008

Book Launch

HONG KONG, 10 November 2008 (Monday) – Public policy think tank Civic Exchange released a new book: “Climate Change Negotiations: Can Asia Change the Game?”, which argues that Asia should take the initiative to be a “game-changer” in upcoming global climate change negotiations in Poznan and Copenhagen. The book offers a range of new Asia-based initiatives which might support this process. In particular, developing Asian countries could use their national energy efficiency and sustainable development plans and targets to demonstrate initial commitments to greenhouse gas reductions.

Christine Loh of Civic Exchange outlined a proposed ‘Prosperity Round’ of climate negotiations: “Two vital issues that are needed for climate negotiations to proceed meaningfully: first, the voice of Planet Earth needs to be heard and this can only be done by including regular briefings of the negotiators of the latest science focus on ecosystems changes that are taking place and the urgency to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; and second, as the world needs to transit out of its fossil fuels-based industrial structure, a new, low-carbon, development path must be created.”

Special guest at the launch, Li Shaoyi of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) introduced ESCAP’s strategies in balancing energy security for Asia and the global concern of climate change: “Pursuing a low carbon development pathway is an effective and probably the most effective way to break the energy security and climate impasse faced by Asia and the Pacific region”, said Mr. Li.

By video link from London, Michael Liebreich of New Energy Finance discussed the importance of low-carbon technologies and recent developments on the financing of low-carbon technologies.

The book is the product of a year-long collaboration between Civic Exchange and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), which began with a background paper on Asian climate change policy “Climate Change Negotiations: An Asian Stir Fry of Options” published in December 2007. Building on that first publication, in May 2008 Civic Exchange and SIIA invited experts from within Asia and around the world to present their perspective on Asia’s key issues in the post-Kyoto agreement; culminating in this new publication.


Hong Kong Choking On Its Own Pollution

Dirty old town

Hong Kong is slowly choking on its own pollution. Technology may be a major cause, but it could also be a cure

David Wilson – Updated on Sep 28, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong survived the bird-flu pandemic and Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the Sars outbreak in 2003. Now many fear that it will be a chronic crisis – air pollution – that will do most harm to the city’s future.

In a place where earnings and acquisition have long been people’s priorities, a dramatic shift in behaviour appears necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a victim of its “toxic sewers”.

Calls have been made, urging consumers to adopt “clean” technologies, and the city’s government and commercial sectors to pursue more green initiatives.

Clean technology, as described by United States-based research firm Clean Edge, is “a diverse range of products, services and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes”. It notes that clean technologies “are competitive with, if not superior to, their conventional counterparts”.

Green initiatives include campaigns against “light pollution” – the excessive use of neon lights and overlit advertising. Government-led efforts include implementing strict guidelines for auditing the carbon emissions of commercial and residential buildings and more stringent air-quality, fuel and vehicle emission standards.

According to research conducted at the University of Hong Kong, the city’s air contains almost three times more soot and other pollutants than New York’s and more than twice that of London. Hong Kong is bedeviled by high particulate matter levels, which are linked to increased mortality risk. It also has high levels of sulphur dioxide, which has been linked to childhood respiratory disease.

The main culprits are coal-fired power plants, wasteful household consumption and traffic. It was reported that Hong Kong’s roads are the world’s most crowded, with almost 280 vehicles for every kilometre. Early this month, Greenpeace China unveiled its Real Air Pollution Index for Hong Kong, to spur the government to fall in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. On the green group’s website, there is the Air Pollution Clock – a free download that counts the number of hours since July 1 this year that Hong Kong’s air has failed to reach WHO standards.

As well as discouraging tourists, the pollution is threatening Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s financial hub. US investment bank Merrill Lynch has warned that the air quality is so lousy it poses a real danger to the city’s long-term competitiveness. Already, multinational corporate executives have given up on Hong Kong’s smog-filled skyline and moved to greener Asian cities, such as Singapore. We have asked a group of local experts to share their views on how members of the community can do their bit to help clean up the city and the planet.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is a former Hong Kong legislator and chief executive of Civic Exchange, an independent, non-profit public policy think-tank.

“Anything that is more energy-efficient can qualify [as clean technology], including bicycles and other pedal-powered devices. Look at the Segway two-wheeled electric transporter. Consider low-energy light bulbs and lightweight hybrid cars such as the Hypercar from the Rocky Mountain Institute []. The vehicle offers ultra-light construction, low-drag design and hybrid-electric drive. Cars made with strong lightweight materials go further on less fuel.

