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January 22nd, 2009:

MTR Station At Happy Valley

What do you think of the decision not to build an MTR station at Happy Valley?

Updated on Jan 22, 2009 – SCMP

Deciding against having an MTR station in Happy Valley illustrates a short-sighted approach to the provision of a long-term sustainable transport system in Hong Kong.

The Happy Valley-Wan Chai area is badly served by the MTR. This is a result of a decision to delete the original station proposed between Wan Chai and Causeway Bay stations when the Island Line was built. The same mistake is about to be repeated.

The MTR generally plans stations every kilometre along its lines so that people are usually within walking distance of a station. The transport policy is based on a railway-led strategy, and a comprehensive network of lines and stations could achieve this objective by providing a station within 500 metres of everywhere in urban Hong Kong.

Happy Valley is a case where the long-term view of a sustainable transport system – independent of road systems, air pollution and traffic congestion – should be applied, rather than a short-term argument relating to construction costs.

There is traffic congestion in Happy Valley on a regular basis, and this results in major delays at the Queen’s Road East/Wong Nai Chung junction, which can lead to major delays in all directions. There is no other practical long-term solution than to remove trips from the road and put them underground in a railway.

This station would also facilitate access to the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital and the racecourse, relieving much of the traffic congestion.

The possibility of an alternative system of pedestrian underpasses to Causeway Bay station is unrealistic. Already the walks through the Causeway Bay MTR station to Times Square are at the limit of what is acceptable. An underpass extension to the heart of Happy Valley would not work.

There is only one opportunity to provide this station and it must be taken now, not only for those going to and from Happy Valley, but as part of a wise policy to provide a comprehensive railway station network to serve all of Hong Kong for the next 100 years and beyond.

Ian Brownlee, Happy Valley

China – Calling for Clearer Skies

Walter Molano | Jan 22, 2009 – RGE Monitor

Clearer skies are one of the unexpected benefits from the economic crisis. The brown haze that typically obscures much of Hong Kong suddenly lifted with the slowdown of manufacturing activity. Unfortunately, the air quality will probably get better before it gets worse. Chinese officials are putting on a brave face, by saying that some economic indicators show a rebound, but a closer look at the numbers shows that the situation is deteriorating. Therefore, we may be in for some good beach weather on the South China Sea.

Shenzhen and Dongguan, two of the major manufacturing hubs along the Pearl River Delta, are being devastated. Factories are furloughing workers, announcing extended holidays for the lunar New Year and even shutting down. An estimated 20% of the regional factories could be out of business by year end, thus affecting millions of laborers. Many factories and warehouses are being transformed into alternative uses, such as low budget hotels and dormitories, in an attempt to generate revenues. Electricity demand is plunging, and the energy shortages that were once a staple of daily life, are becoming distant memories. The State Electricity Regulatory Commission reported that power consumption fell 8.93% y/y in December. This helped explain the sharp improvement in air quality, since the electricity generators did not have to resort to auxiliary thermal units to meet excess demand. Wages are also coming down, as displaced factory workers desperately look for sources of income. Recent pictures of shivering applicants, queuing up for positions that pay less than 1,000 Rmb per month, said it all. Many people are decamping for the interior, producing a negative multiplier on the local economy. The government of Guangdong estimated that 600,000 migrant workers left at the end of last year. Restaurants are cutting prices in an effort to attract clientele, feeding deflationary pressures. This is going to fuel new global imbalances, as China becomes a source of global deflation. The hopes and aspirations of Macau to tap into the rich vein of Chinese tourists looking for places to spend their disposable income went down the drain, with most the casinos cutting up to half of their staff. These are the reasons why the unemployment rate is on the rise, and social unrest is spreading.

Beijing is running against the clock, hurriedly trying to counter the downturn by opening the fiscal taps, reducing interest rates and weakening the currency. However, this will not be enough to compensate for the collapse in external demand. Exports represent 40% of GDP, and Chinese domestic demand is not sufficiently robust to make up for the collapse in trade. A look at the numbers says it all. On an aggregate level, the year-end trade data was disheartening. Exports dropped 2.8% y/y in December, while imports fell 21.3%. But, a closer look at the reports from the major shipping facilities was bone chilling. Cargo volume at Hong Kong’s Air Cargo Terminals (HACTL) plunged 29.7% y/y in December. Other shipping facilities along the Pearl River Delta reported similar declines. Therefore, the expectation that China would avert the mayhem from the global downturn was pure denial.

