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January 13th, 2012:

A case of too little too late on dirty air

South China Morning Post – Lai See 13 Jan 2012

The latest report from Civic Exchange on Hong Kong’s air quality, “Air Quality: Report Card of the Donald Tsang Administration (2005-2012)”, is a damming indictment of the chief executive’s efforts to improve Hong Kong’s noxious air.

It points to a litany of half measures, outright failures, dilatoriness, evasion and poor governance. You do not get a sense from reading this report that the government is in any hurry to do anything meaningful about improving the quality of the air we breathe. The impression is one of a government bending over backwards not to improve it. Its prevarication over the introduction of new air quality objectives (AQOs) being one example.

Hong Kong’s were set in 1987 and at the time were close to those of the World Health Organisation. The AQOs set the limits for emissions above which public health is impaired. The WHO has since revised its guidelines twice, while Hong Kong has implacably retained the outdated AQOs. The effect of this, the report says, is that the WHO guidelines are frequently exceeded in Hong Kong at the roadside by a factor of four or five times.

Unsurprisingly this has impacted on public health. According to the Hedley Index, which uses a peer-reviewed methodology to measure the effect of air pollution on health, smog has directly resulted in some 7,240 premature deaths, 528,388 avoidable hospital bed days and 49.26 million avoidable doctor visits from January 2005 to December 2011. The index assesses the cost of the dirty air to Hong Kong at HK$15.43 billion during the period. These figures have not been challenged by the government or medical practitioners.

The government makes much of its one big success, which is in sharply lowering sulphur dioxide emissions that was achieved by making Hong Kong’s power companies fix scrubbers to power stations. The government tries to pretend that Hong Kong’s air pollution is largely a regional problem and can only be solved in collaboration with officials in the Pearl River Delta. In so doing, it seeks to sidestep the issue that the most concentrated air pollution occurs at street level largely as a result of dirty engines in buses and trucks. The Hong Kong government can solve this issue. Instead, it drags its feet and wastes time with watered down idling-engine legislation.

One point the Civic Exchange reports spells out very clearly is that government reluctance to introduce new air quality objectives is largely because they would make it impossible to proceed with new infrastructure projects such as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the third runway and possibly the new incinerator. This is because each project requires an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report that has to be approved, and the AQOs are a key part of these reports. The EIA for the bridge had to be finished to secure approval, but it will be harder to fudge EIAs in future, Civic Exchange warns. The impression given by the government is that it is playing a kind of administrative game, but seems oblivious to the harmful effects of air pollution on public health. In stark contrast to the Hong Kong government’s approach of seeking to avoid setting targets as a basis for policy, the mainland has recently set aggressive new AQOs with a view to driving policy. Civic Exchange has a second report entitled, “Principles and Measures To Improve Air Quality Policy Recommendations for a New Administration”. Find both

Pollution data released after outcry over smog

South China Morning Post – 13 Jan 2012

Authorities in smog-plagued Beijing yesterday began releasing hourly readings of three major air pollutants, in an apparent bid to appease residents angry about the government’s prolonged secrecy over the city’s deteriorating air quality.

The move coincided with a pledge by Mayor Guo Jinlong to tackle smog-causing pollutants, notably PM2.5 – hazardous fine respirable particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns – and ozone.

Guo also promised to publish hourly PM2.5 data this year, after a national outcry sparked by persistent smog in major cities since October.

However, environmentalists pointed out that health-threatening pollutants PM2.5 and ozone were still absent from the pollution disclosure.

Pollution readings of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM10 – large particles less than 10 microns in diameter – are now on a local government-sponsored website of the Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre. Before yesterday, only daily pollution readings were published.

It comes just a day after local authorities banned media coverage of PM2.5, after apparently being embarrassed by pollution at the start of a government conference. Smog hit Beijing on Tuesday morning, coinciding with the opening of this year’s session of the Municipal People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Pan Shiyi , a property tycoon and congress representative, was confused by the media ban, which came as PM2.5 apparently became the focal point at the meeting.

“Air quality concerns everyone, and that’s exactly what congress representatives should discuss,” he said.

He said releasing PM2.5 data was the start of the process of educating the public about the reality of pollution levels. “Everyone can help tackle the problem after we know how serious the pollution has become.”

Severe air pollution has hit major mainland cities since October.

HK lags behind Beijing on air pollution: lobby

South China Morning Post – 13 Jan 2012

Think tank Civic Exchange says mainland is more aggressive in moving to tackle smog, which has put pressure on city to act on standards for particles

Hong Kong is lagging behind the mainland when it comes to tackling air pollution, a think tank says in a summary of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s performance in office.