“Then there is clean water technology – aided by devices such as filters and low-flow shower heads. More and more Escos [energy service companies], architects and engineers, even power companies are providing energy-efficient products.

“But changing our behaviour is more important than buying new technology. We must consume less.”

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air (, a volunteer organisation targeting Hong Kong’s air-pollution issues, suggests that households take the initiative and provide a good example in their local communities.

“To save on energy, install a room temperature controller such as the ION Tx PIR. It’s basically a smart thermostat that controls the overall temperature using a network of occupancy sensors in various rooms in a home. It can be paired with the air conditioner or, even better, with less energy-consuming ceiling fans.

“Whatever electronics you have in your house, it’s best not to leave them on standby. Switch them off when not in use. This simple energy-cutting solution can save up to 20 per cent on your electricity bill.

“If you live in a windy location, install Motorwind [] turbines to produce part of your electricity without drawing it all from the [electricity] grid. The nylon turbines can be installed on balconies of flats or rooftops of buildings and generate electricity at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second.

“For cleaner transport, I think people should support the Hong Kong-made electric car designed by EuAuto Technology []. All you need to do is plug the car into a standard household socket for six to eight hours to recharge its batteries. Once the vehicle has been fully charged, you’re ready to go – and at speeds of up to 40mph.”

James Ockenden, publisher of environmental technology, engineering and finance magazine Blue Skies China [], believes that prudent investment decisions could make a big difference.

“Buy a clean-tech mutual fund but watch where the money is invested. Some high-street `climate change’ funds invest in Toyota, claiming hybrid development is worthy of green money. That is debatable. Make sure the fund manager’s definition of `green’ aligns with yours. If you have US$50,000 to invest, consider a specialist Chinese venture capital fund. The money will go pretty much directly into a clean technology start-up.

“Watch your carbon offsets [a carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions]. Choose a well-audited scheme such as [the non-profit US organisation buys and retires certified carbon offsets for its donors]. You can be sure your money will actually go towards making industry pay more for the right to produce carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions. A tonne of CO2 reduction costs from €20 [HK$230] to €30 in the European market, while some retail schemes charge 10 times that for questionable, even worthless, carbon certificates.

“Don’t pick up the IPO prospectus; try to read it online when possible. The Hong Kong stock exchange is experimenting with electronic market information. If successful, it could be applied to the Chinese stock markets, saving billions of pages of ink and paper each year.

“Ditch the car, get a trolley [to carry bulky goods]. The classic Hong Kong trolley, which costs HK$300 and up, is a remarkable piece of clean-tech engineering – it’s green like a bicycle, carries a decent payload and fits into a taxi for long trips.

“Until there’s a decent environmental building code in Hong Kong, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any energy efficiency benchmark to compare flats to. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask property developers tough questions. Demand some kind of energy efficiency/social responsibility report when looking at new buildings. Ask if the property has single-glazed windows. Check if the building uses low-VOC [volatile organic compound] paint. Organic vapour from paint is a major cause of brown haze.”

Martin Williams (, a Hong Kong-based conservationist, photographer and writer, sees the internet helping more people live an eco-friendly life.

“Technology tends to go against green living. But using the internet, consumers can get better information than many so-called `green’ television documentaries provide. The Web also allows individuals to take some action. You can join discussions, participate in online campaigns and play a role in making grander changes than simply switching to long-life light bulbs in your home.

“Also important: switch off, reduce, reuse and recycle. Have hi-tech gizmos repaired as soon as possible, don’t just buy new ones for the sake of fashion. Modern condoms may not be thought of as clean technology, but with the planet’s resources already overstrained by the human population, green living also means not having loads of children; future generations must be given a chance of a better life.”

For more information about Hong Kong’s air, visit Take a look at the Air Pollution Clock – if you dare.

Oil Depletion And The Future Of Transport In Hong Kong And China

Civic Exchange Energy Forum IX 5 Sept 08

Oil Depletion and the Future of Transport in Hong Kong and China

On 5th September 2008 (Friday), Civic Exchange hosted an Energy Forum entitled “Oil Depletion and the Future of Transport in Hong Kong and China” supported by MTR Corporation Limited.

