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August 20th, 2008:

Last-Ditch Effort And Rain Give Best Air In Decade

Environmental chief says clear skies expected to stay for the rest of the Games

Shi Jiangtao – SCMP – Updated on Aug 20, 2008

Athletes worried about Beijing’s pollution can now breathe easy, as the capital had recorded the cleanest air in a decade thanks to frequent showers and a series of last-minute efforts to clear up the smog, a mainland official says.

The capital had enjoyed five days of blue skies up to yesterday, lifting pressure off authorities who had pledged to present the world with a “green” Olympics.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environmental Bureau, said the air quality this month was at its best level in 10 years and clear skies were expected to remain for the rest of the Olympics, which end on Sunday. Over the past 19 days, the city has had 10 days, including yesterday, when its air pollution index was below 50, or considered “good” by the national standard.

Air quality for the rest of the days was “moderate”, with API readings ranging between 51 and 100.

A reading higher than 101 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”, especially athletes in endurance sports such as marathon running and road cycling.

While meteorologists said downpours had cleaned the city’s air, environmental officials were eager to claim credit for their desperate last-ditch attempts over the past weeks – including banning half the city’s 3.3 million cars from the road, halting construction and closing factories.

“We have adopted much tougher measures to ensure clean air for the Games than any other Olympic host cities,” Mr Du said.

“It shows our efforts to ensure good air quality, especially those contingency measures to cut pollution, have worked well.”

Weather conditions would remain favourable for the coming days, with showers expected tonight and tomorrow. Mr Du was confident that Beijing would have even clearer air towards the end of the Games.

Pollution has been one of the dominant issues and biggest headaches for the capital in the run-up to the Games. The city was still shrouded in a blanket of smog even after the Games began on August 8, drawing criticism from foreign media.

Smoggy skies mixed with sultry heat and high humidity also prompted complaints from athletes during the first week of competition. But the smog lifted on Friday thanks to heavy rain and brisk breezes.

Mr Du played down concerns that the skies would fill with smog once the traffic and construction bans were lifted after the Games, and failed to provide further details. He said the results of the contingency measures would be reviewed to decide what steps would be taken to ensure that air quality would reach a “new level after the Olympic Games”.

He said a lack of environmental awareness among the public still topped the list of challenges in the fight against pollution.

Guo Hu, director of the Beijing Meteorological Observatory, predicted a cloudy day for the closing ceremony on Sunday.

But he said meteorologists were fully prepared to use cloud-seeding technology, which was used to disperse rain clouds on the opening day, to ensure a dry closing show at the “Bird’s Nest”.

A total of 1,110 rockets with 15kg of chemical catalysts were fired to stop showers on August 8, when the four-hour opening ceremony was held.

Green Plan For Delta’s Environmental Blues

Kitty Poon – SCMP – Updated on Aug 20, 2008

At the 11th Joint Hong Kong-Guangdong Co-operation Conference held recently, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Guangdong governor Huang Huahua unveiled their plan for a “green greater Pearl River Delta quality living circle”.

The concept signifies a shift in joint efforts to protect the environment. It reflects an emerging consensus that a new framework for cross-border co-operation has to be established to ensure quality of living and the continued competitiveness of both Hong Kong and Guangdong in the long run.

Conceived at a meeting between Mr Tsang and Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang in March, the initiative to build a green delta envisions a holistic approach to environmental protection in the region as an alternative to the issue-based co-operation adopted previously. In past years, Hong Kong and Guangdong governments have worked tirelessly to combat regional air pollution. Tremendous efforts have been made.

The green delta framework, if it materialises, will extend the scope of co-operation to producing clean energy, launching recycling industries, enhancing clean production measures, and making a joint effort in natural conservation and public education. This all-encompassing strategy seeks to treat environmental ills at their root.

The green delta agenda relies on a synergy of strengths while enabling each community to tackle its pressing issues. Hongkongers are striving for a better living environment. Guangdong is stressed by the need for industrial restructuring and pressure to meet green standards set out by the central government.

Through co-operation, both sides would have an opportunity to position themselves ahead of the curve. Hong Kong could channel necessary funds and advanced technologies for the establishment of green enterprises. Guangdong is well positioned for clean energy and recycling projects.

Of course, building a green delta is not a simple task. Policymaking always tests the ability and will to forge a consensus among diverse stakeholders. Agreement and co-operation across the border would inevitably be more daunting.

However, the future for a green delta remains bright, for two reasons. First, Guangdong is more determined than ever to strengthen its ties with Hong Kong. Second, intensified co-operation between Guangdong and Hong Kong also echoes the central government’s call for regional collaboration on environment protection.

Researchers from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning recently visited Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau to study the prospect of a green delta. The research is expected to result in a green blueprint for the greater Pearl River Delta.

