Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

April, 2010:

Delta air cleaner, roadside air worse: Region breathes easier, but not Causeway Bay

air-pollution-causeway-bayLast updated: April 30, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Environment officials have been told not to rejoice over remarkable improvements in regional air quality last year, since roadside air pollution continues to worsen and remains at health-threatening levels.

Hong Kong and Guangdong yesterday jointly released monitoring results that showed sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels fell 26 and 7 per cent respectively last year, some of the biggest reductions recorded in four years.

But roadside figures quietly published on the government website two days ago showed annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok all rose by up to 13 per cent.

The figures, the worst in at least five years, show concentrations of the key pollutant exceeded 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air – more than double the World Health Organisation guideline of 40.

The Clean Air Network, an independent group that encourages public comment about air pollution, said officials would be “grossly disingenuous and misleading” if they were to call the regional improvement a victory, as many people were still being exposed to excessive local pollution.

“Roadside pollutant concentrations are critical when assessing harm to human health,” network chief executive Joanne Ooi said. “What matters is the level of pollution to which people are actually exposed to at street level.” She noted that all the regional monitoring stations were well above that level.

Environment officials pledged to continue tackling roadside air pollution from vehicles.

The encouraging regional readings come from a network of 16 air quality monitoring stations in various cities in the Pearl River Delta including Hong Kong. They measure four key air pollutants. The results have been published since late 2005.

The report says the number of days with better air quality rose to 75 per cent last year, compared to 68 per cent in 2006 – in line with local improvement in ambient air quality last year.

Environment officials dismissed suggestions that the good result was attributatble to a drop in industrial production caused by the 2008 credit crunch. They said power consumption in Guangdong rose only modestly last year despite strong economic growth in the province.

They put the improvements down to emission control programmes in Guangdong, such as power plant desulphurisation, and to the use of cleaner vehicle fuel. These, they said, had led to cumulative reductions in the sulphur dioxide level of 38 per cent and of 9 per cent in nitrogen dioxide.

Both pollutants mainly come from combustion in power generation, industrial boilers and the millions of vehicles in the region.

There was similar progress on respirable suspended particles, with the concentration falling 7 per cent since 2006 and remaining roughly the same last year as in 2008. The officials admit, however, that regional ozone pollution has shot up, rising 10 per cent over 2008 and 17 per cent over 2006 – reflecting a similar deterioration in Hong Kong.

Ozone is a secondary pollutant formed through chemical reaction mainly between two pollutants – nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds, such as solvents used in industrial production – under strong sunlight.

The officials blamed stronger solar radiation last year. “There has been fluctuation of the radiation level over the years, and we need more time to observe that,” one said. The official said increased cloud cover earlier this year had led to a decrease of 20 per cent in solar radiation, and the ozone concentration had fallen by roughly the same extent.

Officials also warned that there were signs that ambient ozone pollution had influenced the formation of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside.

They said ozone could react with nitrogen oxides emitted from vehicles and turn the latter into nitrogen dioxide – which has been found to have increased by up to 16 per cent between 2005 and 2009 at the three roadside monitoring stations.

Professor Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said while officials’ theory on ozone and nitrogen dioxide was correct, it did not suggest vehicle emissions should not be blamed.

He said it would take a long time to address the complicated ozone pollution and no matter how much the ozone could be suppressed, the presence of nitrogen oxide emissions from vehicles would still contribute to more roadside pollution.

“After all, vehicle emissions remain excessive and dirty enough to threaten our health. There is no excuse not to clean them up,” Lau said.

Lau said the government should take roadside air pollution seriously and implement more transport management measures on top of controlling exhaust emissions.

Professor Wang Tao, a scientist specialising in air pollution research at the Polytechnic University, said ozone pollution was a worldwide issue and the most difficult to deal with. He said his research suggested that volatile organic compounds, such as solvents found in paints and protective coatings, were the main driver of ozone pollution.

“Unlike controlling sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, for which one can target a relatively smaller number of power plants, the volatile organic compounds are being emitted from thousands of factories in the region, many of which are small and medium-sized,” he said.

Wang said improvement in regional air quality did not guarantee better roadside air, and it was advisable for the government to tackle vehicle pollution at the same time.

Ooi of the Clean Air Network said roadside pollution had a greater direct health impact than regional pollution. “The lowest pollution monitor included in the sampling network was five metres above the ground, far above pedestrian height, with all other monitoring stations at nine metres or higher,” she said.