The Chinese government’s attempts to revive domestic demand are not having much of an impact. The automobile industry is an interesting telltale. Chinese automobiles are mainly for domestic consumption, given the huge unmet demand. However, car sales rose only 7.3% y/y during 2008, marking the worst performance in over a decade. The biggest slowdown occurred during the latter half of the year, as the effects of the global credit crunch took hold. Although the numbers were bad, officials might have been shading the truth. The Ford Motor Company recently announced that annual sales at its Chinese joint venture dropped 5.9% y/y in 2008. Therefore, the crisis is deepening. This has dire implications for commodity prices and the rest of the emerging markets. There was a lot of hope that China would take up the slack that was being generated by the U.S. and Europe. However, the size of the Chinese economy is only $4.1 trillion, less than a tenth of the combined U.S. and European economies. Moreover, it looks like China is going into its own economic downturn. Therefore, there is not much it will contribute to global demand. This suggests that we may see clearer skies ahead over much of the Chinese mainland, but the improvement in environmental conditions will mainly be due to a contraction in global economic activity.

Cleaner Air Equals Longer Life

Cleaner air, longer life: Study provides evidence

In a boon for supporters of air quality management, new findings show that the more particulate air pollution is reduced, the more life expectancy increases.

By Thomas H. Maugh II – January 22, 2009 – Los Angeles Times

For those wondering just how much effect cleaning up the air can have, researchers now have a much fuller picture.

Reductions in particulate air pollution during the 1980s and 1990s led to an average five-month increase in life expectancy in 51 U.S. metropolitan areas, with some of the initially more polluted cities such as Buffalo, N.Y., and Pittsburgh showing a 10-month increase, researchers said Wednesday.

The reductions in pollution accounted for about 15% of a nearly three-year increase in life expectancy during the two decades, said epidemiologist C. Arden Pope III of Brigham Young University, lead author of the study appearing today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is well known that particulate air pollution reduces life expectancy, said environmental epidemiologist Joel Schwartz of the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study. But public policy makers “are interested in the question of, ‘If I spend the money to reduce pollution, what really happens?’ ” he said.

Schwartz reported two years ago that a study in six cities revealed increased life expectancy was associated with reductions in particulate pollution. Pope and his colleagues expanded on that connection, finding that in a large fraction of the U.S. population “the more particulate pollution went down, the more life expectancy went up.”

Their finding “greatly strengthens the foundation of the argument for air quality management,” wrote environmental health scientist Daniel Krewski of the University of Ottawa in an editorial accompanying the report.

The particulates in question are called fine particulates because they are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, allowing them to burrow deep into the small air passages of the lung. They have repeatedly been shown to produce cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. Larger particulates, which cause visibility problems, have a much smaller effect on health.

The fine particulates are produced by cigarettes, gasoline and diesel engines, coal power plants, foundries and a variety of other urban sources.

Pope and his colleagues studied two sets of data collected in 214 counties, comprising 51 metropolitan areas, in 1980 and 2000, comparing reductions in particulate levels and increases in life expectancies. They used a variety of advanced statistical methods to try to eliminate effects linked to changes in population, income, education, migration and demographics.

They concluded that for every decrease of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate pollution in a city, average life span increased a little more than seven months — about the same amount seen in previous, smaller studies.

“We are getting a return on our investment to improve air quality,” Pope said.

Overall, the average life span in the 51 areas increased 2.7 years over the two decades, with the major share of the increase attributed to reductions in smoking and changes in socioeconomic factors.

Los Angeles, and Southern California in general, had large increases in life expectancy during the period, even though pollution levels did not drop as much as in other cities. Pope attributed the increase in life span to a string of smoking bans begun in 1994.

Pope thinks there is room for further improvement. The average countrywide fine-particulate concentration in the early 1980s was about 20 micrograms per cubic meter, and that dropped to about 14 micrograms by 2000.

“It’s reasonable to expect that we could reduce it by that much again, but then we reach a point of substantially diminishing marginal returns,” he said.

Reduced Air Pollution Adds Years To Your Life

eFluxMedia By Anna Boyd – 12:58, January 22nd 2009

Pollution has always been thought to reduce survival due to its noxious effects on people’s health. Previous studies have linked pollution to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, asthma and other serious diseases.

No further than last year, a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that pollution harms people with coronary artery disease, causing worrying changes on the heart traces of patients recovering from heart attacks.

Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, which focused on air pollution’s effects on clotting in the veins found that exposure to air pollution from traffic fumes raises risks of potentially fatal clots in the leg; it alters the blood’s coagulation properties and heightens the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A study published in 2007 in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that breathing fine particle pollution during warm weather months can increase stroke risk.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution accounts for three million deaths worldwide every year. Cars, trucks and industrial plants are the greatest source of air pollution emissions that increases the rates of heart attacks.

Other studies found that when particulates are cut even for a short period of time, death rates fall. As an example, when Hong Kong imposed reductions in sulfur dioxide, or when Dublin imposed a coal ban, they saw immediate reductions in death rates from cardiovascular diseases.

Now, researchers at Brigham Young University and the Harvard School of Public Health come to underline the idea that pollution really increases someone’s risk of dying. Their study was published in the January 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the findings, the average of life expectancy in 51 US cities increased nearly three years over recent decades due to steps taken to reduce air pollution.

“We find that we’re getting a substantial return on our investments in improving our air quality. Not only we are getting cleaner air that improves our environment, but it is improving our public health,” C. Arden Pope III, PhD, a BYU epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said.

For the study, he and his colleagues plotted pollution data for 1979-1983 against 1978-1982 life expectancies for 217 counties within 51 metropolitan areas around the country. Then, they compared 1999-2000 pollution data with 1997-2001 life expectancies. The researchers looked at how air pollution influenced life expectancy in both time periods.

Pollution levels were about 21 micrograms per cubic meter in the early 80s and had fallen to an average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter by 1999-2000.

The study found that due to this decrease in air pollution, average US life expectancy increased by about three years over the period of the study and cleaner air was responsible for as much as 15 percent of the increase in some metropolitan areas.

Commenting on the findings, Daniel Krewski of the University of Ottawa said the study “provides direct confirmation of the population health benefits of mitigating air pollution and greatly strengthens the foundation of the argument for air-quality management.”

Ambient Air Pollution vs. Life Expectancy

Evaluating the Effects of Ambient Air Pollution on Life Expectancy

Daniel Krewski, Ph.D. – The New England Journal of Medicine – 22nd Jan 2009

Air pollution is an important determinant of population health. In this issue of the Journal, Pope et al.1 provide data that once again reinforce this fundamental concept. In an analysis that correlates reductions in fine particulate matter (i.e., particles less than 2.5 µm in aerodynamic diameter, or PM2.5) in the air with life expectancies, the investigators found that a decrease in the concentration of PM2.5 of 10 µg per cubic meter is associated with an increase in life expectancy of 0.77 year. Their analysis is based on correlating reductions in particulate air pollution over the past several decades with increases in life expectancy in 217 counties in 51 metropolitan areas in the United States. Although ecologic in nature (i.e., reflecting associations between air pollution and life expectancy at the county rather than the individual level), these results appear to be robust with respect to adjustment for changes in socioeconomic, demographic, and smoking patterns occurring over the same period.

The finding is comparable with previous predictions of reductions in life expectancy of 1.11 years in the Netherlands,2 1.37 years in Finland,3 and 0.80 year in Canada4 resulting from increases in ambient PM2.5 concentrations of 10 µg per cubic meter. However, the strength of the study by Pope et al. resides in its ability to demonstrate an increase in life expectancy resulting from actual reductions in particulate air pollution. This finding provides direct confirmation of the population health benefits of mitigating air pollution and greatly strengthens the foundation of the argument for air-quality management.5

This work could be extended to take into account quality of life. For example, Coyle et al.4 estimated that an increase of 10 µg per cubic meter in PM2.5 concentrations would lead to a quality-adjusted reduction in life expectancy of 0.60 year, as compared with the unadjusted reduction of 0.80 year. The work by Pope et al. represents an important contribution to the large and growing body of evidence linking ambient air pollution with adverse health outcomes. At the global level, the World Health Organization6 estimates that 1.4% of all deaths and 0.8% of disability-adjusted life-years are the result of particulate air pollution.

The short-term health effects of particulate and gaseous air pollutants have been well documented, largely through time-series studies relating short-term elevations in ambient levels of such pollutants to increases in morbidity and mortality from cardiorespiratory conditions. A recent combined analysis of time-series data from 124 of the largest cities in North America and Europe produced an estimated increase in the rate of death from any cause ranging from 0.2 to 0.6% for an increase in ambient PM10 concentrations of 10 µg per cubic meter,7 depending on the assumed lag time between exposure to particulate matter and death and on the method used for seasonality control, the form of the temporal smoothing function, and degree of smoothing. Risk estimates for Europe and the United States were similar but were higher in Canada.

