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May 3rd, 2010:

Clean air, not hot air, is what we need – now

3038290487_86889e7bc1Last updated: May 3, 2010

Source : South China Morning Post

Good and bad news about pollution can confuse efforts to clean up the air we breathe. Positive news encourages complacency. But there is no excuse for that in Hong Kong. Conflicting reports last week have, in fact, cleared the air about an insidious health hazard. Hong Kong’s roadside pollution is serious and worsening. The reasons are obvious. Officials have long used any excuse for dragging their feet over effective measures to deal with it.

The good news came in the joint release by Hong Kong and Guangdong of results of regional air quality monitoring at 16 stations in the Pearl River Delta, including Hong Kong. They showed that sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in the ambient atmosphere – well above ground level – fell 26 and 7 per cent respectively last year. The number of days with better air quality also rose, in line with a local improvement in ambient air quality.

From the health point of view, it is the explanation that was interesting. Environmental officials were quick to dismiss suggestions that the improvement could be attributed to a drop in pollution from industrial production caused by the 2008-09 financial crisis. They put it down to emission control programmes in Guangdong, such as power plant desulphurisation, and to the use of cleaner vehicle and industrial fuel.

Credit where credit is due. But the lesson here is that official action to reduce the sources of pollution produced improvements, however modest in terms of the scale of the problem. As a result, ambient air quality in the delta is at least headed in the right direction.

Contrast this with attempts to deal with roadside pollution in Hong Kong. Last week, we were treated to a slow-drive by taxi drivers featuring a mass, horn-tooting protest rally outside the Legislative Council. They are fighting a proposed law to ban polluting, idling engines, which has finally been introduced in Legco – 10 years after it was first proposed. Not satisfied with having won an exemption for the first five vehicles in a taxi-stand queue, they are threatening to go on strike if every taxi in the queue is not allowed to go on polluting the air. Concessions have also been made to the operators and drivers of our ubiquitous minibuses.

Why even bother with the law? Because of the bad news this week, to be found on the government website. It shows that annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok all rose by up to 13 per cent last year. They exceeded 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air – more than twice the World Health Organisation guideline of 40.

As environmental activists have pointed out, what matters to our health is the pollution to which we are exposed at street level.

The failure of the government to force power and transport operators to cut their emissions, or offer effective incentives for voluntary initiatives, lies at the heart of the problem. Most of our electricity is still produced by burning coal. Old diesel buses and trucks still account for about one third of the total fleet, and ships and ferries burn polluting bunker fuel

In the absence of a popular mandate, consultation and striving for government by consensus is a way of life in Hong Kong. But in this case it has resulted in more hot air from vested and sectional interests than clean air, which is a universal right. There comes a time when our unelected government must act decisively, as if it were elected, for the greater good.

HK’s pollution forces clean-air campaigner out

pic-anthony-j-hedleyLast updated: April 23, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Anthony Hedley leaves city to help his breathing problems

Hong Kong’s leading authority on air quality is leaving the city to escape its dirty air.

Professor Anthony Hedley, of the community medicine department at the University of Hong Kong, will be moving to the Isle of Man – a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea.

The 69-year-old professor, who is one of those most committed to the fight against air pollution in Hong Kong, said he needed to avoid the city’s dirty air to keep his respiratory symptoms under control.

He said: “I need to reduce my exposure to polluted air because I know from experience that my respiratory symptoms subside quickly when I am in cleaner air. Because of my medical history, I now want to avoid the biological stress which comes directly from breathing the polluted air in Hong Kong.”

Hedley said he suffered respiratory symptoms such as coughing and phlegm, which were aggravated by the poor air quality in Hong Kong. He said he planned to continue working with his colleagues at the university, but mainly electronically.

Prentice Koo Wai-muk, a Greenpeace campaigner, yesterday said: “It is certainly a great loss for Hong Kong. Professor Hedley is an authority on air pollution and public health, while many other experts like to focus on the sources of air pollution. He is also very active in expressing his views on air quality. Now we shall lose a voice.”

Koo said he appreciated Hedley’s commitment to study Hong Kong’s air quality while away from the city but feared he might lose touch.

“We can still tell him via e-mails that Hong Kong’s air pollution index is 100, or 140. But, a mere figure can be meaningless. You have to be here to know how bad it is and its impacts,” Koo said.

Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said the air quality locally should have been greatly improved if the government had listened to Hedley’s advice.

Over the past two decades, the professor has campaigned for measures to control emissions of air pollutants from road traffic, shipping, and power plants.

But he said he was disheartened by the government’s inertia. “One of my biggest regrets is that we have not been able to move on the issue.”

In a statement yesterday, the Enviornmental Protection Department described Hedley as “our good comrade on combating air pollution” and said “we can assure him and all others who have concerns on our air quality that we would continue taking our best efforts to improve our air quality, both for our citizens’ health and for our competitiveness”.

Hedley has been chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong since 1988.

He and his university team launched the Hedley Environmental Index in 2008 to provide real-time measurements of the health and financial impacts of air pollution in Hong Kong.

The index showed that so far this year health care and lost productivity related to air pollution illnesses has cost the city about HK$572 million. The index also showed a total of 1.88 million doctor visits and 248 premature deaths because of air pollution over the same period.

A respected figure in the field, the professor was also appointed to the Advisory Council on Environment and the Environmental Impact Assessment subcommittee from 1996 to 2002. He was a member, and later chairman, of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health from 1994 to 2002.

Widely regarded as his farewell lecture, Hedley will speak on Wednesday at a forum organised by Civic Exchange and Clean Air Network.