She also noted that while levels of roadside respirable suspended particles fell last year, concentrations were still several times higher than WHO guidelines.

Read the full reports on Hong Kong and Pearl River Delta air pollution.

Written by Cheung Chi-fai

Exxon Mobile is again 2nd worst air polluter in the US


Source: Political Economy Research Institute

Exxon Mobil owns 60% of CLP

Researchers at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today released the Toxic 100 Air Polluters (, an updated list of the top corporate air polluters in the United States.

“The Toxic 100 Air Polluters informs consumers and shareholders which large corporations release the most toxic pollutants into our air,” said Professor James Boyce, co-director of PERI’s Corporate Toxics Information Project. “We assess not just how many pounds of pollutants are released, but which are the most toxic and how many people are at risk. People have a right to know about toxic hazards to which they are exposed. Legislators need to understand the effects of pollution on their constituents.”

The Toxic 100 Air Polluters index is based on air releases of hundreds of chemicals from industrial facilities across the United States. The rankings take into account not only the quantity of releases, but also the toxicity of chemicals, transport factors such as prevailing winds and height of smokestacks, and the number of people exposed.

The top five air polluters among large corporations are the Bayer Group, ExxonMobil, Sunoco, DuPont, and Arcelor Mittal. The Toxic 100 Air Polluters rankings have been expanded to include large privately held firms, such as number 10 Koch Industries, as well as the world’s largest publicly traded corporations.

For the first time, the Toxic 100 Air Polluters includes information on the disproportionate risk burden from industrial air toxics for minorities and low-income communities. This makes it possible to compare corporations and facilities in terms of their environmental justice performance as well as overall pollution. For example, the data reveal that minorities bear 65% of the air toxics risk from facilities owned by ExxonMobil, while minorities make up 38% of the U.S. population.

Users of the web-based Toxic 100 Air Polluters list can view the details behind each company’s Toxic Score, including the names and locations of individual facilities owned by the corporation, the chemicals emitted by those facilities, and the share of the Toxic Score borne by minorities and people living below the poverty line. The new edition also provides access to this information on all firms operating in the United States, regardless of size. Several smaller firms rank as big air polluters, topped by the Marietta, Ohio, facility of the French-owned Eramet Group and Houston-based Quality Electric Steel Castings LP.

The data on chemical releases come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). The TRI is widely cited in press accounts that identify the top polluters in various localities. But reports based on TRI data alone have three limitations:

  • Raw TRI data are reported in total pounds of chemicals, without taking into account differences in toxicity. Pound-for-pound, some chemicals are up to ten million times more hazardous than others.
  • TRI data do not consider the numbers of people affected by toxic releases–for example, the difference between facilities upwind from densely-populated urban areas and those located far from population centers.
  • TRI data are reported on a facility-by-facility basis, without combining plants owned by one corporation to get a picture of overall corporate performance.

The Toxic 100 Air Polluters index tackles all three problems by using the 2006 Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) data, the most recent available from the EPA. In addition to TRI data, RSEI includes toxicity weights and population exposure. PERI researchers added up facility-by-facility RSEI data released by the EPA to construct corporate rankings.

“In making this information available, we are building on the achievements of the right-to-know movement,” explains Professor Michael Ash, co-Director of the Corporate Toxics Information Project. “Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into the right to clean air.”

Traffic-related air pollution tied to stroke death


Of 3320 men and women who lived in a specific south London region and had a first stroke between 1995 and 2005, Dr. Ravi Maheswaran, at the University of Sheffield, andcolleagues found more deaths among those exposed to higher estimated traffic-related pollution over more than a decade.

Photograph by:,

NEW YORK – Traffic-related air pollution may be linked to a higher death rate among people who initially survived strokes, hint study findings from the United Kingdom.

Of 3320 men and women who lived in a specific south London region and had a first stroke between 1995 and 2005, Dr. Ravi Maheswaran, at the University of Sheffield, and colleagues found more deaths among those exposed to higher estimated traffic-related pollution over more than a decade.

Maheswaran’s team used 2002 estimates of two common traffic pollutants — nitrogen dioxide and small, inhalable particles called particulate matter — linked to breathing difficulties and other health problems.

Their report, in the journal Stroke, shows risk of dying increased 28 percent when nitrogen dioxide levels rose by just 10 micrograms per 3 square meters of air. A likewise increase in particulate matter increased death risk by 52 percent, they report.

