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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.

British gallery owner Mark Peaker makes an art out of Hong Kong’s idling engine law enforcement

idling-engines

Avid letter writer to the Post tells why he shows no mercy when it comes to drivers who leave their engines running

Former banker and now art gallery owner Mark Peaker attributes the success of both his careers to his jovial nature.

But there’s one group of people to whom the British-born Hongkonger shows no mercy – the city’s perennial engine idlers.

“It’s my biggest bugbear about Hong Kong – these belligerent drivers who clog up the roads and won’t turn their engines off,” Peaker, who owns gallery 3812 in Sai Ying Pun, says.

“It has caused a lot of ill will in Hong Kong but it would be such an easy problem to fix.”

As an avid letter writer to the South China Morning Post, “Mark Peaker from The Peak” is noted for his regular commentary and complaints on discourteous road etiquette, which remains unchanged despite a bill being introduced in 2011 penalising those who idle their engines.

A community man who has called the city home for more than 12 years, Peaker canvasses almost daily for better enforcement of the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance over the habit that is not only a nuisance to those navigating the tight streets, but also makes Hong Kong smog levels all the worse.

“When you first arrive in Hong Kong, you’re not part of the community and you don’t really get invested in this sort of thing but then you adapt to your environment,” he said.

idling2

Peaker said he struggles to understand why enforcement on the matter is so limp. He has acquired a certain degree of notoriety among officers for his querying their enforcement tactics, adding with an air of exasperation that they do not seem to approach the matter as assertively as they ought to.

“I saw an officer being yelled at by a driver who was idling his engine, and I went up to him and said, ‘Why can’t you get this guy to turn his engine off?’,” he says, describing how the officer gave the shrill response: “Because he won’t listen to me.”

Born in Cambridge to a diplomat father and stay-at-home mother, Peaker was brought up in well-to-do west London. He moved to Hong Kong at a time when he felt his career as a banker was coming to a close.

A man of good taste and a natural networker, he found himself drawn to the art world, deciding more than seven years ago to set up a gallery of contemporary art alongside his partner, art aficionado Calvin Hoi.

He says what drew him to the city – the diversity, the hustle and bustle, the cityscapes and energy – are qualities that have him still very much in love with Hong Kong, despite its problems.

“Hong Kong has always fascinated me, I’m an urban dweller at heart – and this place has a lot to offer everyone,” he says, describing how he also enjoys hosting ¬acting classes for students as part of his community work with NGO Shakespeare for all, alongside sketching workshops in a separate pro bono project.

“There are so many positives, it’s such a vibrant place, and sometimes we lose sight of that,” he adds.

Idling law has had ‘zero effect’ on pollution level

Peaker is not alone in his crusade against the scourge of idling engines across Hong Kong. Since 2006, 8,337 complaints about idling engines have been made to the Environmental Protection Department, the body tasked with penalising offending drivers.

Despite this, only 201 fines have been issued by the department since the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance came into operation in 2011. The number of fines amounts to just 4.4 per cent of complaints made since that year.

And at HK$320 a pop, many consider the fines to be ineffective deterrents.

“The fine is ridiculous, and the belligerent attitude of the drivers means a lot of the time police don’t even enforce the rules,” Peaker said.

But he thinks the Hongkongers who deserve the blame for the lines of chugging engines across the city are the well-to-do who require their drivers to wait endlessly for them to appear.

“They have this self-belief that they’re so important they’re above the law,” Peaker said, describing how on several occasions he had seen drivers ignore inspectors and police officers asking them to turn off their engines.

“I have emailed Central Police Station, CEOs, [my local council representative] Joseph Chan, as well as directly emailing companies whose drivers abuse the law and numerous schools where [students’] drivers park illegally, idling their engines waiting to pick up on their morning runs.”

He describes an email flow that spans years.

Environmental campaigner at Clear the Air, James Middleton, agrees that the ordinance can hardly be described as a success. He said it had had “zero” effect on pollution levels.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1990214/british-gallery-owner-mark-peaker-makes-art-out?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Wong Kam Shing – GOLD BAUHINIA STAR, awarded for ……what ?

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Dr Judith Mackay, Clear the Air Patron, awarded Honorary Doctorate

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ENB Landfill Lies

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Hong Kong green activist given court go-ahead to challenge dumping of waste at Lantau wetland site

On a cold , damp day in a tucked away corner of south Lantau, buffalo stroll casually onto an expansive grassy wetland for a morning graze.

It makes for a tranquil, pastoral sight, apart from the metre-high mounds of rubble and construction waste piled up on several plots of land there. The eyesore at Pui O has irked local residents and villagers for years. Many also fear the buffalo could disappear as the greenery vanishes.

It therefore came as a pleasant surprise for them on Wednesday when the High Court gave the go-ahead for a judicial challenge against the environmental authorities for allowing such dumping on the wetlands, which are on land zoned for coastal protection but with an awkward patchwork of private, corporate and government ownership.

Mui Wo resident Christian Masset, a former chairman of green group Clear the Air, has been given permission to challenge the director of environmental protection’s decisions to allow construction waste to be dumped at four sites near the wetlands between 2014 and this year.

The sites are on the fringe of the wetlands between Ham Tim San Tsuen and Pui O beach, the court heard yesterday.

