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April 2nd, 2010:

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The government is studying a Canadian air pollution alert system as an alternative to the existing outdated system, which does not indicate the direct health impact of various pollutants.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