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January, 2009:

Community Concern About Air Pollution

Sellout Conference Reflects Community Concern about Air Pollution

The Air We Breath – 20th Jan 2009

A sellout crowd of over 400 people attended Saturday’s conference highlighted the deep concern, and interesting finding solutions to Hong Kong’s air pollution.

The heavily oversubscribed event:

• delivered an up–to-date expert information on Hong Kong’s situation,
• introduced th Hedley Environmental Index
• introduced best practices in tackling pollution from overseas.

Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for delegates to discuss the issues with local and global experts and to propose solutions for Hong Kong to a panel of stakeholders that included Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau and Legislators Audrey Eu (Chair of LegCo’s Environmental Affairs Panel), Tanya Chan, and Kam Nai Wai.

“Hong Kong has internationally-recognised experts on air pollution and public health. We are also able to tap overseas best practices to solve problems,” said Christine Loh, CEO Civic Exchange. “This tremendous gathering of knowledge – coupled with the community’s desire to participate – should send a very positive message to the Government that policies which improve public health by reducing air pollution will be strongly supported by the public and by experts”, she added.

“We are delighted to have such an enthusiastic response to this conference,” said William Yiu, Executive Director, Charities, Hong Kong Jockey Club. “The aim today is to transform our concerns about the health impacts of air pollution into positive energy to develop the solutions that will give us all cleaner, healthier air.” Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust generous funded the conference

Looking beyond the conference we hope that delegates will make use of what they have learned to participate in the government’s ongoing review of Hong Kong’s air quality objectives. These are the standards set by the Environmental Protection Department to control air pollution. Anyone wishing to comment can email the review team on

Hong Kong’s Economic Growth Spluttering On Filthy Air

20th Jan 2009 – AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) — In recent years, a thick haze originating from factories in southern China has enveloped Hong Kong for large chunks of the year, blocking views of its famous harbour and raising health fears.

Combined with the city’s home-grown pollution, scientists and business leaders say [air pollution] presents a serious economic risk to the financial hub, both for its ability to attract and retain talent and the associated health costs.

When Teena Goulet moved to Hong Kong in 1995 she thought she would never leave but five years after moving here, the keen outdoorswoman developed a chronic cough.

For someone who spent all her spare time outside — hiking, dragon boating, rowing — health was a major concern and after being diagnosed with adult onset asthma, Goulet, 45, decided last year to leave.

“It is just so vibrant and so safe,” the US banker said of Hong Kong.

“There is an amazing quality to it. Doing business is so easy, the low tax is great, the food and restaurants are great.

“I would have retired there,” said Goulet, speaking by phone from her new home in California. “But when you cannot breath, it kind of tells you what to do.”

Within a week of moving to California last March, her cough stopped.

US investment guru Jim Rogers, who moved to Asia in 2007 with his family because of his conviction that China would be the major driver of the world economy, chose to live in Singapore.

“I don’t want to breathe Hong Kong air,” he said.

A report for the City of London last October about the potential challenges from Asian financial centres, said the “only consistently negative issue” cited by professionals about Hong Kong related to environmental pollution.

The Hedley Environmental Index, a new website set up by a group of academics that combines air quality and public health data, puts the associated costs of the city’s poor air at 12.5 billion Hong Kong dollars (1.6 billion US) since the start of 2004.

[Air pollution in Hong Kong] caused 6,108 premature deaths.

Anthony Hedley, the public health professor at Hong Kong University after whom the index is named, said the website’s figures were conservative, as they excluded the long-term health effects of breathing toxic air.

“We are building up an enormous debt of trouble, which will manifest itself in one, two, three decades and could rear a huge toll on our children,” said Hedley.

‘Hong Kong is choking on its own greed’ —

A recent study commissioned by think tank Civic Exchange said one in five residents were considering leaving Hong Kong because of its dire air. Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed, 97 percent were local Chinese.

Michael DeGolyer, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who did the study, said the mood was such that one “tipping point” could provoke an exodus, particularly among managers and administrators.

“And Singapore wants them,” said DeGolyer.

The American Chamber of Commerce found in a recent member survey that 70 percent knew of professionals who had either left or were considering leaving because of the pollution.

“Hong Kong needs to lead the way (to improve air quality). That is what being a world city stands for,” said chamber chairman David Cunningham.

While the filth from thousands of toy, clothing and electronics factories in neighbouring Guangdong province dominates headlines, Alexis Lau, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said home-grown emissions from coal-fired power stations and dirty trucks were a more serious problem.

