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September 11th, 2008:

Higher Risk Of Death For Poor On Bad Air Days

Reuters in Hong Kong – Updated on Sep 11, 2008

Poor people in Hong Kong have a higher risk of death when air pollution is bad, a seven-year study has found.

“The finding is that people living in highly-deprived areas had higher risk of mortality after bad air pollution days,” Wong Chit-ming, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, said in an interview.

“Most deaths occurred a day after the air pollution index showed a rise,” said Mr Wong, one of the researchers in the study, which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers pored through 215,240 deaths in Hong Kong between 1996 to 2002 from respiratory and cardiovascular causes. They had details on the districts they lived in, the income they earned when they were alive, whether they were single or married and if they lived alone before they died.

The data was compared against air pollution readings in the territory, taking into account four pollutants â nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, and ozone.

The researchers found that more deaths occurred in poor neighbourhoods right after air pollution readings shot up.

“These areas have more unemployed people, households earning less than US$250 a month, single-person households, and more people living in shared flats,” Mr Wong said.

Such a phenomenon was not observed in richer neighbourhoods.

Explaining why poorer people were more susceptible, Mr Wong said: “They may smoke more, have less time to exercise, have poorer nutrition, less access to healthcare.”

Idling Engine’s Fouling Hong Kong

On other matters …

Updated on Sep 11, 2008 – SCMP

On the afternoon of September 3, commuters exiting Mong Kok MTR station’s B2 exit were greeted by blasts of hot and polluted air courtesy of the mobile showroom manned by American International Assurance (AIA) and JF Asset Management.

In case your readers have forgotten, in 2006 these companies launched Hong Kong’s first “socially responsible” MPF fund named the Green Fund (“Green fund widens MPF choice”, April 2, 2006). Companies are chosen for their financial performance as well as their “environmental credentials”, as classified by Innovest Strategic Advisers, an independent ratings agency.

These are fine words, but the level of sincerity to environmental protection is obviously nil when the promotion of the AIA-JF funds is carried out via a vehicle whose idling engine is fouling one of Hong Kong’s most congested and polluted streets.

AIA-JF is not alone. I have also seen PCCW, Sony Ericsson and Standard Chartered Bank use similar modified showroom vehicles. These companies have also pledged their commitment to be socially responsible corporate entities. What is more, except for PCCW, such promotions would not be tolerated in the perpetrators’ home countries.

One also has to question the ethics of the management of these companies that encourage young and impressionable staff members to ignore the health risks these promotions pose.

In view of the high levels of congestion on our streets and the ever-declining quality of our air, when can we expect the secretaries for transport and the environment to take action?

In the meantime, concerned citizens can do their bit by lodging a complaint with the authorities every time they spot one of these polluters in their neighbourhood.

Mary Melville, Tsim Sha Tsui

We Can Bring Back Blue Skies

Updated on Sep 11, 2008 – SCMP

It was curious to note some unusually lovely clear blue skies over Hong Kong during the Olympics. It was the best I’ve seen it in 10 years.

The skies are noticeably greyer now. Why? A friend has a textile factory in the Pearl River Delta and told me a lot of factories closed for the Games and more gas was used by Hong Kong power companies to help clear the air pollution. So for those who say it is too hard to fix the pollution, it’s nonsense.

We just need political willpower. The prospect of international shaming worked miracles.

Now we just need to find a way to get our complacent politicians to keep the momentum going and understand that local people deserve clean air, not just visitors with higher standards than ours.

P. Gilbert, Lam Tin