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January, 2012:

Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index is shamefully misleading

South China Morning Post – 27 Jan 2012

In the executive summary of his paper Air Pollution and Public Health, written in 2009, University of Hong Kong Professor Anthony Hedley writes: “There is incontrovertible evidence that pollution levels currently experienced throughout the year in Hong Kong are causing an epidemic of health problems arising from damage to lungs, heart and blood vessels. Hong Kong’s pollution is a significant cause of premature death from cardiopulmonary disorders.

“Present levels of pollution cause injury to the immature developing lungs of children and adolescents. This damage will lead to lifelong health problems in many and a reduction in life expectancy.”

Professor Wong Tze Wai, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, concluded an earlier paper, Health Impact of Roadside Air Pollution, by observing that: “Roadside air pollution is a cause for concern; levels of air pollutants at roadside are very high; public health is severely affected; needs urgent action to reduce roadside levels…”

Given these dire warnings by acknowledged public health experts, it is curious that roadside pollution does not excite the same sort of fears in the mind of the public as Sars and bird flu, even though it is responsible for far more deaths.

The World Health Organisation says there have been 341 deaths worldwide from bird flu since 2003 and a total of 913 deaths from Sars.

According to the Hedley Environmental Index, which measures the impact of air pollution on public health in Hong Kong, the average annual number of avoidable deaths attributable to air pollution over the past five years is 3,200. That is a total of 16,000 avoidable deaths in Hong Kong over the past five years alone. These figures are arrived at by a peer-reviewed methodology and have not been challenged by the government or the medical profession.

One of the reasons for the apparent lack of concern is that those struck down are not pronounced dead as a result of contracting a disease with a name like bird flu. It is a “silent injury”. People die from toxic attack on their respiratory and other functions.

Another reason for the apparent lack of understanding by the public of the risks posed by air pollution is the government’s Air Pollution Index. This takes the readings from the government’s air monitoring stations and reduces them to one number on a scale of 0 to 500 and divides the scale into five broad levels ranging from low to severe.

The system is explained at: The problem is that these measurements are based on Hong Kong’s woefully outdated air quality objectives set in 1987 and hugely understate the health impacts. (See how API relates to air quality objectives (AQOs) at

Try comparing the government’s API and the Hedley index ( We did this several days last week when the API index indicated low and “safe to go out”, while the Hedley index, using the same data but calibrated to the World Health Organisation Guidelines, measured “very poor”.

In other words, the API is completely misleading. Or as Professor Hedley called it on RTHK’sBackchat programme, “a complete piece of fiction”. He added: “It’s the government’s responsibility to translate this problem into health risks and to inform people what they are facing and what their children will face in future years – even if they clean up tomorrow.”

So perhaps it is time for Secretary of the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah (Golden Bauhinia) to stop this shameful practice and either publish figures that indicate the true health impacts or to stop publishing this information, which deliberately misleads the public.

Government fears the underclass

South China Morning Post Letter

My 10-year-old son and I read the report on the new air pollution guidelines and he asked me why the government did not take action to reduce at least the locally produced pollution like nitrogen dioxide (“Challenge leaves us all out of breath”, January 19).

The government tells us it is because of the cost.

Why then, he argued, could not a rich government like Hong Kong’s bear the cost of this?

The answer is simple, I told him – the administration does not value human life as highly as other governments do. Sadly, no matter what the rationale is, it comes down to this.

How is it that an unelected government seriously worries about the effect of a 20 per cent increase in bus fares (Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau Tang-wah, was quoted in the article as saying fares could go up by 20 per cent)? This sort of statement is scaremongering.

The government would be afraid to allow fare increases even if the costs to the transport companies (remember they are the polluters using outdated vehicles) increased and they demanded it.

Instead, it uses fear of large fare increases to bully the growing underclass to accept officials’ arguments that their hands are tied.

In actual fact, such fares could not be imposed without a huge fallout from the middle and lower-income classes. I suspect that the inability of the administration to act in enforceable areas under its purview, like roadside pollution, is directly attributable to its fear of the underclass it has failed.

The issue of pollution in Hong Kong is tied to income disparity so glaring that the government would have a problem approving (even modest) fare hikes and uses the threat of this occurring to justify its inaction on our substandard and deadly air quality.

Catherine LaJeunesse, Sai Kung

Description: No effective action over roadside pollution.