A keynote presentation was given by Dr. Richard Gilbert an expert on Peak Oil and post peak solutions. He has outlined the facts and implications of peaking oil supply, and has compared a number of solutions for transport that reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

Two other panelists – former Commissioner for Transport Robert Footman, and Alex Tancock of Peak Oil Hong Kong Limited have offered additional comments on local implementation of low carbon transport solutions and have led a stimulating discussion, which was moderated by Mike Kilburn, Environmental Programme Manager of Civic Exchange.

At the forum, Dr. Richard Gilbert illustrated the use of electric cars and noted that public awareness of the level of off-the-shelf availability was poor in HK. He believed that HK Government had the means to subsidise such a move, as rising fuel costs drive buses towards a tipping point, where it becomes economically viable (in terms of full life-cycle costs).

Richard commented that in HK’s hilly terrain, electrified systems were much more efficient than hydrocarbon engines and that it would be more efficient to burn hydrocarbons to create electricity than to stay with pure hydrocarbon engines in such an environment.

He then spoke briefly about the spike in energy costs for the extra 20% of speed for ships and trains, and noted that Japan’s bullet trains ran slower than China’s would do for this reason.

Other issues discussed included the failed Citybus trial of electrified buses a few years ago, and the barriers to adaptation of this technology in the future (US$1 million per kilometre of overhead cabling installed), the lack of a manufacturer of skysails for commercial ships, and noted that HK/PRD would be the ideal centre for an Asian base of operations owing to the huge port traffic and manufacturing capabilities of the Delta.

WWF (HK) noted that they had recently produced a book – “Plugged in: the end of the Oil Age”, which closely follows the thinking of Richard Gilbert’s new book “Transport Revolutions”.

Hong Kong Skies Clear — Thanks to Nature, Not Games

By Aaron Pan and Wendy Leung – Bloomberg – Aug. 28

Tommy Chan, a street vendor in central Hong Kong, credits China’s drive to close factories across the country before the Olympics for the blue skies the city’s citizens have been enjoying.

“Maybe they shut down a few more this time for the Olympics because they wanted to give a good impression to the rest of the world,” said Chan, 65, who has been selling snacks on Queen’s Road for more than a decade.

He’s wrong. It’s not China, it’s nature.

The brown-tinged haze that typically obscures views in the city, which hosted the Olympic equestrian events, has been absent for the past two weeks due to seasonal wind and weather patterns, according to the Environmental Protection Department. The message: Olympics or no Olympics, foul air will return.

“Weather conditions in summer months favor dispersion of air pollutants,” said Felix Leung, a spokesman for the department. “With oceanic wind and good air dispersion, the current pollution levels are low.”

The Olympic Games ended Sunday with a closing ceremony in Beijing. In Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China since British rule ended in 1997, the period was marked by a month of the lowest average pollution levels downtown this year.

Hong Kong’s government identifies cutting smog as a priority because poor air quality is harming the city’s reputation as a tourist destination and damaging the health of the population, according to a policy document released last year.

`Not Safest Air’

The government’s air pollution index in the city’s Central and Western districts fell to as low as 11 on Aug. 19, according to the environment department’s Web site. Today it was at 24 as of 2:30 p.m. local time.

Above 100, people with heart or lung problems are advised to avoid exercising outdoors. The index had reached 150 in July and climbed to records in some parts of the territory, raising concerns about the welfare of horses in the Olympics.

“It’s better than it has been,” said Anthony Hedley, a professor in the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Hong Kong. “But it’s not necessarily the safest air we could have.”

Around 220 horses from 42 countries were involved in this month’s equestrian events at the Sha Tin district of Hong Kong. The government had previously released a statement saying record pollution levels were “no cause for alarm” for the horses.

Smog May Return

“It’s seasonal,” said Edward Chan, Greenpeace campaign manager in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong’s air pollution levels are usually lower in July and August. The emission of pollutants never reduced. They will reappear again from September.”

Officials in Beijing, Hong Kong and other Olympic venues intensified efforts to combat pollution before the Games as China sought to showcase its emerging economy. Beijing removed cars and closed factories in a bid to improve air quality.

It’s difficult to say whether the measures helped, Hedley said. “They’ve had some pretty dirty air in the early part of the Olympics.”

In China’s capital, the air quality was at its best level in 10 years this month, according to the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

“One swallow doesn’t make a summer,” said Hedley. “I’ll personally be very, very surprised if we see any improvement in the near future” in China’s urban air quality. “The growth of road vehicles is a tremendous source of mobile pollution.”