The conclusion from Civic Exchange came after the environment minister said on Wednesday that the city would measure pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) at all its monitoring stations by March, a week after Beijing pledged to make similar data publicly available.

Former lawmaker Christine Loh Kung-wai, of Civic Exchange, said the mainland’s recent launch of a consultation to upgrade air quality objectives had put pressure on the Hong Kong government, which had yet to update its 24-year-old objectives despite Tsang’s pledge to do so last year.

“The mainland is much more aggressive than Hong Kong in dealing with setting air quality objectives,” she said. “This has happened because Hong Kong’s senior officials lack the understanding and courage to set demanding [objectives] and to use them as a tool to address the epidemic of public health impacts.”

Beijing will publish its PM2.5 data by January 23, Xinhua reported last week. The announcement came after the US embassy in Beijing began releasing its own PM2.5 readings via Twitter.

Civic Exchange’s head of environmental strategy, Mike Kilburn, said though many mainland cities would take years to reach the new emissions targets – released recently for public consultation – the central government had set targets with the aim of driving down pollution levels.

By contrast, Hong Kong set less stringent targets that were easier to achieve, perhaps for political reasons, Kilburn said.

Citing figures from the University of Hong Kong’s Hedley Environmental Index, Loh said more than 7,200 local deaths had been connected to air pollution in the seven years Tsang had been at the city’s helm.

Dr Wong Ming-chit, of the School of Public Health at HKU, agreed with the group’s conclusion that the administration’s ability and commitment to improve air quality – roadside and shipping pollution in particular – was questionable.

“These are problems that haven’t been solved for many years. And these are pressing issues because people’s health is at stake,” he said. “When you think about it, several thousands deaths is a big number. The public panic even when several people die from bird flu.”

The Environmental Protection Department last week revealed that roadside air pollution levels last year were the worst on record.

A consultation on updating Hong Kong’s standards ended two years ago and the government vowed to put the new objectives before the legislature as soon as possible.

PM2.5 refers to suspended particles of 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter. They are smaller and more dangerous to health than PM10, for which the department publishes measurements on its website.

These smaller particles enter the lungs and contribute to many health problems including acute respiratory symptoms and child bronchitis, cause premature death owing to their toxicity, and cause cardiovascular illnesses, according to various studies.

Clear skies over HK vital for our future

South China Morning Post – 13 Jan 2012

Nothing is more evident than roadside air pollution. We can see and smell when it is poor and our lungs can tell us how bad it is. The Environmental Protection Department’s annual update showing the worst-ever levels in Hong Kong’s busiest districts therefore comes as little surprise. It is disappointing that government assurances and measures are having limited impact and updated targets are still not implemented.

Officials contend there is little they can do. Their reason for the Air Pollution Index being above the “very high” level of 100 for 20 per cent of the time at monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok has been put down to unfavourable weather conditions, worsening background pollution and ageing vehicles. Those figures, 10 times worse than in 2005, continue a worrying trend, particularly for respirable suspended particles and nitrogen dioxide. Blaming low rainfall, sunny days and industrial activity beyond our borders, as the department has done, simply avoids the reality: that the highly polluted air is largely of our own making.

Authorities know exactly what creates the pollution and what must be done to stop it. They know it is mostly caused by Hong Kong’s two electric power stations, harbour traffic and vehicles, especially those that use diesel. But as the watering-down and weakening of the recently implemented legislation on idling vehicle engines indicates, the financial interests of companies are being put ahead of the public. Unless there is a change of priorities, our air will continue to worsen and our health and well-being will suffer.

There are all manner of laws, regulations and guidelines. Authorities have pledged to table new air quality objectives to lawmakers, but the targets are years overdue and on some key pollutants are even less stringent than those set by Beijing’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. As the think tank Civic Exchange has pointed out in two reports assessing the environmental performance of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s administration, officials lack the courage to tackle the problem, while those on the mainland are aggressive.

Still, the level of some pollutants has been markedly reduced. Transport companies are being encouraged to take old, highly polluting vehicles out of service and power firms are gradually switching to cleaner fuel. But the measures are obviously not enough.

A telling sign that the government is dragging its feet is a reluctance to adopt standards set by the World Health Organisation 24 years ago. Our city does not lack the financial resources to meet the WHO’s latest goals, nor is there any excuse for a delay. Hong Kong’s reputation and image in part rest on our skies being clear, but there is an even more pressing reason: our health and future are at stake.

Neighbours mull legal bid to stop incinerator

South China Morning Post – Jan 13, 2012

Group warns of ‘last resort’ action as proposed rubbish plant off Lantau Island nears approval

A group of Cheung Chau residents are threatening a legal challenge against a government plan to erect a rubbish incinerator off Lantau Island, as the project nears one of its last remaining hurdles next week.

