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November, 2012:

Hong Kong hosting Better Air Quality Conference – with a red face

Submitted by admin on Nov 30th 2012, 12:00am

Comment›Insight & Opinion

Simon Ng

Simon Ng says Hong Kong has reason to be ashamed about hosting the Better Air Quality Conference again, given our poor record on pollution

Almost 10 years ago, in December 2002, a Better Air Quality Conference was held in Hong Kong. It was the first of the conference series, a flagship biennial regional air quality event organised by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities, and Hong Kong was chosen for the inaugural meeting because the city was the leader in air quality management in Asia at that time, especially in vehicle emission controls and technology. In the run-up, two largely successful workshops were held, in 1999 and 2000, by the Environmental Protection Department and Hong Kong Polytechnic University to share Hong Kong’s wealth of experience.

Next week, the conference will return to Hong Kong to celebrate its 10th anniversary, with more than 600 participants from more than 35 countries, including experts, practitioners and policymakers in air quality management. Unlike the first conference, however, Hong Kong will be in the undesirable position of being an under-achiever, and serious questions will no doubt be raised about why air quality has worsened over the past 10 years and what it will take for the Hong Kong government to deliver clean air to protect public health.

The Environment Bureau and Environmental Protection Department are getting a rough ride at the moment, on the back of the Audit Commission’s recent report highlighting the city’s failure to comply even with lax air quality objectives set out 25 years ago. New doubts were therefore raised when the government announced Hong Kong’s air pollutant emission reduction targets for 2015 and 2020 last week. How are we going to achieve those targets with the same old solutions? And even if emissions are reduced, will it bring clean and safe air to the people?

One thing’s for certain: we must not rely solely on better technology. Hong Kong has taken this path in the past and has failed. If we look around, countries and cities that are doing well are those that have tackled the problem at source. Examples of excellent air quality management in other cities include planning based around people (not cars), energy efficiency schemes, and pricing strategies that influence people’s behaviour – for instance by conserving electricity and driving less. The less energy we use, the better the air quality.

Will Hong Kong ever regain its position as a leader in air quality management? In the past, the city has thrived in times of adversity, so the short answer is yes. We have the wealth and expertise to improve, and we need real leadership, vision and commitment to persevere. However, let’s not pretend that the Environment Bureau and Environmental Protection Department will deliver clean air by themselves. Policy decisions made by other departments and bureaus are also contributing to air pollution, and so there should be a collective responsibility within government to clean up.

The Environment Bureau and Environmental Protection Department will be sending more than 30 people to the conference. Hong Kong will benefit most from this event if officials from the Transport Department, Planning Department, Health Department and other policy bureaus also attend.

It is never too late to take ownership of air pollution and be part of the solution.

Simon Ng is head of transport and sustainability research at Civic Exchange


Air Pollution

Hong Kong

Better Air Quality Conference

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Government looks for a new director of public prosecutions

Submitted by admin on Nov 30th 2012, 12:00am



Howard Winn

Spain and the ‘c’ word

Those at the Environmental Protection Department that are brooding over Hong Kong’s future policy waste management would do well to take a look at a study on the impact on towns close to incinerators and hazardous waste facilities in Spain.

The EPD is supposed to be undertaking a reappraisal of its waste disposal arrangements since the shelving of the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project. However, the project has not been axed and land appraisal work is continuing at the location.

The Spanish study published in the October edition of Environment International wanted to assess the risk of dying from cancer in towns close to incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste. In the case of incinerators the report found that “high statistically significant excess risks were detected in towns … near to incinerators”.

It said people were exposed to pollutants released directly to the air and from indirect exposure through water that passes toxins into the soil and aquifers. Proximity to incinerators leads to “excess risk for all cancers combined and for lung cancer, and in particular, marked increase in the risk of tumours of the pleura and gallbladder (men) and stomach (women)”.

There was also “excess risk of tumour of the ovary and brain” for women living close to incinerators. None of the information from this study or other related studies is mentioned in the environmental impact assessment study for Hong Kong’s incinerator project.

Meanwhile Macau is getting twitchy about the health impact of its incinerator. The Macau government has commissioned Chinese University to conduct a 10-year study into the health of residents in Ka Ho where people have been complaining of illness due to air pollution from ash from the incinerator.

The Food and Health Bureau became alarmed last year when hundreds of residents, many of them students and teachers in nearby schools, complained of lung and respiratory problems after contractors were found to have broken safety regulations by allowing ash to disperse into the atmosphere.

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CE pledges to tackle roadside pollution


The Chief Executive says the government will deal with the problem of roadside air pollution within the next 12 months. C Y Leung made the pledge during a speech to business leaders.

Mr Leung also said there was sufficient land supply to meet demand well into the future, but warned that it would involve tough choices on all land, including country parks.

Open seas pollution needs a better regulation regime

Open seas pollution needs a better regulation regime

Updated: 2012-11-21 07:18

By Andrew Mak (HK Edition)

The protection of the environment is a regular topic in the media. Recent events remind us that the costs of pollution on the open seas have escalated to a scale that must draw serious attention.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in April 2010 was the world’s largest-ever accidental offshore oil spill. Not so long ago Hong Kong had an incident on a smaller scale. Nonetheless, it drew serious concern of the local community. In August, hundreds of millions of plastic pellets washed up on Hong Kong beaches. Six shipping containers were knocked off from a freighter during Typhoon Vicente, spilling 150 metric tons of the pellets known as nurdles. These pellets are the raw material used to make many plastic products like shopping bags and bubble wrap.