HK air cargo traffic hit by downturn

SCMP – ah yes but we need a new HKD 136 billion 3rd runway to handle the non existent exports from the PRD which just again increased its mandatory minimum wage and from Zhuhai along the nowhere bridge

26 Jan 2012

Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the world’s busiest air cargo hub, said air cargo traffic last year fell 4.6 per cent as deepening global economic uncertainty in Europe and the United States hurt demand for exports from Asia, particularly China.

The outlook for air cargo, an important indicator of trade and economic momentum, is uncertain as consumer sentiment in Hong Kong’s two major export markets, North America and Europe, remains fragile.

Cargo tonnage may decline further due to the slowdown in global trade but the pace of decline will likely be less than what we have seen last year,” said Airport Authority Hong Kong Chief Executive Stanley Hui Hon-chun in a statement on Wednesday.

Air cargo volume in December fell 4.3 per cent, slightly better than the 6.6 per cent drop seen in November, pushing full-year traffic down to 3.94 million tonnes.

Hong Kong’s exports rose a modest 2 per cent year on year in November, slowing from 11.5 per cent growth in October and reflecting the impact of cooling global economic conditions.

The euro zone economy grew just 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of last year and is widely expected to have contracted in the final three months of the year.

In the United States, improving labour market conditions lifted consumer confidence to an eight-month high in December, but persistently weak house prices remain an obstacle to faster economic growth.

Analysts and Hong Kong government officials have said the outlook for the city’s economy and exports does not look promising.

On a brighter note, Hong Kong passenger traffic for last year rose 5.9 per cent to a record 53.9 million, propelled by an increase in visits to and from mainland China and Southeast Asia.

Cathay Pacific Airways (SEHK: 0293) Ltd, the world’s largest air cargo carrier, said this month that its December freight volume fell about 12 per cent, ending last year on a disappointing note, and it saw no sign of improvement in the near term

Treat bad air problems as a crisis

South China Morning Post Letters

In respect of air quality, the people of Hong Kong want two things.

They want the truth about air quality where they and their children live, work, study and play so that they can make informed decisions as to how best to protect their health and take concerted and urgent action to improve it. They are not interested in targets.

Also, they want to be warned when the air is dangerous to their health and they want the government to start doing something meaningful about it without more years of dithering.

I was impressed and relieved when the administration got rid of all the diesel taxis and some of the diesel minibuses, which had a hugely beneficial effect on air quality back in 2003.

What has it achieved since then? We are still plagued with dirty old buses, minibuses, goods vehicles, ferries and ships, and the power companies have still not cleaned up their act.

The government has a pretty good record when it comes to managing crises. I am sure that the Hospital Authority would say that the steadily increasing cases of respiratory disease amount to a continuing and worsening crisis, so can we please start treating it as such?

Guy Shirra, chairman, Friends of Sai Kung

First fold-up car, Hiriko, unveiled to beat urban stress in EU

Agence France-Presse Jan 24, 2012 – 12:49 PM ET | Last Updated: Jan 24, 2012 2:40 PM ET

Description: Yves Herman/Reuters

Yves Herman/Reuters

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso attends the international presentation of the first self-folding electric vehicle, Hiriko, at the EU headquarters in Brussels January 24, 2012.

  • CLEAR THE AIR SAYS: does not look good for a head on collision – they should provide a can opener.

BRUSSELS • A tiny revolutionary fold-up car designed in Spain’s Basque country as the answer to urban stress and pollution was unveiled Tuesday before hitting European cities in 2013.

The “Hiriko,” the Basque word for “urban,” is an electric two-seater with no doors whose motor is located in the wheels and which folds up like a child’s collapsible stroller for easy parking.


The idea for the vehicle came from Boston’s MIT-Media lab; the concept was developed by a consortium of seven small Basque firms under the name Hiriko Driving Mobility, with a prototype unveiled by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

The idea for the vehicle came from Boston’s MIT-Media lab; the concept was developed by a consortium of seven small Basque firms under the name Hiriko Driving Mobility, with a prototype unveiled by European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.




The Hiriko folded up and parked! The two-seater is Spain’s answer to urban stress and pollution.

Demonstrating for journalists, Barroso clambered in through the fold-up front windshield of the 1.5-metre-long car.



Hiriko on the road! The “Hiriko,” the Basque word for “urban,” is an electric two-seater with no doors whose motor is located in the wheels and which folds up like a child’s collapsible stroller for easy parking.