Tom Hope, a retired lawyer who lives in Cheung Chau, said a judicial review would be a “last resort”, and that the residents still had other action planned to stop the project. The proposal was endorsed by the Advisory Council on the Environment last month and is slated for discussion by the Executive Council and the Town Planning Board next Tuesday.

“We want the government to stop and reconsider other options because there is still time to look at the technology, which seems to be a solution,” Hope said. “The government cannot be doing something wholly unreasonable.

“The primary reason for the incinerator is to alleviate landfills,” he said. “But the incinerator they are proposing will dispose hundreds of tonnes of ash while burning 3,000 tonnes of rubbish a day. There is alternative technology available.”

The technology favoured by the group, plasma arc gasification, has been tried in Canada, Britain and elsewhere. But Hope said one supplier told him the government does not want to explore it.

The Environmental Protection Department said in a statement it had considered other technologies, like plasma gasification, but they were “not suitable because of drawbacks” including an inability to handle a variety of rubbish.

The residents also criticised officials for failing to implement a waste-management plan laid down in 2005, which emphasised waste reduction and recycling over incineration.

The government proposes reclaiming 16 hectares of sea just south of Lantau near Shek Kwu Chau to serve as a site for the incinerator. It would be able to incinerate 3,000 tonnes of rubbish a day and will have a small mechanical sorting facility.

The reclamation would require the loss of 31 hectares of marine habitat, but the government promises to create a 700-hectare marine park between Shek Kwu Chau and the Soko Islands to make up for the damage.

The residents question the environmental impact assessment’s claims that plant emissions would have little effect on Lantau communities because southwesterly winds prevail only 8 per cent of the year. The group says Observatory data shows such winds prevailed 16 per cent of the time over the past two years.

The incinerator would be built on Shek Kwu Chau.

Study could derail incinerator projects, experts warn

13 Jan 2012

A Government-backed study into the potential health risks posed by incinerators could derail a raft of key projects, experts warned ahead of a crucial ministerial decision on a proposed energy-from-waste plant in Norfolk.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) confirmed it was working with scientists to draw up “detailed proposals” for a study into birth outcomes around waste incinerators.

Campaigners against the £500m King’s Lynn power and recycling facility said ministers should wait until such a study was completed before deciding whether to back the proposals.

While this is thought to be unlikely, industry figures said uncertainty about the HPA’s stance could make it harder to get incinerators through planning.

Grant Thornton director Nigel Mattravers said: “It is disappoint-ing. Previous [Government-backed studies] were largely thought to definitively prove there are no serious health problems.

“It may not be helpful for the future if there is a piece of work which campaigners can say ‘we need to wait for this before a decision is taken’.”

Mike Knights from Farmers Campaign, which opposes the Norfolk incinerator, said a number of scientific studies, including one in the well-regarded US National Library of Medicine in July 2010, cited links between health problems and incinerators.

“I think studies like that one in the US are making the HPA feel uncomfortable. The industry seems to think that the Waste Incinerator Directive wiped the slate clean. It doesn’t.”

The HPA, a non-departmental public body, refused to say when a decision would be taken on the study, first floated last May, or how long it would take if it went ahead.

A spokesman said: “The HPA’s position is that well run and regulated modern municipal waste incinerators are not a significant risk to public health.

“However, we recognise that there are real public concerns about this issue, and will take every possible step to reassure people that the position is as we have outlined.”

He added that discussions were ongoing with Imperial College London about “a potential study into birth outcomes around municipal waste incinerators and a detailed proposal for what would be a complex study is being drawn up”.

In 2009, the HPA declared that incinerators posed a significantly low threat to public health (

Burning rubbish not the answer

South China Morning Post

The news from the Civic Exchange think tank on the environment makes for frightening reading (“HK lags behind Beijing on air pollution: lobby”, January 13).

How can the Environmental Protection Department justify itself ? Who will be held accountable for its incompetence? The facts are that these officials continue to hold their highly-paid jobs at our expense, while failing utterly to fulfil stated policies and deliberately misleading the public.

Why are our air quality targets set low? Could it be an arrangement to suit the grand infrastructure schemes that this government is hell-bent upon?

A child can see that the construction of a giant bridge, a third airport runway, a mega-railway – and all the ensuing heavy traffic – will add to the air pollution. Hong Kong’s public will choke while big developers and construction businesses benefit on a huge scale. To compound the folly, the department wants to build a super-incinerator as a way of dealing with Hong Kong’s rubbish.