Beijing had spent $17 billion cutting air pollution for the Olympics, removing more than half the cars from its roads, halting construction work, and shutting factories.

Health Link

Air pollution causes about 10,000 deaths yearly in southern China’s Pearl River Delta region, including Hong Kong and Macau, according to a study released in June by a research group and three universities.

Research group Civic Exchange says the link between Hong Kong’s air quality and public health needs to be acknowledged and acted upon. The group has published suggestions for action the government can take to cut the smog.

Hong Kong had the worst March in 30 years in terms of visibility because of bad weather and pollution.

CLP Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest power supplier, has won environmental approval to build a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal to help meet emissions targets.

The company plans to use non-carbon sources, including renewables, nuclear and hydropower, for 20 percent of total generation capacity by 2020, according to Chief Executive Officer Andrew Brandler.

Meantime, government predictions suggest Hong Kong residents should enjoy the breather while it lasts. The forecast is that air quality will remain “good” in coming days, Leung said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Pan in Hong Kong at; Wendy Leung in Hong Kong at

Don’t Delay Cleanup

Updated on Aug 14, 2008 – SCMP

Guangdong and Hong Kong must start to plan how they will improve air quality in time for the East Asian Games and the Asian Games in November 2009 and 2010, respectively. Despite valiant efforts, it has not been easy to clear the smog in Beijing in time for the Olympic Games. Indeed, Beijing’s experience provides an important lesson for every place trying to clean up. Shutting down factories and building sites in the final stretch may not be enough because, not only are there geography and meteorology to contend with, there are also physics and chemistry.

Just consider what Beijing has done already. Planning for the “blue sky project” actually goes back to 1998 and has, so far, cost more than 140 billion yuan (HK$160 billion). The Capital Iron and Steel Group, or Shougang, was relocated from Beijing to a new site in Tangshan as one of the government’s key efforts to reduce air pollution for the Games. The capital has also modernised many factories, imposed tougher emissions controls and taken many other steps to upgrade surrounding industries.

News reports indicate major polluters – including electroplating, cement and paper plants – were shut down or suspended as early as last year. Government subsidies were also provided to many enterprises for remediation work and personnel upgrades. Moreover, the city issued an air-pollution control notice in April requiring polluting industries to stop work from July 20 for three months. Power plants were asked to use higher-quality fuels to help reduce polluting emissions. While sulphur dioxide emissions have been reduced, suspended fine particulate levels remain extremely high. Lung-affecting ozone, particularly in its secondary form – that is, formed by the chemical interaction of various pollutants – remains a big headache. Just before the Games, the city introduced an odd-and-even licence plate system whereby only half its vehicles were allowed on the road each day. It is now widely recognised what a massive effort that was, because it affected more than 3 million vehicles.

Du Shaozhong , deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, counted some 200 air-pollution control measures undertaken in connection with the Olympics. Most significantly, some will continue afterwards. This is good news because, in the short term, even aggressive measures are not enough. To improve the public health of the people, sustained efforts are essential. The Olympics has made top officials aware that shutting things down is, in fact, a desperation measure that has only limited impact. While green groups have criticised the “blue sky efforts” as short term, they acknowledged that the Games has opened a door for long-term improvements.

The coming decade will be critical for China. It needs to tighten air-quality standards, for starters. One key discussion point in Beijing is just how good or bad pollution is on a day-to-day basis. The problem arises because of the difference in air-quality standards; China’s are lower than those used in developed countries. Setting lower standards does not help; it simply excuses high pollution levels. Without telling people and industries the harm that pollution causes, through proper standards, how can there be the constant pressure necessary to clean up?

In our nation’s case, it is officially acknowledged that the efforts in Beijing for the Olympics will help upgrade industry, which will have a positive long-term economic impact. The most precious of resources – natural and human – will benefit. Heavy pollution makes the planet, as well as people, sick. The monetary gain from “business as usual” industrial growth is not balanced or sustainable.

For us, there is an immediate need to study pollution data and emissions sources to understand them within the context of the region’s geography and meteorology. Trying out model control measures can help to see which may be the most effective. Hong Kong and Guangdong need to get on with devising plans to clean up now.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange.

Search For HK Environmental Champions

Dan Kadison, SCMP – Aug 02, 2008

The “Hong Kong Earth Champions Quest” has begun.

An international group started a search yesterday to find extraordinary Hongkongers who are improving and sustaining the environment locally and globally.

