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August 26th, 2011:

Wikileaks Cable Shows Grim Truth of Air Pollution in China’s South

26 August 2011

Rubbish floating on the Pearl River is seen in the mangrove woods at the Lianhuashan Mountain in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, China. The Pearl River Delta is one of the most developed regions in China, which also led to heavy pollution of the environm

Rubbish floating on the Pearl River is seen in the mangrove woods at the Lianhuashan Mountain in Guangzhou of Guangdong Province, China. The Pearl River Delta is one of the most developed regions in China, which also led to heavy pollution of the environment (China Photos/Getty Images)

Southern Chinese know the health hazards of their environment—they just have to look up and see the brown haze obscuring the Pearl River Delta, an urban hub of cities in Guangdong, China.

But nothing makes Chinese air pollution more evident to the outside world than a Wikileaks cable, prepared by diplomats in the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou in 2006 and released Aug. 26, providing candid statements from Chinese communist officials and foreign officials that prove the point.

One-third of China’s urban inhabitants live in cities with harmful air pollution or even very dangerous pollution, says Wang Jinnan, the chief engineer at the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning, part of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), according to the Wikileaks cable.

Air quality is getting worse, especially in major cities, leading to more and more serious health problems, said the vice minister of SEPA, Zhang Lijun, according to the cable.

Officials have also said that air pollution’s financial cost is large and growing.

Zhu Guangyao, deputy chief of the SEPA said that the damage to China’s environment costs about ten percent of China’s yearly GDP. Ten percent was about $200 billion in 2006, at the time Zhu made the statement, but would be $500 billion in 2011.

By 2030, 15 percent of China’s GDP will be lost due to health costs and causalities from air pollution, says a Harvard scholar, according to the cable.

In the report, a Yale scholar estimated more than half of China’s yearly GDP growth would be wiped out due to air pollution.

The cable elaborated other facts that brought to light the pervasiveness of pollution in the south.

For example, when scientists finally started measuring the pollutants in south China, their findings alarmed the world–but the pollutant with the most impact on public health was not even measured. The levels of fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution are suspected to be so high that they would create political difficulties if revealed.

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Heavy industry and residential coal burning fuels 70 percent of China’s energy. Air pollution is also caused by inadequate pollution controls, deforestation, and a sharp increase in the number of motor vehicles.

According to the report, in the next 15 years, Chinese pollution discharges may increase four or five times if reforms aren’t made.

“Air pollution in south China is bad and getting worse, mirroring conditions in many other regions in China,” the cable said.

“It is a sad irony that this region of China—seen as a beacon for poor migrants who want to find fame and fortune—has actually become harmful to those migrants’ and others’ health.”

WikiLeaks reveals China’s failure to measure dangerous pollution

Pollutant levels were not measured and made public because findings would have been ‘too sensitive’ for the authorities

Wikileaks cable on China :Smog in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, due to air pollution, PM 2.5

Overview on a smog ridden day of the city of Guangzhou. Photograph: Mike Clarke/AFP/Getty Images

China has not measured data on the most dangerous types of air pollution because it is afraid of the political consequences, according to US diplomatic cables.

This assessment, which comes to light as the government prepares to upgrade its air quality monitoring system, was among the central findings of cables from the US consulate in Guangzhou that were released on Wednesday by WikiLeaks.

Diplomats based in the industrial heartland of Guangdong – known as the workshop of the world and also one of the worst areas for acid rain and other pollution – looked in detail at monitoring systems and health impacts in 2006.

Based on research by local scientists, the consulate noted in a cable dated 16 August that small-particulate matter known as PM2.5, was five to 10 times higher than suggested by World Health Organisation guidelines.

It said the findings were “alarming”, because PM2.5 is not on the government index of air pollutants yet it is deemed to be of highest concern for public health because the particles are so fine they can enter into the lungs, contribute to acute respiratory symptoms, heart disease, childhood illnesses and premature deaths.

The diplomats observed, however, that this form of pollution was not being systematically measured and made public because the findings were likely to be too sensitive for the authorities.

“Those lobbying for its inclusion in an index of pollutants conceded that including a pollutant whose current levels would measure so far above acceptable standards would be politically difficult,” the cable said.

Problems about transparency extended to academia, according to another cable dated 19 September 2006, which describes: “Academics and research scientists in Guangdong, who are increasingly concerned about the region’s serious air pollution, but feel pressured to tone down their comments lest they face cuts in research funding … Scientists acknowledge that lack of transparency for existing air pollution data is a major problem both for research and policy making.”

Diplomats who attempted to research the possible links between pollution and birth defects were denied meeting requests on the grounds that the subject was “too sensitive”.

PM2.5 was not the only problem. Until now, Ozone – another dangerous pollutant – has also been omitted from the index, When the US Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation William Wehrum visited the Guangdong Environmental Information Center in 2006, a member of his delegation noted:The raw data on the LCD screen showed extremely high levels of O3 (Ozone)”.

Since the cable was written in November 2006, however, environmentalists have commended the progress that China has made in measuring, disclosing and reducing air pollution, but many of these concern remain today.

The state media reported on Thursday that a new index would soon be introduced. Expectations are high that it will include ozone for the first time. Less certain is whether PM2.5 will finally be added.

Down to fine detail as court review of bridge studies ends

Hong Kong Standard

A counsel for the government dismissed the need to assess a fine particulate in environmental impact studies for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A counsel for the government dismissed the need to assess a fine particulate in environmental impact studies for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge.

Benjamin Yu, representing environmental protection director Anissa Wong Sean-yee, was responding to the need for the assessment raised by Philip Dykes, counsel for Tung Chung resident Chu Yee-wah, who initiated a judicial review of the bridge study reports.

The government was continuing its attempt to overturn the Court of First Instance ruling that quashed the environmental permits issued for the construction of two parts of the Hong Kong section of the bridge.

The hearing wound up yesterday after three days.

Court of Appeal vice president Justice Robert Tang Ching, Justice Michael Hartmann and Justice Carlye Chu Fun- ling said they will deliver their judgment at a later date.

Dykes said the environmental impact reports for the projects fail to assess a pollutant called particulate matter 2.5, or PM2.5, which he said may pose health risks and should be assessed, although it is not listed in the territory’s air quality objectives.

But Yu argued that the reports look at the levels of respirable suspended particulates, which means particulate matter 10, or PM10.

PM2.5 particles, he said, are a subset of PM10, so it is already included.

Although PM2.5 is not separately listed in the air quality objectives, it has to be considered as a part of them, Yu added.

The projects are boundary-crossing facilities to be built on reclaimed land in waters northeast of Chek Lap Kok and a nearby link road.

Dykes also questioned a point made in the reports that 2031 would be the year of highest emissions. It did not necessarily mean overall air pollution.