“We still believe the local pollution is more important for health,” Lau told a recent conference.

Hedley, who is leaving Hong Kong after 21 years here partly over worries about the air — he was diagnosed with adult onset asthma in his 60s — said the government must wake up to the time bomb.

“(The question for the government is) how many premature deaths are you prepared to accept?” said Hedley.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang said in 2007 improving air quality was “a matter of life and death,” and the government is currently reviewing its air quality guidelines, 20 years after they were last revised.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said tough measures had already helped reduce levels of several roadside pollutants and it was working with Guangdong authorities to reduce the haze.

New technology was being introduced to reduce emissions from power plants.

The department said the number of overseas companies with regional headquarters, offices or local operations in Hong Kong had increased to 6,612 in 2008 from 5,414 in 2003.

Any tougher regulations are likely to face opposition from sections of the local business community, which operates around 55,000 factories in Guangdong.

Goulet, who is now planning a move to Japan, said such intransigence was short-sighted: “Hong Kong is choking on its own greed.”

Don’t Hold Your Breath

As you get older, your skin will get duller. But you don’t have to sit back and accept it as a forgone conclusion. The aging of the skin is accelerated by pollution, which also creates lots of other skin problems.

Ivy Ong-Wood -Tuesday, January 20, 2009 – The Standard

As you get older, your skin will get duller. But you don’t have to sit back and accept it as a forgone conclusion. The aging of the skin is accelerated by pollution, which also creates lots of other skin problems.

Said dermatologist John Yu Ho-tak: “Pollution causes infection, in the form of acne and folliculities, which affects hair follicles. It also sparks off inflammation, which presents itself in skin allergies like eczema.”

Other long-term effects of pollution are wrinkles and irregular pigmentation.

Hong Kong is one of the worst places to be in if you want to escape that. Official figures released early this month showed that air pollution in many parts of the city last year reached its highest level since records began.

According to the Environmental Protection Department, the number of hours for which street-level pollution exceeded the danger level in some districts rose by 14 percent last year.

Pollution levels in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok reached dangerous levels for more than 2,000 hours last year – the highest figure since the department began taking roadside recordings in 2000.

A quick check in the department’s website shows that biggest culprits are respirable suspended particulates (dust to us laymen), nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Dust is the most visible of the three but, believe it or not, the ones that pose the most danger to our skin are the two gases that we cannot see.

Said Yu: “Suspended particles like dirt and tar are irritants which can be removed by simple washing. But airborne gas pollution are oxidizers, which can cause long-term damage as they cause free radical activity to occur on your skin.”

He added: “Our skin has a natural antioxidant defence, which is a cell membrane containing vitamin E. When the vitamin E in the membrane meets a free radical, it will neutralize it by binding the free radical. However, if there are too many free radicals attacking it, the vitamin E will lose its binding power, like a bee losing its sting.

“One way to reactivate this vitamin is to give it a dose of antioxidants. This is important because if a cell has been attacked too many times, it will die. Cell death causes skin pigmentation. Free radicals can also damage the skin’s collagen fiber cells, resulting in wrinkles.”

As the most exposed areas on our bodies, the face and forearms are the first places to show the effects of pollution.

Simple ways to counteract this effect, said Yu, are to stay indoors when the pollution index is high, wash your face after being outdoors and keeping skin moisturized to create an additional barrier.

“Some people think eating more fruits and vegetables will help,” he added.

“Eating more of that stuff is good for the body in general but it is unrelated to pollution. Once in the gut, the antioxidants are digested and broken down. The body takes in only as much as it needs and doesn’t store up a reserve.”

The best way is to apply antioxidant directly on the skin. But Yu cautioned: “You can’t just put tomato slices on your face or buy just any product to slap on your skin. To be effective, the antioxidants need to be absorbed by the skin.”

The strongest antioxidants are evident in L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and plant essence – ferulic acid from most plants and phlorectin from apples.

“But you have to pay attention to the delivery system,” said Yu. “Does it get into the cellular level? It’s no use if it just sits on the skin.”

He advises buying a product that has a low pH or is more acidic. “L-ascorbic acid, for example, is stable at a pH of about two to three. Any higher or lower and it won’t work. But you have to balance that against the fact that the higher the acidity, the higher the likelihood of skin irritations.”

Hong Kong To Revise Air Pollution Index

ChinaCSR – January 16, 2009

Edward Yau, the secretary of the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong, has stated that Hong Kong will work out a range of measures this year and hold public consultations with the aim of updating the air pollution index.

