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January 24th, 2009:

Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Recent Talkback articles posted in the SCMP related to Air Pollution and Tobacco smoke have strayed off course to also include PM2.5 and PM10 emissions from diesel vehicles in Hong Kong. See these artciles in our Tobacco blog under Smoking Ban.

Kwun Tong Tower Needs 20-Metre Cut

Joyce Ng – Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

The Town Planning Board decided yesterday that a 68-storey building proposed for a revamped Kwun Tong town centre would have to be lowered by 20 metres to avoid becoming an eyesore.

Board members said they were not satisfied with the Urban Renewal Authority’s justifications for the 280-metre height of the office-and-hotel tower, which would stand 80 metres above surrounding buildings.

The URA says the proposed tower will meet residents’ requests for a landmark in the centre of Kwun Tong.

The board last month delayed approval of the plan pending assurances that it would not create air flow problems or become an eyesore.

The URA argued that a taller, slimmer tower would allow for more ventilation corridors between the tower and any surrounding blocks.

But the Planning Department, in advising board members, said the argument could “hardly be convincing” because the authority’s assessment showed the 280-metre tower would only marginally increase air flow when compared with a 220metre structure. The authority checked only the air flow impact of two scenarios: for buildings that were 220 metres and 280 metres tall.

The board approved the master layout plan for the Kwun Tong project, though, as a condition, it required the authority to lower the centrepiece’s height by about five storeys, to 260 metres.

Board member and Kwun Tong district councillor Nelson Chan Wah-yu, who had advocated a tall landmark, said he understood the concerns of his fellow members.

“A height reduction will be acceptable to residents as long as the building design is attractive,” he said.

The authority has also proposed adding a public observation deck on the 61st-storey to allow for 360- degree panoramic views over the future Kai Tak cruise terminal, Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui and Quarry Bay. The deck will include food and drink facilities, and souvenir shops.

Members approved the idea but asked the URA to make sure it would be freely accessible by the public and not incorporated into the hotel area.

Sore Throats Thanks To Air

Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

I live in Kowloon East near the sea and on Thursday and Friday the air was filthy.

There was an obvious burning smell like a barbecue.

My children started coughing at night and we all needed to limit our time outdoors to avoid sore throats and general discomfort.

Based on this very crude performance indicator of the air smelling like London in the 1800s, the government’s performance is poor.

Even the “ban” on idling engines is too much for officials to handle properly.

It is very hard to take the Environmental Protection Department seriously.

The economic downturn will finally do more to help air quality than the department can organise itself.

P. Gilbert, Lam Tin

Follow WHO Guidelines

Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

Perhaps now is a good time to draw the chief executive’s attention to research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This suggests that reducing the current level of air pollution to that of the World Health Organisation guidelines would extend his life (and that of the rest of us) by nearly three years.

David Chappell, Lamma

Air Quality Standards Review

The following letter was sent to the Director of Environmental Protection by Clear The Air:

Director of Environmental Protection – ENB

24th January 2009

Air Quality Standards Review

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our NGO’s concern that Hong Kong’s air pollution is damaging local residents’ and visitors’ health and that the Administration’s belated current measures to address the problems remain ineffective whilst simply reporting platitudes.

Hong Kong is an extremely wealthy and developed first world city with ample resources to reduce air pollution , given the will to do so, and yet we know from the Hedley Environmental Index that last year alone 1,155 people died prematurely, there were over 83,000 avoidable hospital bed days, and 7.25 million doctors’ visits which were directly attributable to the toxic effects of local air pollution; this was at a minimum conservative cost of over HK$2.3 billion to society. We also know that for the major part of the year, the major pollution sources were locally generated. Our local power stations in 2007 burned 3 times more coal than they did in 1997 and 40% less gas than in 1999. Their greed is killing people. Perhaps you should suggest Exxon executives come and live here with their children ?

Given this evidence, we call on the Administration to demonstrate its commitment to imminent improvement of public health and reduction of resultant health costs by setting the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines as the new Air Quality Standards for Hong Kong, and to set out a strategy on how it intends to achieve these Standards. Without gazetted Standards the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle cannot be effective.

In this strategy please address all the major sources of pollution, but please apply particular urgency to reducing emissions from marine vessels and non Euro V diesel on road / off road vehicles. We encourage you to enact large increases in road tax for non Euro V diesel trucks, vans and buses (thereby making these vehicle owners trade up to Euro V) and to insist forthwith on low sulphur bunker fuel use within Hong Kong waters. We appreciate that the emissions from local power stations might soon be reduced following your Department’s belated requirement that flue gas desulphurization equipment is installed as well as Nox burners. In addition the level of the Standards you set MUST therefore require the power companies apply Best Available Current Technology and fuel mix and that includes agglomerators which can catch the lethal PM0.1 ultrafine and PM2.5 heavy metal emissions which the Electrostatic Precipitators cannot currently catch.

We would stress that Air Quality Standards and a clean air strategy that do not lead to rapid improvements in public health cannot be considered an acceptable outcome of the Review and action is required, not further consultation of a public that has already grown tired of this Government’s lack of decisive action.
Yours faithfully,

James Middleton
Chairman Energy Committee