All of the areas were typical of London. The low-pollution areas typically did not have major roads running through them. The higher pollution areas had levels of nitrogen dioxide that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consider the U.S. average.

The researchers report more deaths in the higher polluted neighborhoods – 975 of 1659 patients, or about 59 percent, in high nitrogen dioxide neighborhoods and 967 of 1658 patients, or about 58 percent, in high particulate matter areas.

That compared to 881 of 1661 patients, or about 53 percent, in an area less polluted by high nitrogen dioxide, and 889 of 1662 patients, or about 53 percent, in an area less polluted by high particulate matter.

Risk for death remained higher with greater air pollution exposure after the investigators took into account a number of other factors associated with stroke death including age, gender, ethnicity, smoking and alcohol use, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

If future investigations show air pollution causes death among stroke patients, a 10 microgram reduction in nitrogen dioxide exposure – about a 10 percent decrease from the average in the highest pollution areas — “would be associated with a 22 percent decrease in mortality after stroke,” Maheswaran and colleagues write.

It’s unclear why stroke patients may be more vulnerable to the long-term effects of air pollution, notes Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, in Los Angeles, in a related editorial. However, some studies have linked living near high levels of traffic pollution to clogged arteries.

SOURCE: 109.567743v1 Stroke, published online March 25, 2010.

Of 3320 men and women who lived in a specific south London region and had a first stroke between 1995 and 2005, Dr. Ravi Maheswaran, at the University of Sheffield, and colleagues found more deaths among those exposed to higher estimated traffic-related pollution over more than a decade.

Pall of filth casts shadow over marathon

logoLast updated: March 25, 2010

Source: The Standard

The organizer of the Standard Chartered Marathon is worried about the record high air pollution in the city, which he fears could hit next year’s event.

The organizer of the Standard Chartered Marathon is worried about the record high air pollution in the city, which he fears could hit next year’s event.

The air pollution index hit a choking 500 on Monday – the highest reading since 1989 when the government launched the index.

Worsening air pollution has also played a part in preventing Hong Kong’s elevation in the latest Location Rating report published yesterday by ECA International.

The report ranks countries according to the living standards they can offer expatriates.

Regional director Lee Quane said that air pollution continues to be the dominant factor that makes Hong Kong a harder location for foreigners to adapt to living in.

Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association chairman Kwan Kee said he is worried about air pollution endangering runners in the annual Standard Marathon.

“A lot of education is needed to teach runners about how to cope with different weather conditions and how to take care of themselves,” said Kwan. “We will do our best to provide runners with updated information about the temperature, humidity and the air index.”

However, he said that because of the unpredictable weather, even a change in the date of the run might not help.

He is looking at areas of improvement suggested by the runners of this year’s marathon, held on February 28.

“The route, date and the opening hours for the roads will all affect the organization of the coming marathon, and we are in discussions with various government departments to work on this,” Kwan said.

The champion of the women’s full marathon, Mok Chi-ling, hopes the date of the race can be changed to some time in January, when the weather should not be as bad.

Even though she had trained hard for the event, she was unable to run as well as she had hoped to. Humidity was the main problem, not the air temperature, she said.

“The high humidity causes more energy to be exerted because of dehydration, and you need to drink a lot of water to replace this,” she said.

“I have become more worried because of the worsening air pollution. A marathon requires a lot of physical exertion especially after the 30-kilometer mark, and breathing will be very difficult if the pollution is bad.”

Mok added that she copes with the pollution by training in the mornings, when the weather is better and there are fewer cars around to contribute to the worsening air pollution.

Written by Kaylene Hong

Pollution robs people of up to nine years

pot-kettleFirst published: March 22, 2010

Source: Tobacco Reporter

Pollution in the UK is causing people to die up to nine years prematurely, according to a report by the Commons Environmental Audit Committee reported by BBC News.

The report said the UK should be ‘ashamed’ of its poor air quality, which was contributing to conditions such as asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter from transport and power stations have been blamed for contributing to early deaths.

Particulate matter is estimated to reduce people’s lives by an average seven to eight months, while in pollution hotspots vulnerable residents, such as those with asthma, could be dying up to nine years early.

Air pollution also leads to damage to wildlife and agriculture, with ground-level ozone estimated to reduce wheat yields in the south of Britain by 5-15 per cent.

“Air pollution probably causes more deaths than passive smoking, traffic accidents or obesity, yet it receives very little attention from government or the media,” said committee chairman, Tim Yeo.