Clear the Air Letter to Editor SCMP

angry-letter4-300x292Roadside pollution comes mostly from local vehicles here. The Government has finally proposed a further exemption to the Motor Vehicle Idling (FP) Bill by allowing a 3 minute ‘still legal to pollute’ grace period for stationary drivers to run their engines which issue the most microfine pollutants at idling speed. The only vehicles that need to idle to become operational are large goods vehicles which need to fill their airbrake reservoirs and this requirement should be covered separately.

The Government chooses to cherry pick that several Toronto municipalities (but not elsewhere in Canada) have a three minute vehicle and boat idling period. It conveniently omits that Toronto allows car and boat engines to continue idling when the temperature inside the vehicle is above 27 Deg C or below 5 deg C, that the fixed penalty for the offence is between C$100 – C$ 380 (two to 8 times more than here) and can be up to C$ 5,000 if contested in court. It does not mention that the vehicle emissions’ standards in Canada are far stricter than Hong Kong

nor that Toronto has an average of 15 cms of snow and at 630 sq kilometers with a 7,200 sq kilometer green belt surrounding it, is far more spread out as a city and does not have the same curtain wall urban canyon effect that traps roadside microfine pollutants here.

Here is yet another example of Hong Kong’s obdurate Government trying to issue a loopholed piece of legislation to pander to big Business  and is worthy of a sketch from ‘Yes Prime Minister’. The law as proposed , is unenforceable – should the enforcers stand next to the vehicles  for an hour and count a total of 3 engine idling minutes to wait to issue a ticket ? In Europe several countries even demand engine switch off at red lights whilst already having a far cleaner and less polluted environment than Hong Kong. The Government should learn from its deliberately flawed anti smoking laws that allowing such exemptions resulted in  legal tobacco sales’ increase in 2008 after the flawed ban with exemptions came into place, so must we expect the same increase in engine idling with this potholed legislation ?  They should re-name the Engine Idling legislation the ‘Amazing Grace’ Ordinance. It seems the Government yet again puts vested interests ahead of the health of the local public to which it has a duty of care.

In addition the Government wishes to inflict the penalty on the driver rather than the vehicle owner. If more than one driver is in the car and if they swap places in the driver’s seat every 2 1/2 minutes the wardens are powerless to issue a ticket and idling can continue.

James Middleton

Chairman Energy Committee

Air con without running engines

dog-car-justinsullivanLast updated: April 21, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

I refer to recent articles and a letter from Anders Ejendal (“Idling engines in Repulse Bay“, April 19), regarding idling engines. I wish to point out that all vehicles, including coaches, can enjoy air-conditioning while stationary without their engine running.

As an electric vehicle designer, I can assure everyone that all these petrol/diesel coaches require is an extra supply of battery power and some smart electronics, and this is not expensive. For example, most taxis can have a workable system installed for around HK$10,000.

Replacing old air conditioners with hi-tech ones will enormously reduce electricity needs. Technology is available to convert any coach to fully electric drive, and it is an economically viable proposition.

Nigel Lam, Kowloon Tong

Idling law misses mark

10100570arobin-hood-postersLast updated: April 21, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

I refer to your recent news stories about the new law which requires drivers to limit the amount of time their vehicle engines are idling.

Such a law appears laudable as the government takes steps to reduce pollution and help prevent climate change.

However, with only a slight amount of critical thought, one wonders whether the government introduced the law merely to lull the public into thinking they are looking out for their best interests.

Considering all the sources of pollution that affect Hong Kong, the idling of engines is surely so far down the list as to be laughable.

The two biggest local pollution contributors are coal emissions from electricity generators, and vehicle exhausts. But the vast majority of pollution from the latter is surely caused by engines burning fuel in order to move rather than to stand still.

In effect, the government has put its time and energy into writing a law whose outcomes will have minimal gains, yet may bring appearances of being green.

In the meantime, it drags its feet on the big issues: reducing the amount of coal burned to generate electricity, installing scrubbers on power plants, getting highly polluting vehicles off the road and getting tougher on marine emissions.

Colin Whittington, Ma On Shan

RTHK Backchat: Idling Engines

Last updated: April 19, 2010

Source: RTHK

On today’s Backchat we talk about idling engines. The government is proposing a 3 minute rule for drivers before they have to switch off their engine; failing to turn it off will mean a fine of HK$320. There will be exemptions for the first 5 taxis at a stand, first 2 green minibuses at their terminus & hybrids to name a few. Will this proposal turn up the heat even more?

You can listen to the show here.


Read the study by Motoda Yoshitaka here.

They do it in Singapore, why don’t they do it here?

Regarding Stationary motor vehicles
21. —(1) Subject to paragraph (2), the driver of every motor vehicle shall, when the vehicle is stationary for reasons other than traffic conditions, stop the engine of or other machinery attached to or forming part of the vehicle.


Only heavy goods vehicles need to idle after startup or they cannot move until the air brake reservoirs are full

180px-leyland_t45_roadtrain_tractor_unit_1988Normally the time allowed for idling is for startup of diesel heavy goods vehicles after the engine has been switched off then restarted. They cannot move until the airbrakes have sufficient pressure to release the handbrake. Small goods vehicles and cars do not have such a necessity. Also overseas legislation has to contend with sub zero temperatures which does not apply
in Hong Kong.

Read the PDF here.

Engine Idling: Just the Facts

engine-idlingIt’s a toxic health hazard, it’s hard on your engine, and it wastes expensive gasoline.
Idling gets you nowhere.

Download the leaflet from the City of Portland Office of Transportation