The long-term effects of exposure to “criteria” air pollutants (particulate matter, ozone, sulfates, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and carbon monoxide) have been documented in large-scale cohort studies, including the Harvard Six Cities Study8 and the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II.9 The American Cancer Society cohort, which includes more than 1.1 million people followed since the time of enrollment in 1980, has provided consistent evidence of an association between increased mortality and ambient air pollution in follow-up analyses through 1989,10 1998,11 and 20009 (Table 1). Further analyses of the data, using refined estimates of exposure to ambient PM2.5 and follow-up through 2004, are under way.

Evaluating the effects of ambient air pollution on life expectancy

The effects of ambient air pollution on population health can be addressed within the broader context of risk assessment and management. Population-health risk assessment involves the systematic assessment of genetic, environmental, and social determinants of health; identified health risks can be addressed using a combination of regulatory, economic, advisory, community-based, and technological risk-management interventions.12 Craig et al.5 recently produced a document on how scientific evidence on the effects of ambient air pollution on population health can be used in developing strategies for air-quality management.

Research priorities for airborne particulate matter have been identified by the National Research Council, and progress toward their achievement was monitored from 1998 through 2004.13 The goal of the research was to increase scientific understanding of the health effects of particulate air pollution, including the biologic mechanisms by which particulate matter in ambient air can lead to increased mortality in the general population. Recent scientific evidence suggests that increased mortality from cardiopulmonary disease is due to increased formation of atherosclerotic plaque, which in turn is due to the induction of systemic inflammation and oxidative stress mediated by cytokines after inhalation of PM2.5.14

The National Research Council also provided a framework for evaluating the benefits of air-quality regulations.15 Whereas analyses of regulatory benefits are based on predictions of the health benefits resulting from air-pollution control, Pope et al. provide documented evidence of such benefits as a consequence of actual reductions in air-pollution concentrations occurring over the past several decades in the United States. Hedley et al.16 have attempted to document improvements in population health resulting from reductions in exposure to airborne particulate matter in Hong Kong.

An important component of environmental-health risk management is the evaluation of the effect of a particular intervention.17 Although ambient air-pollution concentrations in the United States and other developed countries have been declining in recent decades, reflecting efforts to reduce emissions from both point (e.g., smokestacks) and mobile (e.g., cars and trucks) sources, few studies have documented an improvement in population health as a consequence of reductions in exposure to air pollution. The Health Effects Institute has emphasized the need for such evaluations by proposing an accountability framework for air-quality management.18 This framework tracks the effects of interventions to enhance air quality in terms of emissions reductions, improvements in air quality, reductions in human exposure, and, ultimately, improvements in population health. Because long-term exposure to particulate air pollution has a much greater effect on population health than short-term exposure, the results of the study by Pope et al. are of particular importance within the accountability framework established by the Health Effects Institute.

Pope et al. note that although decreases in fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) could account for as much as 18% of the increase in life expectancy of approximately 2.74 years occurring in the United States between 1980 and 1999, other factors may also be partly responsible. Further analyses of this association, adjusting for changes in individual-level variables such as tobacco use, socioeconomic status, dietary patterns, body-mass index, physical activity, and access to health services, would be of value both in identifying other factors contributing to the increased life expectancy observed over this period and in confirming the ecologic findings of Pope et al. Consideration of the joint effects of copollutants would also be of interest.9 In the interim, these investigators have made an important contribution to air-quality management through their pioneering attempts to document the population health benefits of reducing ambient air pollution by correlating past reductions in ambient PM2.5 concentrations with increased life expectancy.

Dr. Krewski reports serving as Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Chair in Risk Sciences, a university–industry partnership program, at the University of Ottawa, and as chief executive officer and chief risk scientist for Risk Sciences International ( No other potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.

Document available here:

UK Chamber Finds Growing Dissatisfaction

Peter So and Paggie Leung – Updated on Jan 22, 2009 – SCMP

British businesspeople’s dissatisfaction with the city’s political environment, government leadership, environmental strategies and language proficiency of employees has grown, according to a survey by the British Chamber of Commerce.

And there has been a huge decrease in confidence in short-term business prospects.

While 96 per cent of members described the Hong Kong business environment last year as “very” or “somewhat” satisfactory, a slight dip of 2 percentage points from 2007, only 40 per cent said they were positive about prospects this year – a big drop from a 91 per cent positive response in 2007.