“Our point of view is look around you and notice what is working, and they’re the people we’d love you to nominate,” said Earth Champions Foundation chief executive Fiona Mathews at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central.

“It actually could be you, or it could be your neighbour, or it could be a colleague at work, or it could be your government,” she said.

Ms Mathews – a former member of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development – created the organisation in 2000 to prove to her son that the world was filled with inspiring role models.

The competition, which has already taken place in Australia and Switzerland, honours people for their work in such environmental categories as water, air, energy, transport, biodiversity and buildings.

“We have ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and that’s what we want you to help us find,” Ms Mathews said at the kick-off event.

The group started accepting nominations yesterday. Nomination forms can be found at

Ms Mathews was joined yesterday by guest speakers Otto Poon Lok-to, chairman of the strategic committee for the Council for Sustainable Development; Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of the think-tank Civic Exchange; and Robert Gibson, director of sustainable development at John Swire & Sons.

Sir Crispin Tickell, a climate change expert and chair of the judging panel, delivered the keynote speech. “The question is what’s in it for all of us – individual, communities, governments, the world? The answer is survival … we need champions, and today you’re being asked to become them,” Sir Crispin said.

Past “Earth Champions” have ranged from an entire primary and secondary school in Switzerland to a 93-year-old Australian conservationist who created two nature reserves and a national park in her homeland.

The South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) is a media sponsor of the “Hong Kong Earth Champions Quest”.

There is no age requirement. Nominees must reside in Hong Kong and must have enhanced the city with their environmentally friendly ideas and actions.

Sports Games Clean-Up Targets

Air Pollution Health Risks Panel Proposes Sports Games Clean-Up Targets in 2009 and 2010

AMCHAM – 29th July 2007

Annual deaths attributable to air pollution are estimated at 10,000 in Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta while air pollution is also responsible for 440,000 annual hospital bed-days and 11 million annual outpatient visits throughout the region, according a recent study released by Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange.

Christine Loh

Christine Loh, former Hong Kong legislator and CEO of Civic Exchange, a Hong Kong-based think tank, believes the Hong Kong government should take the opportunities derived from the upcoming East Asian Games in 2009 and Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010 to improve air quality in the PRD

Providing new data on health costs derived from air pollution in the Pearl River Delta region, the study, A Price Too High – Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Southern China, estimates that hospital bed-days, lost productivity and doctor visits associated with air pollution cost RMB 1.8 billion a year in the PRD, HKD 1.1 billion in Hong Kong, and HKD 18 million in Macao.

 “Unless we are able to persuade our government that they need to make public health and air quality management and link them explicitly in a policy goal, we are not going to get it,” said Christine Loh, CEO of Civic Exchange and former Hong Kong legislator, at an AmCham luncheon, at the time of the report’s release.

What Civic Exchange is doing both publicly and privately with the government, is to convince them to adopt what we think is the worldwide view of air quality standards, according to Loh.

“In terms of pollutants [over the PRD], it is much worse,” says Alexis Lau, a professor and manager at the Institute for the Environment, HKUST, citing data from the study.

A large amount of ‘monitoring data’ in the PRD only recently released by the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments has enabled the group to carry out the research, according to Alexis Lau, a professor and manager at the Institute for the Environment, HKUST.

“Our health risk estimates are based on many years of observations using daily pollutant levels and daily health events, says Anthony J Hedley, a professor at the Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health, HKU. “We have literally tens of thousand, or in the case of health events, millions of different items of data.”

Anthony Hedley

Anthony J Hedley, right, professor at the Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health, HKU, explains in medical terms the effects from air pollution.

“If you take a group of people who live in a heavily polluted city like Hong Kong and put them in Antarctica for a week or two, their white cell count in their body will decline very steeply,” says Hedley, explaining in medical terms the effects of escape from air pollution.

“You only have to stand at the roadside for twenty minutes for you to be able to measure impaired dilatation of blood vessels,” he adds. “If such process is repeated day in and day out, you get stiffening of blood vessels and you get damaged lining cells of arteries.”

Acknowledging the difficulty to directly correlate those who died of natural causes to air pollution, the study reports relationships linking health events and declining air quality in the region.

“We don’t have a list of those 10,000 people who died of air pollution and we do know that heart and lung diseases can be caused by a variety of factors, but we [also] know that on certain bad days, there are more people falling ill and dying of these particular diseases,” says Tze-wai Wong, a professor at the Department of Community and Family Medicine, CUHK.