Yau also stressed that he hoped that the revised rule on parking would be enacted soon.

Yau says he was inspired by the National Development and Reform Commission’s guideline planning for the Pearl River Delta Development in which cooperation between Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region on the environment was mentioned and a regional green living area was scheduled. Yau said that Hong Kong’s air pollution index which was initiated in the 80’s is already outdated and the consultants’ report is almost complete. A series of measures is expected to be launched within 12 months and the government will consult with the public on the steps to adopt the new measures.

Currently, Hong Kong refers to the World Health Organization for its air pollution index. If it wants to reach the highest standard, it needs to reduce sulfur dioxide emission from its power stations by 95% and change the use of coal fuel power.

Youth Speak Truth On State Of Air Quality

Updated on Jan 19, 2009 – SCMP

Sometimes it takes youth to speak the truth to those in power. Such was the case when 500 Hong Kong residents gathered on January 10 to discuss the growing epidemic of air pollution.

Hong Kong’s air is toxic and getting worse.

Recent studies reveal sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter 200 to 400 per cent above the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to protect basic health. The Hedley Environmental Index, developed by University of Hong Kong professor Anthony Hedley, shows the real costs in monetary and health terms.

Hong Kong suffers an average of four additional unnecessary deaths a day due to airborne toxins.

Hongkongers get the message. A survey released last month by the Hong Kong Transition Project reported that 81 per cent of local adults want the government to make reversing air pollution a priority – an almost 200 per cent increase from public opinion in 2001.

Two thirds of Hong Kong residents regularly avoid outdoor exercise and shield themselves with air conditioning; 500,000 are seriously considering leaving the city permanently.

The participants at the Air We Breathe conference, organised by Civic Exchange, sought more comprehensive solutions. Their suggestions were numerous, innovative and thoughtful, yet none seem to be on the government’s radar.

Refreshingly, it was the teenage contingent who put the issues to Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah most clearly. Their message to Mr Yau, who attended the conference, was: “You have the power; you should act. This is an issue of life and death, and the lives are ours. Fix it – now.”

Among the numerous fixes suggested, the top three were:

  • Set legally binding standards (not unenforced guidelines) for air quality, using human health as the guiding principle;
  • Adopt the latest WHO standards, which are based on the best science available to mankind; and
  • Commit to a near-term target for reaching the pollutant levels (say, 2011) and assign a blue-ribbon team, amply supported by government experts, to come up with a plan.

The people of Hong Kong have spoken. It’s time for the government to act.

Rachel Fleishman, Mid-Levels

Buses Create ‘Repulsive’ Bay

Updated on Jan 19, 2009 – SCMP

If anyone has any doubts that idling engines cause terrible pollution, then they need only go to Repulse Bay beach on any day of the week.

Lines of parked tourist coaches can be seen there for hours each day, each empty (save for the driver) and each spewing clouds of filth from their idling engines.

They should be obliged to turn their engines off while their tourists stroll to the beachside temple.

It is most unfortunate that so many of these tourists choose to break the law by smoking on that beach, but nothing is done about that either.

As one of Hong Kong’s prime tourist destinations, this level of pollution gives a poor impression of our lack of control of idling engines.

What is more, the seemingly permanent unsightly construction site between the road and the beach gives the whole area a shabby appearance and that mess has been there for years.

We really need to do more to present our best tourist spots in a much better way. Otherwise, what will the groups of mainland visitors say about us?

Mary Pang, Kwai Chung

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Fresh eggs: clean green

Daniel Jeffreys – SCMP – Updated on Jan 18, 2009

Traditionally, homes must be scrubbed clean in the run-up to the Lunar New Year, so, in the coming days, houses and apartments will be scoured with all manner of cleaning fluids to ensure bad luck and evil spirits have been removed. The scouring will, inevitably, be followed by a flood of ecologically damaging fluids, pouring into the sewers, rivers and sea.

This year, in an attempt to limit this scourge, upmarket grocer ThreeSixty is cutting the price of all green cleaning products by more than 20 per cent. The store promises the lines it has in for this year’s spring clean are “chemical and hazard free” as well as “safe for the family and the environment”.

Among the items on offer are Earth Choice cleaning products, a line that, unlike its eco-unfriendly competitors, contains no phosphates, a major pollutant. Up to 15 per cent of the phosphate pollution in water comes from household cleaners and detergents. When phosphate content exceeds critical levels it speeds up the growth of algae, starving marine life of oxygen and sunlight. In some detergents, phosphates can make up to 25 per cent of the total.