Burning rubbish is an outdated solution that adds dioxins to the air. We know only too well that we simply cannot afford to add to the city’s toxic load. We also know that dioxins don’t “blow away”, as the department tells us.

Breathable air is a basic citizens’ right. We are being cheated by a government and its vested businesses, who put misguided projects above people’s health. It’s time for a comprehensive policy and planning rethink.

Julia Brown, Lantau

Capital begins hourly updates on air pollution

China Daily

By Zheng Xin (China Daily)

BEIJING – The Chinese capital began releasing hourly air pollution data on Thursday to address growing public concern over air quality.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center will publish readings for the levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and PM 10 – particulate matter smaller than 10 micrograms – detected by its 27 air quality monitoring stations.

The data, released hourly on the center’s website and micro blog, “is provided to better serve the residents of the capital”, said Zhao Yue, deputy director of the center.

Residents generally hailed the move, but some said more needs to be done.

“It is undoubtedly a step forward,” said Wang Bao, 27, a physical education teacher at a primary school in northern Beijing’s Changping district.

However, Wang said he cared more about how the government works to curb the pollution.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-government organization, said hourly figures help improve the transparency of the environment watchdogs. “The move respects citizens’ right to know.”

Readings for more pollutants will be announced after stricter air quality standards are adopted in the future, Zhao said.

She did not elaborate, but the new readings might include the level of PM 2.5 – particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrograms.

These particles could be comparatively more hazardous to people’s health, causing breathing problems. They are also believed to be the cause of smog.

According to the center, Beijing will set up more than two dozen monitoring stations to detect the density of PM 2.5 before Spring Festival, which falls on Jan 23. That will be ahead of the national schedule of 2016.

Beijing residents have long been dissatisfied with the official air quality figures, saying they fail to reflect how residents feel.

People urged the government to adopt PM 2.5 testing because it insisted that the air was “slightly polluted” – a conclusion based on PM 10 figures – although heavy smog has shrouded Beijing continually since October.

Residents also complained that authorities failed to explain why air quality differs significantly between southern and northern Beijing.

When severe smog grounded more than 100 flights on Tuesday, the highest density of inhalable particles in the southern and central city was between 300 and 560 micrograms a cubic meter, while the figure in the north was between 30 and 80.

The city’s environmental protection bureau said it hasn’t worked out a comparison of the northern and southern part of the city.

But Ma said the northern part is home to many universities and hospitals, and hence is less polluted by industrial waste and vehicular exhaust.

Copyright By All rights reserved

Molecule could help cut pollution

Molecule could help cut pollution

(UKPA)–19 hours ago

A little-understood molecule in the atmosphere could play an important role in reducing pollution and global warming, scientists believe.

Criegee biradicals were first hypothesised in the 1950s but have only now been isolated and measured. New research shows they act as powerful “clean up” agents, neutralising atmospheric pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

A by-product of the process is the creation of aerosol droplets that “seed” planet-cooling clouds.

The molecules, known as chemical “intermediates”, should in theory have a significant influence on climate. However, until now they have never been directly observed.

The new work involved watching simple Criegee intermediates react with various atmospheric molecules including nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide.

Scientists found the reaction rates were faster than expected, leading them to conclude that Criegee biradicals might have a bigger impact than previously thought.

The research is reported in the journal Science. Study leader Dr Carl Percival, from the University of Manchester, said: “We have been able to quantify how fast Criegee radicals react for the first time.

“Our results will have a significant impact on our understanding of the oxidising capacity of the atmosphere and have wide ranging implications for pollution and climate change.”

Co-author Professor Dudley Shallcross, from the University of Bristol, pointed out that chemicals released naturally by plants aided the production of Criegee biradicals.

“Natural ecosystems could be playing a significant role in off-setting global warming,” he said.

Copyright © 2012 The Press Association. All rights reserved

Air quality in Hong Kong

LCQ20: Air quality in Hong Kong

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (January 11):


An environmental group has conducted a study on Hong Kong’s air quality and Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), pointing out that according to the ranking of cities released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in respect of the value of fine suspended particulates (i.e. particulates of a size smaller than an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 microns) (PM2.5) in the air, Hong Kong is ranked the 559th (i.e. the bottom eighth) among 566 cities. (this study was done by Clear the Air) In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)whether the existing three roadside monitoring stations and 11 general monitoring stations in Hong Kong had collected data on PM2.5 in each of the past 10 years; if they had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and whether such data will be collected continuously in the future;

(b)whether it knows, according to the statistical data of WHO and other international institutions or organisations, how the values of various types of air pollutants (e.g.