Air quality index may grade risks to health

canadian-scaleLast updated: March 24, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Canadian pollution alert model considered

The government is studying a Canadian air pollution alert system as an alternative to the existing outdated system, which does not indicate the direct health impact of various pollutants.

This emerged as the choking sandstorm that had blanketed the city since Sunday night – pushing the air pollution index off the top of a 500-point scale and forcing some pilots to use autopilot to land at the airport because of poor visibility – slowly dispersed in the face of a southeasterly wind.

A person familiar with the situation said a group of health scientists commissioned by the Environmental Protection Department to study improvements to the alert system submitted a framework for a new system last year. But the proposal has been put on hold pending the results of a review of air quality objectives enacted 23 years ago.

The recommended system is modelled on the Canadian Air Quality Health Index, which has a scale of 1 to 10 and shows four categories of health risks from low to very high. It is still not clear, however, whether this is the only proposal being considered or whether the government will incorporate contingency plans to discourage polluting activities on days of high health risks.

The city’s 15-year-old air pollution index (API) is calculated based on the readings of the maximum level of any one of five selected air pollutantssulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, respirable suspended particles and carbon monoxide.

Whenever that maximum reading exceeds the level of the air quality objectives, the API will rise to a level of over 100, categorised as “very high”. Different levels also carry different health advisories.

“What is flawed in this system is that the index only informs people about the excessive levels of a particular pollutant. It also implies there is a safety level and does not tell people the actual health impacts,” a person familiar with the study said.

The main feature of the proposed system is that the health impact for each of the chosen air pollutants would be quantified based on past studies, such as the extra number of hospital admissions when the a particular pollutant is above a certain level. The aggregated impact of all pollutants would then be converted into indexes, which could be grouped into different health risk categories.

Dr Wong Chit-ming, a biostatistician at the University of Hong Kong, said under the Canadian system any index value above zero was a clear indication that people were suffering from the impact of air pollution.

Wong said such a system was better because it took into account the total impact of multiple pollutants rather than just one and could avoid overexaggerating the index when a single pollutant skyrocketed in unusual circumstances.

“Had this been adopted, the pollution reading of the sandstorm might have not been so high.”

At the peak of the sandstorm, 10 of the 14 monitoring stations went off the top of the 500-point scale. Several stations were still above 400 at 8am and above 300 at 2pm, but all but one, Eastern District, had dropped below 200 by 8pm.

Written by Cheung Chi-fai

Now there can be no more pollution excuses

124771008967299_11Last updated: March 23, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

The government has finally got the wake-up call on air pollution that it has for so long had coming. Hazardous levels to the limits of the index yesterday prompted officials into urgent meetings. For years they have done as little as possible to meet concerns, but the choking red particles are impossible to disregard. A quirk of nature or not, this time the promised action has to be given priority and taken.

If authorities had our interests at heart, timely warnings would have been issued. Instead, predicted air pollution levels were grossly underestimated and the alert for a sandstorm that had been known about for days was posted while we slept. A system proposed three years ago by the Sustainable Development Council, but never adopted, should have been in place telling us to stay at home and not go to school or work. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable elderly and young people and those with heart and lung problems have been unnecessarily exposed to dangerous pollution levels.

There has been no shortage of consultations, pledges, part-measures and rhetoric over the past decade. A large proportion of the population has made its views known. Solutions have been offered and calls for prompt action made. But all we have to show for the effort are increasingly worse roadside readings.

At the heart of the problem is a lack of government will. It refuses to force the power and transport companies polluting the environment to take concerted action. The schemes offered up are voluntary with few incentives. As a result, the majority of our electricity still comes from highly-polluting coal and oil, cargo ships and ferries burn the worst pollutants of all, bunker fuel, and an unreasonably large number of old diesel buses and trucks – about one-third of the fleet – remain on our roads.

The fruits of this neglect were yesterday on plain show for us and visiting businesspeople and tourists to breathe and see and for the world to witness. Authorities are not at fault for the freak sandstorm and wind conditions, but they are directly to blame for the pollutants that mixed with the particles that created never-imagined readings. We were told to avoid going outdoors, and schools advised to cancel sports activities. This is a knee-jerk response to circumstances that were known about, but handled poorly due to a lack of policy.

Overgrazing in the mainland’s northwest has created the deserts from which the sandstorms have come. We are powerless to deal with this environmental degradation; the central government is struggling to revegetate lost farmland and forests. But pollution of our own making is quite another matter. Legally-binding policies and better use of the government’s considerable resources will make a difference.