Exclusive to ThreeSixty are two types of laundry powder: the Aquados Simply Sensitive and Simply Active. The maker promises the product’s special formulas give exceptional washing power with minimum impact on the planet. The Simply Laundry line is the first British detergent to carry the European Union’s Eco-label guarantee of greenness. The products have been tested to ensure they are safe for all skin types and have been approved by the Vegan Society.

“We believe that eating healthy foods is only half of the journey towards a healthy lifestyle – the other half is to care about what chemicals go on your skin and into the air we breathe,” says Sean Robson, the buying manager at ThreeSixty, who describes himself as a dedicated environmentalist. “Using chemical-free cleaning products means a safer environment for your family, and no pollutants for Victoria Harbour. We have laundry detergents, fabric softeners, surface cleaners, dishwashing liquids, glass cleaners and mosquito repellants that are toxin free and really work.”

The environmentally friendly lines are available in ThreeSixty stores at the Prince’s Building, in Central, and the Elements shopping mall, in West Kowloon, or from the ThreeSixty website, The discount on the products lasts until the end of the month.

KMB To Phase Out Older Buses

Anita Lam, SCMP – Updated on Jan 16, 2009

Kowloon Motor Bus intends to phase out within three years its 400-plus buses built before 1992 in favour of less polluting models.

The other main franchised bus operators, New World First Bus and Citybus, have pledged to phase out their 90 pre-1992 models – known as pre-Euro because they began operating before the European Union began setting emissions standards in 1992 – by 2012. They will also phase out more than 400 Euro I buses – which meet the EU’s 1992 standards – by then.

KMB principal engineer Kane Shum Yuet-hung said although it operated 401 pre-Euro buses, they had long ago been upgraded to meet the Euro I standards. Likewise its 943 Euro I buses had been upgraded to meet the 1996 Euro II standards.

By next year, when fitting of particulate filters to its 1,675 Euro II and III buses was finished, the emissions of its fleet would be 90 per cent less than they were in 1992.

“After [this upgrade], I guarantee you will never again see black smoke coming from a bus exhaust pipe,” Mr Shum said.

He said the Transport Department had approved its purchase of 145 Euro IV buses that met 2005 EU standards, delivery of which was expected this year. KMB would seek approval later to buy another 256 of the buses to complete the phase-out.

Pre-Euro and Euro I buses accounted for half the 100 tonnes of respirable suspended particles (RSPs) and nitrogen oxides franchised buses emitted in 2006. Euro IV buses emit 97 per cent less RSPs than pre-Euro buses, 61 per cent less nitrogen oxides and 81 per cent less hydrocarbons.

Meanwhile, opposition to another measure to improve air quality rose, with some taxi drivers threatening industrial action unless granted a hot-weather exemption from a proposed ban on idling engines.

But Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah told lawmakers that such an exemption would be unfair to pedestrians, who would feel uncomfortable inhaling engine exhaust on hot days.

Lowest Marks Over Environment

Stephen Chen, SCMP – Updated on Jan 16, 2009

Mainlanders gave the government the lowest marks yet for environmental protection last year, despite unprecedented public spending on such efforts in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics

Nearly 80 per cent of residents polled felt the environment was “extremely” or “fairly” bad last year, up nearly 10 percentage points from 2007. More than half of the respondents were also dissatisfied with government attempts to solve environmental problems.

The survey was conducted by the China Environmental Culture Promotion Association, a non-profit organisation funded by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. It canvassed nearly 10,000 residents in 31 major cities. Residents in rural areas, where the most polluting factories are located, were excluded.

The interviewees’ environmental awareness had increased, contributing to the surge of negative feedback, the report said.

The report also said the reputations of state-owned enterprises were severely damaged, and blamed the decline on the tainted-milk scandal and other incidents. The enterprises’ approval ratings dropped by more than one-third compared with 2007.

More than half of the people surveyed said the root of the milk scandal lay not in any company’s management but the lack of government supervision.

In contrast, the popularity of foreign firms on the mainland rose sharply last year. Nearly 80 per cent of residents said they trusted overseas companies more on environmental ethics, a practice often neglected by mainland enterprises, the report said.

Residents showed little awareness of Beijing’s costly environmental campaign initiated in recent years. Fewer than 10 per cent of them knew about plans to cut energy consumption by 20 per cent in five years.

And almost all respondents answered incorrectly when asked about who was responsible for the environmental problems in their neighbourhood – the correct answer was the city government.