PM2.5, respirable suspended particulates, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, etc.) in Hong Kong compare with the relevant values in various cities in the world (e.g. of its ranking among various cities); if it knows, of the details;

(c)given that the current AQOs of Hong Kong do not cover PM2.5, whether the Government will include the value of PM2.5 in the AQOs, and proactively release the relevant data to the public; if it will, of the details and the specific timetable; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d)given that on May 19 and June 8 last year, the Chief Executive and the Secretary for the Environment respectively said at the Chief Executive’s Question and Answer Session and the meeting of this Council that announcements on the new AQOs would be made within 2011 for discussion by the whole community, but so far the Government has not yet put forward the new AQOs, of the reasons for that; of the justifications for the Chief Executive to indicate at the Question and Answer Session that announcements would be made, and the progress and details of updating the AQOs at that time; whether there was any subsequent change regarding the work progress and details so that it could not make the announcements; if so, of the present work progress, details and timetable; whether the Government will require the relevant politically appointed officials to assume political responsibility for failing to put forward the new AQOs within 2011 as the Chief Executive had mentioned?



Hong Kong neighbours the rapidly developing Pearl River Delta (PRD) region, where the levels of suspended particulates are generally higher than that in Europe and America.To alleviate the pollution problem of particulate matters, the Government has been working with Guangdong Provincial Government on a regional air quality management plan to reduce emissions of the PRD region and Hong Kong.The measures include retrofitting power plants with emission reduction devices, phasing out the highly polluting industrial facilities in the PRD, tightening the vehicle emission and fuel standards, etc.These efforts are gradually bearing fruit as the regional particulates concentrations have been decreasing in recent years.Between 2005 and 2010, Hong Kong¡¦s annual fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) concentrations have been reduced by 26%.We will continue to collaborate with the Guangdong Provincial Government on emission reduction measures to further reduce the levels of particulates and other pollutants in Hong Kong.

On the questions raised by the Hon Kam, I would like to reply as follows:

(a)To understand the situation of PM2.5 in Hong Kong, we have started monitoring the pollutant in 1999 at three of the general air monitoring stations at Tap Mun, Tung Chung and Tsuen Wan together with the Central roadside station.The Yuen Long general station was later added in 2005.By the end of 2011, we have completed the installation of PM2.5 samplers in all the other monitoring stations in Hong Kong.We are now testing the samplers and expect that they will be in full operation in the first quarter of this year.

(b)Many cities, particularly those in the developing regions, have yet to monitor PM2.5 on a regular basis.The WHO collates PM10 and PM2.5 data of various cities and provides them on its website.However, the WHO also points out the limitations in comparing these particulate data of different cities because of the differences in the positioning of monitoring stations, measurement methods and quality control requirements on the measurements, etc.

According to a study by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 2005, some 60% of the suspended particulates in our air could have come from regions outside Hong Kong (including PRD region and regions outside PRD) on an annual basis, and the contribution of regional background pollution to our particulate concentrations could be even higher at around 70% during the winter. Due to strong influence from regional background pollution, the levels of suspended particulates in Hong Kong are generally higher than cities in Europe and America, but are on a par with cities in the neighbouring regions such as Taipei and Seoul.

(c)The Government has proposed in the public consultation document on Air Quality Objectives Review to introduce a set of new objectives for PM2.5.

After taken into consideration the WHO guidelines and the unique situation of Hong Kong under which particulates concentrations are strongly influenced by regional factors, we propose that Hong Kong should, as a start, adopt WHO’s Interim Target-1 for PM2.5 annual and 24-hour standards, i.e. 35 ug/m3 and 75 ug/m3 respectively, as the PM2.5 objectives.We have also been providing our PM2.5 monitoring results to external parties.

(d)Updating of AQOs is not so much about changing the limit values as implementing a series of related improvement measures so as to attain the ultimate goal of air quality improvement. The Government is endeavoured to implement air quality improvement measures that are generally supported by the community, including tightening from 2015 onwards the emission caps on the power sector by 34% to 50% as compared to those for 2010; subsidising the early replacement of Euro II diesel commercial vehicles; carrying out with franchised bus companies a trial of retrofitting on Euro II and III buses with Selective Catalytic Reduction devices; funding franchised bus companies to try out hybrid buses and electric buses; setting up a $300 million pilot Green Transport Fund; introducing legislation to promote energy efficiency for electrical appliances and buildings; setting up the Kai Tak district cooling system, etc. On the other hand, some improvement measures, such as changing the fuel mix for power generation, rationalisation of bus routes, etc ., which involve complex issues and have far-reaching implications, would require detailed study and comprehensive planning.The Government is now working on the final proposal to update the AQOs for submission to the Legislative Council for deliberation as soon as possible.

Source: HKSAR Government