Respondents said they were pessimistic about business prospects in the next two years, but anticipated a recovery in three to five years.

The survey, conducted in December, brought 121 replies from members. Of those, less than half, or 45 per cent, said they were satisfied with government leadership, a drop of 13 percentage points from 2007.

Satisfaction with the stability of the government and political system dipped year on year by 8 percentage points to 89 per cent.

Meanwhile, fewer respondents thought the government had the “right and long-term strategy” to enhance the city’s competitive advantages, with the satisfaction rate dropping by 12 percentage points to 57 per cent.

Sixty per cent said they were not confident in the government’s strategy to reform the health-care sector, but 78 per cent said government plans to introduce competition legislation in the next Legislative Council session would be good for business.

Ninety-one per cent said they were dissatisfied with government efforts to improve air quality in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, while 85 per cent were discontented with efforts to reduce water pollution in Victoria Harbour and coastal areas. The figures were similar in 2007.

On language proficiency, nearly all employers were satisfied with their staff members’ ability to speak Cantonese, but there was growing dissatisfaction about English and Putonghua proficiency.

Forty-six per cent said they were unhappy with employees’ English ability, an increase of 10 percentage points from three years ago. And 45 per cent said they were dissatisfied with employees’ Putonghua abilities, a rise of 7 percentage points over the same period.

Sixty-one per cent said they had negative expectations of the city’s business outlook this year, and 76 per cent felt the same way about next year. About a third thought economic prospects would become positive in 2011, while 96 per cent expected the economy would fully recover within five years.

However, fewer expected the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement would bring benefits to their businesses, with only 32 saying it would positively affect business, 38 percentage points less than the 70 per cent of hopefuls recorded in 2002. Two-thirds (67 per cent) said the arrangement would have no impact, a 40 percentage-point increase from 2002.

In another survey, conducted by recruitment firm Hudson, 11 per cent of 812 executives in Hong Kong forecast a reduction in headcount in the first quarter of this year.

Only 18 per cent said they expected to increase hiring, the poll said.

Grand Award Environmental Performance

Strict environmental policies put paper group ahead of the pack

John Cremer – Updated on Jan 22, 2009 – SCMP

Ingenuity and investment have been a successful combination that paved the way for Leo Paper Group (Hong Kong) to win the grand award for environmental performance.

Since 2000, the company has followed a self-imposed code of conduct, implementing stringent programmes to reduce waste, pollution and the use of water and energy, while also adhering to the highest international standards in terms of recycling and best environmental practices.

Production department director C.M. Yeung explained that many initiatives had involved examining and enhancing processes at the company’s three main production plants and print works near Jiangmen in southern China. These employ about 20,000 staff and manufacture a wide range of books, games, calendars, bags, packaging and gift items.

However, the company has also made a point of adopting green practices in every area of its business. Engineers and managers are expected to monitor research information and ideas from around the world and, wherever possible, find local applications that give large or small improvements.

“We are very focused on eliminating any waste and realise the control of energy is very important,” Mr Yeung said. “We also try to share our knowledge and experience.” He noted that several changes made in the past few years had led to a significant reduction in power consumption. For example, energy-efficient T5 lighting was installed in all the factories, cutting electricity usage by about 22 per cent.

The air-conditioning system, which runs virtually year-round, was redesigned so that the heat produced could be used to warm water for the bathrooms in nearby dormitory blocks. And the mechanical engineering team has effectively invented a centralised vacuum system, necessary for transferring paper into each printing press by suction, and for operating the binding and folding machines used in making books. Mr Yeung explained that the original system had been designed to operate only at maximum speed, something that was clearly not needed. By upgrading the mechanism to operate “on demand”, adapting the tubing to each press, and reducing indoor noise and heat, the company is able to save nearly 70 per cent of the energy used by the original design.

“We first developed it for a small area in one of the buildings, analysed the records and then installed the big system,” he said. “Some investment is required, but the payback comes quite soon.”

Similar efforts have been made for the treatment of waste water. Processed in three phases, it is reused for production, cleaning the factories and flushing toilets. Storage is in rooftop tanks to help reduce indoor temperatures. Mr Yeung said the company took its commitment to the principles of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and all forms of recycling seriously.

“We try to inspire and persuade our clients to FSC paper,” he said. “The price may be a little higher, but we try to share that.” He added the aim was to become a “zero rubbish” manufacturer. To that end, the firm is working with specialist partners to recycle paper, plastics, metals and chemicals.