Formulating a green delta also depends on public participation. Views from entrepreneurs, advocates, academics and citizens will help ensure the creativity and feasibility of the scheme. A green delta is the way forward.

Dr Kitty Poon is the undersecretary for the environment

Dirty Smoke From Ships Found To Degrade Air Quality In Coastal Cities

ScienceDaily (Aug. 20, 2008) —

Ah, nothing like breathing clean coastal air, right? Think again.

Chemists at UC San Diego have measured for the first time the impact that dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and generating electricity in port can have on the air quality of coastal cities.

The scientists report in this week’s early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the impact of dirty smoke from ships burning high-sulfur fuel can be substantial, on some days accounting for nearly one-half of the fine, sulfur-rich particulate matter in the air known to be hazardous to human health.

Their results have particular significance for the state of California, which will require, beginning next July, that all tankers, cargo and cruise ships sailing into a California port switch to more expensive, cleaner-burning fuels when they come within 24 miles of the coast. Similar international rules requiring clean-burning ship fuels are set to take effect in 2015.

While those regulations are intended to minimize the potential hazards dirty ship smoke may pose to human health and the environment—which some researchers have estimated may be responsible for as many as 60,000 deaths worldwide and a cost to the U.S. economy of $500 million a year—no one knows the actual impact of ship smoke. The reason is that air quality experts have been unable to quantify the specific contribution of ship smoke to the air pollution of coastal cities—until now.

“This is the first study that shows the contribution of ships to fine particulates in the atmosphere,” said Mark Thiemens, Dean of the Division of Physical Sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD who headed the research team. “Ships are really unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards. What we wanted to find out was the contribution of ships to the air pollution in San Diego. And what we found was a surprise, because no one expected that the contribution from ships of solid sulfur-rich particles called primary sulfate would be so high.”

Primary sulfate, or SO4, is produced when ships burn a cheap, sulfur-rich fuel called “bunker oil.” Most of the sulfur emitted by ships burning bunker oil is released as sulfur dioxide, or SO2, a gaseous pollutant which is eventually converted to sulfate in the atmosphere. But although SO4 may be a smaller component in ship emissons, the scientists say, these primary sulfate particulates are particularly harmful to humans, because they are especially fine microscopic particles, less than 1.5 microns or millionth of a meter in size. As a result, they can travel extremely long distances because they stay in the atmosphere for longer periods and, unlike bigger dust grains and particles that are removed by the body when breathed, remain in the lungs.

“The importance of primary sulfate is usually ignored in assessments of the impact of ship emissions on air quality because less than 7 percent of all sulfur emitted by ships is found in primary sulfate particles,” said Gerardo Dominguez, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSD and the first author of the paper. “But our results suggest that this component of ship emissions is important and should not be ignored in the future. Knowing how much sulfate from ships is in the air will also allow us to better understand what happens to the other 93 percent of sulfur emitted by ships.”

Working with Thiemens, Dominguez developed a chemical fingerprinting technique that allowed the scientists to distinguish primary sulfate from ship smoke from the tailpipe emissions of trucks, cars and other sources. This was done using an oxygen-isotope technique developed by Thiemens that allows scientists to determine the signature of sulfate molecules made in the atmosphere. The researchers discovered that primary sulfates from ship engines incorporated molecular oxygen (the type we breathe in to live) and are easily distinguished from primary sulfates from car and truck diesel emissions.

Sampling air at the end of the pier at the UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, the scientists found that the smoke from ships contributed as much as 44 percent of the sulfate found in fine particulate matter in the atmosphere of coastal California. On the days when the proportion of ship sulfate approached one-half of the fine particulate matter, the scientists determined from wind direction and speed calculations that ships burning high sulfur fuel in the Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego ports were a major influence.

“We found that in San Diego, the Port of Los Angeles can be a significant influence on air quality because these fine particulates can travel so far,” said Dominguez.

The researchers said the chemical fingerprinting techniques they developed in their study for ship primary sulfur emissions should assist the California Air Resources Board as well as regulators in other states and countries monitor the impacts of ships off their coasts as new restrictions on bunker oil burning by ships are implemented.

“This will tell us whether California’s new regulation requiring cleaner burning fuel 24 miles off the coast is having the effect it’s intended to have,” said Thiemens. “And because a large part of the world’s population live in major cities with shipping ports—such as New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Houston, and Singapore—and global shipping is expected to increase in the decades to come, this should help policy makers around the world make more informed decisions about improving the health of their citizens.”

Other UCSD researchers involved in the study were chemist Terri Jackson, graduate student Lauren Brothers and undergraduate students Burton Barnett and Bryan Nguyen. The research project was financed by grants from the California Air Resources Board, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and the UC Office of the President.