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October 21st, 2004:

Stop Lying And Fix Air, Greens Urge Government

Cheung Chi-fai, SCMP – Thursday October 21 2004

Obsolete standards understate severity of pollution and need revision, they say Green groups yesterday urged the government to ‘stop lying’ and face the truth about air pollution.

Greenpeace and Clear the Air said the city’s air quality objectives were obsolete and failed to reflect the real severity of air pollution. Using European Union standards, yesterday’s index at the roadside Causeway Bay monitoring station would have been more than three times the 91 reported, the groups said.

But the Environmental Protection Department said the objectives were comparable with the national standards of the United States, and stressed that the top priority was cutting emissions rather than reviewing the index.

The two groups recently compared the city’s objectives with those of the US, European Union, Japan and World Health Organisation. They found Hong Kong’s objectives were 2.6 times higher than the EU’s in measuring respirable suspended particulates – floating particles that can be inhaled, including diesel emissions – 50 per cent higher for nitrogen dioxide, and 1.3 times higher for sulphur dioxide.

To illustrate the difference, they projected yesterday’s Air Pollution Index about 9am in Causeway Bay using the EU standards. On this basis, they said it should have been 314 instead of 91.

The city’s air quality objectives were set in 1987. They set out benchmarks for the hourly and 24-hour concentrations of pollutants and help determine the index in a range from 0 to 500.

If one of the pollutants at a monitoring station hits the benchmark objective, the index will reach 100, or the very high level.

The Environmental Protection Department says the short-term air quality objectives are met 98.2 to 100 per cent of the time for the 11 ambient measuring stations, and 95.62 to 100 per cent for the three roadside stations.

Clear the Air vice-chairwoman Annelise Connell called on the government to take drastic measures to cut dangerous emissions.

‘The first thing they should do is to stop lying and tell the public the truth. Then the public will help the government to address the problem,’ she said.

Greenpeace campaigner Edward Chan Yue-fai said the government should face the truth and stop blaming regional pollution from the Pearl River Delta. ‘They should set reasonable targets so that it would give incentives to the government to cut emissions,’ he said.

Mr Chan said planning guidelines and environmental impact assessments for projects were based on obsolete objectives.

A department spokeswoman said there were no unified standards. She said various countries adopted different calculation methods and Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index system had been proposed after referring to US practices and in consultation with green groups.

‘Whether there is a consensus over such standards or not, we should immediately control air pollution,’ she said.