Alexis Lau

Alexis Lau

Tze-wai Wong

Tze-wai Wong

“A number of studies were performed on kids living in different districts in Hong Kong,” Wong adds. “Those who lived in districts with worse pollution tend to have much poorer health status and higher rate of respiratory diseases.”

In 1990, sharp and immediate declines in cardio-related deaths were apparent in two cities, with restriction on sulfur content to 0.5 percent by weight in fuel in Hong Kong and a ban on sale of coal in Dublin, Hedley also notes.

“What distinguishes us from some other metro areas is the political perspective and will to do something about it,” Hedley says. “If you speak to the authorities in Vancouver or Auckland, there is deep concern about the current and possible future trends in air quality at tiny fractions of pollution levels in Hong Kong.

“[Ironically], there is more interest in investing in air pollution research [in Hong Kong] from the North American continent than there is from this town.”

Loh believes this is not one of those problems that the world doesn’t know how to solve.

“There is no shortage of well-tested methods,” she says, citing California as an example in which the US state has been able to “add vehicles [on the road] but at the same time drive down pollution.”

London and Mexico City are also good examples of how government initiatives have turned the cities around in air pollution control, according to Lau.

“From the second half of 2006 when Guangdong started to release air pollution data, it marked a watershed in national emission control,” says Loh, believing a new era of opening up the discussion has arrived.

PRD Monitoring Data 2002

PRD Monitoring Data 2002

PRD Monitoring Data 2004

PRD Monitoring Data 2004

PRD Monitoring Data 2006

PRD Monitoring Data 2006

With the imminent East Asian Games coming to Hong Kong in November 2009 and the Asian Games to Guangzhou in 2010, Loh believes the Hong Kong government should take advantage of these opportunities to improve air quality.

“A lot of efforts will have to be made in our own region to make sure we improve air quality to an extent that it will not be a public embarrassment,” she says.

“It is about doing quite a number of initiatives and we are going to need to adopt WHO guidelines” but it will require “the concerted and sustained efforts of everybody including Hong Kong and Macau.” Hong Kong’s air quality standards are much lower than WHO standards and are still not being met.

“There is no other place of comparable wealth that is doing as badly,” concludes Loh.

“We have the money here. We have the reasonable capacities of regulators and other experts. We need to act. We need to make that commitment.”

Rain vs. Pollution in June

Thought clean air was the silver lining in rainy June? Think again

Elaine Wu – Updated on Jul 13, 2008 – SCMP

Many thought that if there was something worth celebrating about the 24 days of rain last month, it would be that the air would be cleaner.

Rain normally washes pollutants from the air. Not last month.

Although June was Hong Kong’s wettest month in 125 years of recorded weather history, Environmental Protection Department figures show pollution was far worse than in the same month in 2007 and 2006.

The department recorded 47 hours of high air pollution levels, compared to 16 hours in June last year and only 3.5 hours in June 2006.

This has everyone – from meteorologists to clean-air advocates – scratching their heads.

“I don’t have a clue as to why we would have more high-air-pollution index [API] days,” Leung Wing-mo, senior scientific officer at the Hong Kong Observatory, said.

“When it is raining, the suspended particulates and other pollutants will normally be washed away. We have had only six days without rain for the whole month.”

Air pollution index readings are categorised as low, medium, high, very high and severe. Levels last month were low to high.

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air, said his organisation had already sought expert help to understand the phenomenon.

“I can’t recall [this happening before],” he said. “There is something we don’t know that we need to understand. There must be a link with heavier rain and air pollution.”

A departmental spokeswoman said that while rain does affect air quality in the short run, other factors such as wind direction, wind speed, solar radiation, cloud cover, humidity and temperature played a role.

She said it was not appropriate to gauge air quality by comparing data from a certain month with that from the same month a year earlier.

“A more scientific way to assess whether air quality is improving or deteriorating is to look at the changes in average pollutant concentrations on an annual basis,” she said.

The department found that average air pollutant concentrations last year were comparable to levels in 2005 and 2006, and better than those in 2004, she said.

Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief executive of think-tank Civic Exchange, said: “When there is a lot of rain, the rain does pat down emissions temporarily. But we must not forget that pollution is being emitted all the time.

“As for wind, if the wind is strong and blows away the pollution, that’s when we have clearer days. The summer months have the best visibility due to wind direction. This does not mean pollution is not being emitted, it is just being carried elsewhere faster.”