“European ideas usually are developed in the United States. This time an American idea is being made in Europe,” says consortium spokesperson Gorka Espiau.

Its makers are in talks with a number of European cities to assemble the tiny cars that can run 120 kilometres without a recharge and whose speed is electronically set to respect city limits.

They envisage it as a city-owned vehicle, up for hire like the fleets of bicycles available in many European cities, or put up for sale privately at around 12,500 euros ($16,368).


Francois Lenoir/Reuters

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, left, poses with Jesus Echabe, president of Hiriko who takes the wheel at the EU launch of the Hiriko.

Several cities have shown interest, including Berlin, Barcelona, San Francisco and Hong Kong. Talks are underway with Paris, London, Boston, Dubai and Brussels.


Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

No doors? Climb in and out of the Hiriko through the fold-up front windshield of the 1.5-metre-long car.

The vehicle’s four wheels turn at right angles to facilitate sideways parking in tight spaces.

The backers describe the Hiriko project as a “European social innovation initiative offering a systematic solution to major societal challenges: urban transportation, pollution and job creation.”


The news this week is making my head spin. As it turns out the dioxin emissions from Funi in Ísafjördur was nothing compared to the emissions in the Westman Islands and Kirkjubaejarklaustur, which measured 84 and 95 times over the authorized limit in 2007, respectively.

As if that wasn’t outrageous enough, the waste burning station in Kirkjubaejarklaustur is located in the same building as the town’s elementary school.

Is the potential hazard of dioxin pollution being downplayed—apparently, not much is known about the effects of such pollution—or are we looking at an Erin Brockovich scenario here?

Now medical examinations will be conducted on people living in these areas. Just to be on the safe side, they say. Dioxin in people is mostly caused by consumption of the chemical, not inhalation.

According to national broadcaster RÚV, possible consequences of dioxin pollution are cancer, liver damage, impotence and development problems in fetuses and children. Just minor ailments…

The worst part is that people already knew in 2007 that these waste burning stations were emitting far more dioxin than allowed, yet nothing was done. The public wasn’t even informed of the risks. Why? This environmental catastrophe could have been prevented.

In an interview on RÚV’s radio station Rás 2 on Wednesday, Environment Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir (who took office in 2009), explained that she didn’t have the authority to shut down the polluting waste burning stations.

Apparently, this whole story has been an administrative blunder from the start.

As I’ve understood it, everyone but the municipalities who operate the waste burning stations and/or whose financial interests lie in their continued operation lack the authority to close them down and the local authorities prioritized the municipality’s financial interests above public health.

They were informed of the risks and given advice on how to avoid them but chose to turn a deaf ear, a decision which has blown up in their faces.

To quote Alanis Morissette: “It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take. Who would have thought… it figures. […] Isn’t it ironic?”

But Svavarsdóttir is set on vacuuming under the rug.

She has notified the municipalities in question of her wish that they shut down or at least significantly reduce the operations of the waste burning stations until further testing has been conducted.

There is also a bill pending, stating that those who cause damage to the environment take responsibility for it, an independent commission will investigate who was responsible in the dioxin pollution affair and the minister has called for a clause on the public’s right to information and a healthy environment be included in the Icelandic Constitution.

Our constitution is so obviously flawed… who said we didn’t need a new one?

Right now the Constitutional Assembly elects are fighting for their rightful authority to review the constitution. Fingers crossed.

Unlike many of her predecessors, Svavarsdóttir seems to actually care about the environment. Some of the previous environment ministers would think along the lines of: “Our country is so clean that it’s safe to pollute some more.”

I kid you not. This blunder can all be traced back to the time when Iceland asked for an exemption from a European directive adapted in 2003, one which includes strict guidelines on pollution and which Icelandic authorities took part in fighting for.

The irony of the ordeal would be hilarious if it hadn’t been so tragic.

I can only hope that Icelanders—all Icelanders—take this as a wakeup call and realize that if they want Iceland to remain pure and clean, they have to contribute. If it isn’t already too late.

Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir –


22 January 2012

(AGI) Rome – The Consumers Association Codacons has reported that the Lazio Regional Administrative Court has sentenced the Health and Environment Ministries to pay compensation amounting to at least 100 euro per consumer for poisoned water in a number of regions (Lazio, Tuscany, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardy and Umbria) where arsenic was found in the water.
Codacons has said “this sentence paves the way affirming that the public administration is held responsible for providing insufficient or defective or polluting services, which result in stress, damages and pose risks to citizens’ heath. This path will now be followed by those requesting compensation for polluted air and degradation present in Naples, in Rome and in other large cities where standards of living are seriously prejudiced by environmental degradation.”