Top environmental concerns were garbage, noise and pets. Mainland cities produced 130 million  tonnes of waste last year, but only half of it was properly collected and disposed of. Some cities just dumped the waste in suburban areas, causing sanitary and pollution issues.

There is one area where the government seems to be winning points: the ban on plastic bags. In a non-government study funded by the Heinrich Boll Foundation, also released yesterday, more than half of the consumers polled in Beijing’s four downtown districts were using environmental friendly carry bags or using their own plastic bags to shop.

Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Causes Some to Think Twice About Living There

By Kari Jensen, VOA – 15 January 2009

Air pollution in Hong Kong has gotten so bad that some businesses are losing staff and customers. A city watchdog group says the government is not doing enough to reduce pollution, much of which comes from mainland China.

Hong Kong’s skies were clear and blue when Alan Knight first arrived there in 1993. But, within 12 years, the city had become so polluted there were days when he could not see through the gray haze across Victoria Harbor.

Knight’s work requires travel. He is a journalist and professor. He also has a lung condition, which usually is dormant. But it flared, a few years back, when he returned to Hong Kong. He was hospitalized and received high dosages of antibiotics. Once he was back in Brisbane, Australia the condition resolved itself.

Knight says he is looking to move back to Asia, but not Hong Kong.

“I think the atmosphere in Hong Kong is really toxic,” he said. “I’d love to come back to Hong Kong. I love the city. I love the people. I love the place. But, quite frankly, I’m likely to live in Singapore.”

The city’s poor air quality is affecting both its residents’ health and its economy. A recent survey shows one in five Hong Kongers may leave the city, because of air pollution. Air pollution costs more than $283 million annually in health care costs and lost job prospects.

Michael DeGolyer is a professor in international studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. He conducted the air pollution survey for Civic Exchange, a public policy think tank.

He says about 30 percent of those who are seriously considering leaving because of bad air are mid- to high-level professionals.

DeGolyer says more than 97 percent of those surveyed were ethnic Chinese. He says air pollution is not just an expat concern.

“Everybody breathes air,” he said. “And, it’s become a concern to everybody now.”

In southern China, factories are closing down, in part because of tougher environmental standards. Still, Chinese factories in the Pearl River Delta north of Hong Kong are the city’s major source of pollution.

But half the time, Hong Kong’s pollution comes directly from its power plants, vehicular emissions and marine traffic.

In the city’s urban areas, tall buildings trap particulates, instead of allowing them to be dispersed by the wind. Residents live close to the roadways and are constantly exposed.

Local activists are looking to other major cities to see what they did to curtail pollution. DeGolyer says research in California shows money spent on air pollution abatement was more than recovered by reduced health care costs and improved worker productivity.

Civic Exchange is pushing Hong Kong to impose stricter air quality standards. It wants the environmental standards to also protect public health. It hosted a clean air conference recently, where international researchers, scientists, economists and academics discussed green measures.

Hong Kong’s present guidelines have not been updated for more than two decades. The city’s air quality, in terms of sulfur content, is much less stringent than World Health Organization guidelines set in 2006.

A Hong Kong legislature’s environmental affairs committee plans to review air quality guidelines and possibly adopt more stringent standards this year.

Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department has made efforts to curtail pollution. It has tightened vehicle and power plant emissions and introduced cleaner fuels.

Although sulfur dioxide emissions in the city have dropped back to almost 1997 levels, they are still well above the government’s emission-reduction targets. Air pollution worsened this past year.

Government detractors say, in terms of addressing air pollution, the legislature favors business, especially the transport lobby.

Businesses are quick to defend themselves. Al Hendricks works for a company that manufactures energy-saving equipment. He says industry is less resistant to change than government.

“There’s people here who just don’t want to make changes and are either afraid to or just don’t want to rock the boat for whatever reason,” he said.

Hendricks says the government needs to offer incentives if it wants businesses to enforce environmental standards.

As upper-level professionals leave Hong Kong for jobs in less-polluted cities, businesses may be forced to change without government prodding. The demand for top talent across Asia is high.

It is a delicate balance. By imposing stricter standards, Hong Kong may lose business to nearby Chinese ports and cities, which have looser standards. But, by not cleaning up its air, Hong Kong is already losing professionals and businesses.

The Hong Kong government is working with the government of southern Guangdong province to reduce regional emissions.

Guangdong has agreed to ban the construction of new coal-fired or oil-fired power plants.

Still, even if Hong Kong addresses its air pollution, it can not force Guangdong to take the same measures.