The dust will gradually dissipate. Authorities have finally made the air pollution forecasts they should have two or so days ago. The day the index was breached will go down in collective memory. There is no better jolt for a government that has been complacent about the biggest threat to our city’s health. The right mindset has been lacking; now there can be no more excuses.

HK air pollution hits unhealthy levels

pollution-in-hong-kongLast updated: March 22, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index (API) hit high and unhealthy levels on Monday – particularly in Mong Kok and some parts of Hong Kong Island, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said.

Roadside air pollution in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok climbed to particularly high levels.At 5.41pm, the reading at a roadside station in Causeway Bay soared from 410 to 495, while readings in Central and Mong Kok, climbed to 376 and 458, respectively.

The highest recorded on Monday afternoon at the general monitoring station in Tsuen Wan was 434, while other districts, such as in Eastern, Sha Tin, Tai Po and also recorded air pollution levels of around 400.

An API reading of between 0-50 meant the air pollution did not pose a health threat to people, according to the EPD’s website. But when the API is at 101-200, people with heart and respiratory illnesses may find their symptoms are aggravated. When the API is between 201-500, even healthy people may suffer eye irritation, coughing, phlegm and sore throats.

The city’s pollution is being made worse by a large sandstorm moving south from Northern China.

“Because the sandstorm is very strong and the easterly monsoon wind is blowing the sands and dust toward Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, [there is] a high concentrations of air pollutants in Hong Kong,” said EPD assistant director Mok Wai-Chuen on local radio on Wednesday.

“But with south-easterly wind arriving in Hong Kong later on Tuesday, we expect the situation to improve on Tuesday or Wednesday,” he added.

Hong Kong’s pollution levels would remain high for most of Monday, he added.

Clear the Air chairman Christian Masset said the sandstorm was now affecting 16 provinces in China. “These are very exceptional events”, he told local radio.

Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah advised people with heart and respiratory illnesses to be careful.

“People should try to use more public transport instead of driving their own cars, quit smoking, stop idling car engines. We would also ask power companies to try to shift to cleaner energy. We will continue to monitor the situation to inform the public about developments,” Yau told reporters.

Yu Wai-cho, a doctor with Princess Margaret Hospital’s Department of Medicine and Geriatrics, advised people should avoid heavily polluted areas or doing strenuous exercise.

The Education Department also appealed to schools to cancel or delay sports events until the situation improved. Environment Secretary Edmund Yau said the government was monitoring the air pollution situation.

Northern China is experiencing its strongest sandstorm this year. The sky glowed on Saturday and a thin dusting of sand covered Beijing, causing workers and tourists to muffle their faces in Tiananmen Square. The city’s weather bureau gave air quality a rare hazardous ranking.

The current air quality was very bad for everyone’s health, China’s national weather bureau warned. It said people should cover their mouths when outside and keep doors and windows closed.

Written by Regina Leung, Kylene Wu and Associated Press

Letter to the South China Morning Post

bus-pollutionLast week the Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs received submissions on the Euro 1 and pre Euro diesel vehicle retirement scheme. We are led to believe the proposed increased road licence fee on these vehicles will not be enough to get them off the road. The replacement of these vehicles is a health measure to reduce major roadside pollution.

We suggest what will  make a difference is to require a full roadworthiness  test twice a year for vehicles up to 15 years old and three times a year for 15-20 year diesel bangers, in addition to a levy on imported replacement spare parts.  The ‘hassle’ value and the cost of repeated maintenance and  testing may be enough to get the owners to voluntarily scrap the vehicles for which there should be no charge at surrender areas.

We suggest members of the public write  letters  directly to LegCo members on the Environmental Panel to influence them into positive action.

Meanwhile a firmer line must be taken with the bus companies to use hybrid and  or Euro 5 vehicles on the major thoroughfares like Nathan Road; considering these companies obtain their diesel without excise duty and are not required to pay first registration tax on their vehicles ,their licence to print money needs mandatory early retirement of their existing polluting fleet. KMB has 1240 Pre and Euro 1 buses out of a fleet of 3880; Citibus has 350 pre and Euro 1 buses out of a fleet of 920 and New World First Bus has 110 out of 700. There are only 145 Euro 4 buses in Hong Kong out of a total fleet of 5,760.

James Middleton

Chairman Energy Committee

Clear the Air

Tel 26930136