Airline cost blow for ‘Boris island’

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Beijing releases data on fine particles

South China Morning Post – 22 Jan 2012

Authorities fulfil promise, under intense public pressure over PM2.5 – but only at one station

Beijing environmental authorities yesterday began releasing hourly air pollution readings for PM2.5 – health-threatening fine particles with a diameter less than 2.5 microns – fulfilling a promise of publicising them before the Lunar New Year, under intense public pressure.

The readings of one monitoring station at Chegongzhuang in Xicheng district were updated hourly with about three hours’ delay on the website of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre.

Releasing PM2.5 data was perceived as a move to appease residents angry about the government’s prolonged secrecy over the city’s deteriorating air quality. Beijing authorities have long measured PM10 levels, meaning particles with a diameter of 10-microns or less. But PM2.5 are considered more critical as these smaller bodies can embed themselves deep in the lungs and even enter the bloodstream.

They can cause cancer and extreme respiratory problems.

The US embassy conducts its own monitoring, in Chaoyang district, and publishes its PM2.5 readings on Twitter, winning praise from the public while giving Chinese authorities a headache.

Analysts applauded the move as a step forward in environmental-information disclosure because residents would be better informed about air quality. The government had fulfilled its commitment, they said, which helped restore its credibility.

However, the readings were obtained from only one of the city’s six monitoring stations equipped to take PM2.5 readings.

“The readings at one station cannot represent the whole city’s air conditions, but they still serve as an important reference for the public,” said Ma Jun , head of the non-government Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. “I hope the government can disclose data from other stations soon.”

A Beijing official said the government had monitored PM2.5 levels since 2006, but the data was collected mainly for research.

The government said it hoped to install equipment for taking PM2.5 readings at all 27 monitoring stations and release real-time figures by the end of this year.

It was sunny with a blue sky and some wind yesterday. The official reading at 12pm yesterday showed 0.015mg per cubic metre while the US embassy reading was 0.018mg per cubic metre, or a measure of 57 on the Air Quality Index.

The US data fell into the category of moderate health concern, which means people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children are groups most at risk, according to Air Now, a website designed to provide air-quality information.

Smog plagued the capital on Thursday as the United States embassy readings at 3am and 11pm exceeded 0.5mg per cubic metre, categorised as “hazardous for the entire population”.

Ma said that the rapid development of the city powered by coal-burning electrical plants, a growing number of cars, dust from construction sites and emissions from surrounding heavy-chemical industries had offset efforts taken by the authorities at improving air quality.

Professor Zhu Tong , head of Peking University’s centre for environment and health, said that it would take some time to see the results of efforts taken to improve air quality. “The air can be improved when the new sources of pollutants are fewer and government takes greater steps to counter their effects,” he said.

Outdated plant will blow poisonous cocktail over Hong Kong residents

SCMP – 22 Jan 2012

I refer to the excellent editorial (“Developing Lantau a delicate task”, January 15) saying how ill-conceived the Environmental Protection Department’s plan is to build a super-incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau off Lantau.

The department should be trying to reduce pollution, not increase it. Its reply that it won’t increase it by very much, is just not what we expect of the so-called world-class government of “Asia’s world city”.

The obsolescent technology which the department proposes to use will spew dioxins and heavy metals and damaging particulates into the atmosphere. The department claims the winds will only blow this back over Hong Kong 8 per cent of the time (“Neighbours mull legal bid to stop incinerator”, January 13). In fact the Hong Kong Observatory’s figures show winds will blow this poisonous cocktail over Hong Kong for 25 per cent of the time, not 8 per cent. And even for the rest of the time, where will this toxic brew go? It will of course land in the sea, and affect marine life.

Modern proven technology exists which will not generate pollutants, but the department will not admit that it is making a mistake by choosing an outdated system. It prefers poisoning the population to losing face. The department has been stalling on updating Hong Kong’s air quality objectives – if it did update them, this very project could not pass. So, it is cheating us.

Also, the reclamation at Shek Kwu Chau will cause the project to cost the taxpayer some HK$10 billion more than using alternative sites, and involve much higher ongoing running costs. So why has the department selected Shek Kwu Chau?

We taxpayers deserve better.

R. E. J. Bunker, Lantau