A visit to the site yesterday revealed that the marsh was still pockmarked with rubble. A mysterious rust-covered, half-built structure lay abandoned in one corner. One conservationist said these were “destroy first, build later” tactics.

“Landowners know officials can’t do much as the land is private and the likelihood of zoning getting changed is higher when the land is degraded,” said Save Lantau Alliance convenor Eric Kwok Ping. “When the opportunity for development comes, they say, ‘what wetland?’”

The Environmental Protection Department declined to comment on the case as the judicial process was under way, but stressed it did not accept any “destroy first, build later” behaviour.

The hearing on Wednesday centred on what Mr Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung called a “vacuum”.

Barrister Jonathan Chang, for the director, argued that the environmental protection chief, once he was approached by a property owner, would acknowledge the request and give permission, but environmental considerations would not be taken into account.

Chang also argued that the Waste Disposal Ordinance suggested the need for a licensing system, but the relevant provision had not yet been put in effect.

The court refused to grant interim relief to Masset, who sought a halt to dumping until the judicial review was completed.

However, Au said Masset, represented by barrister Robin McLeish, was able to demonstrate the environmental risks involved and the sense of urgency in the case. The review is expected to start after both sides file related documents to the court.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1903493/hong-kong-green-activist-given-court-go-ahead

ERP submission by Clear the Air

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See the ‘real’ landfill life numbers if we remove the food waste content

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Email Exchange between CTA and EPD on Municipal Solid Waste

date: Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 2:46 PM
subject: Fw: E(15/3607) per capita MSW to landfills

Dear Ronald,

Thank you for clarifying what we though was the situation, anyway

The current ENB/EPD method of announcing waste per capita stats is (deliberately ?) flawed

They seemingly divide the total MSW by 7.24 million which is the population of Hong Kong in 2014 to produce the alleged per capita waste per day figure of 1.35 kgs

However this method ignores the waste generated by 61 million tourists (Q1) the cruise and container / other OGV ships (Q2) and at least the transit/transfer pax passing through Chep Lap Kok and adjacent ferry terminal

Adding these additional numbers to divide into the total MSW would obviously reduce the 1.35 kgs per capita per day alleged by ENB/EPD.

Given that there is no source separation of waste legislation, a vast amount of local MSW is tainted by food waste which comprises 3600 tonnes per day.

This ultra wet taint of course prevents the recycling of materials once tainted by that food waste .

The per capita waste numbers would be far different if the food waste were separated allowing recyclables’ collection. Sadly the Government does not collect recyclables outside of housing estates

yet proposes in future to charge for waste collection under a polluter pays system, when the basics are not in place for separation and recycling in the first place.

And this is ‘Policy’ ?

Kind regards,
James Middleton
Chairman
www.cleartheair.org.hk


 

Sent: 15 December, 2015 01:58 PM

Subject: Re: Fw: E(15/3607) per capita MSW to landfills

Dear Mr. Middleton,

Thank you for your interest in the coverage of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in Hong Kong.

At present, this Department compiles statistics on disposal of solid wastes at landfills based on weighbridge data and other relevant information recorded at entrances of landfills. The MSW are classified into three categories, namely, domestic, commercial and industrial wastes. Please refer to Appendix 1 of the report on ‘Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong’ at the link provided below for more details. Statistics on various categories of solid wastes disposed of at landfills are shown in Plate 2.1 of the report.

https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/en/assistancewizard/waste_red_sat.htm

On the specific questions you raised, our consolidated reply is given below.

Q1. Why is no allowance apparently made for the 61 million visitors who would contribute to the daily said MSW disposal rates to landfill here ?
Q2. What about the MSW taken off visiting container ships and other Ocean Going Vessels berthing here?
Q3. What consideration is given to MSW deposited / food waste from transit passengers at Chep Lap Kok ?

A1-3: Statistics on wastes generated locally out of economic activities including local consumption by those visitors mentioned in your above questions will be captured when the wastes generated by them are collected and transported to local landfills for disposal. These wastes will be recorded as part of the commercial waste received at landfills and be captured in our solid waste disposal statistics.

Yours faithfully,
Ronald Mak,
Statistician
Environmental Protection Department


 

Sent: 09/12/2015 12:32

Subject: E(15/3607) per capita MSW to landfills

Dear Sir,

We have seen in the press that Hong Kong per capita MSW to landfills is 1.35 kgs per capita in 2014

Why is no allowance apparently made for the 61 million visitors who would contribute to the daily said MSW disposal rates to landfill here ?

What about the MSW taken off visiting container ships and other Ocean Going Vessels berthing here?

What consideration is given to MSW deposited / food waste from transit passengers at Chep Lap Kok ?

Kind Regards,
James Middleton
Chairman
www.cleartheair.org.hk

image001 (1)

http://www.tourism.gov.hk/english/statistics/statistics_perform.html

Overnight arrivals 27 770 459
Same-day arrivals 33 068 377
Average hotel occupancy rate 90%
Average length of stay of overnight visitors 3.3 nights ( ie is that 4 days?)
Overnight arrivals 27, 770, 459 x 3.3 = 91,642,514 equiv days
Same-day arrivals = 33, 068, 377 days

image002

Hong Kong OWTF phase 1 – Design Build Operate tender cost per tonne of treated food waste almost HK$ 2,400

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