The current state of the law on pollution due to “disposal” of such waste is limited. The control and regulation over the spread of pollution is governed by either criminal sanctions on certain extreme case, or civil actions for negligence, nuisance, and the legal principle commonly known as Ryland v Fletcher, which means that you should not have dangerous things escape to other people’s land.

The problem with the law at the moment is that there are no comprehensive regulatory rules for all kinds of waste disposals. This ought to be looked at on an international scale to foster a clean and sustainable environment.

Secondly, we do not have an international convention that can be plugged in to waste disposal generally. Hazardous materials such as nuclear waste and oil apart, little attention is put on common wastes but on those which are non-biodegradable. Government agencies are restricted in their powers and priority because of the interplay of politics and the political agenda of the day. Education is often regarded as a panacea. But education is not enough and often too slow to have immediate effect.

The delay of the current approach to environmental protection has seen very costly to even corporations as large as the infallible BP. In Hong Kong, we saw the embarrassment over the lack of prompt coordination among government departments, including the Marine and the Environmental Department to handle the matter, merely because the source of pollution was not in Hong Kong waters.

It is not to say these departments in the territory were incompetent. Rather it is the lack of any policy through international agreement for handling relatively non-toxic wastes. The green groups such as the Green Peace had for years been looking at nuclear waste and health hazardous materials. To a large degree their efforts have been successful in promoting the London Convention (1972). The convention covers the deliberate disposal of wastes at sea, including those by shipping vessels, aircraft, and platforms.

However, the London Convention does not cover acts which are not deliberate. Further, discharges from land-based sources providing such disposal not contrary to the aims of the Convention are apparently not covered. Negligent acts for relatively non-toxic wastes are not covered. This gives rise to uncertainty on what should be covered. Oil, nuclear wastes, hazardous (including liquids) substances, and sewage are no doubt covered. But it is questionable on other things.

We then have the International Marine Organization (IMO) which adopted the International convention for the prevention of marine pollution by ships (MARPOL 73/78). The convention is supposed to deal with all forms of pollution of the sea from ships. However, the detailed contents of the provisions, if they are indeed comprehensive at all, make one wonder why our Marine Department was not able to respond by reference to any breach of those provisions in the August incident. The usefulness of the application of the MARPOL 73/78 is doubtful in such incidents. We need something more comprehensive but at the same time simple enough to be understood by the public.

In 1972 the concern over international marine dumping was different. We had 3.8 billion people then. Today we have over 6.9 billion people. Ships are growing larger and larger. About 85,000 ships of more than 100 tons are in operation around the world. The implication of increasing trade volume and transport throughput is therefore enormous. Waste disposal and risks of accidents on a disastrous scale make the London Convention outdated. It is now time that the international community, including Hong Kong, advocates for a more comprehensive open seas pollution regulation regime.

The author is a HK barrister and chairman of the Hong Kong Bar’s Special Committee on Planning and Policy.

(HK Edition 11/21/2012 page3)

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Detroit Incinerator


While other cities and counties struggle to reduce landfill waste through recycling programs, Detroit still burns its garbage — and the garbage of its neighbors — within blocks of residential neighborhoods. For the last 20 years, the Detroit Incinerator, also know as the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, has cost the city an estimated 1.2 billion dollars, and continues to increase air pollution levels throughout the city. These pollution levels persistently exceed National Ambient Air Quality standards, and consequently contribute to the rising rates of asthma. Detroiters are three times as likely to be hospitalized for asthma compared to Michigan as a whole, and asthma death rates in Detroit are two times that for the state.

As the largest incinerator in the world, it is grossly over sized and imports garbage from nearby towns just so it can operate at design capacity. During the past several years of the City’s bond obligation for the incinerator, private haulers were charged as little as $13 per ton, while Detroit residents effectively paid $150 per ton or more. Since the Facility needed the trash to keep it burning, its served as a disincentive to recycling.

While the financial costs and health burdens remains high, Detroit continues to operate the incinerator and ignore the savings that recycling and recovery programs throughout the city would create.

Some claim the incinerator is an important feature to providing renewable energy to Detroit buildings because the burned municipal waste is converted to steam and sold to the steam loop owned by Detroit Renewable Energy. However, Detroit Thermal can, and has met all the current demands of their customers without the input from the incinerator.

Within the last five years the prospect of closing the incinerator has come close. In 2008 the City Council stated visions to adapt a new business model for Detroit solid waste and provided budget money to begin a curbside recycling program. The City’s financial obligation to the Facility ended in July 2009. In late 2010 new owners, Atlas Holdings/Detroit Renewable Energy, received a contract for burning the City’s municipal trash until 2011, but without any tonnage obligation.

Currently, organizations across Southeast Michigan are asking state legislators to create good policy to protect Detroiters. These policies include incentivizing recycling programs throughout the city and discontinue defining trash burning as a source of renewable energy. The benefits of recycling far outweigh the costs of incineration. Recycling saves natural resources, energy, landfill space and money, creates less air and water pollution, and decreases the risk of asthma related illnesses. Transitioning Detroit toward an intensive recycling program will not only save the city money, but improve the health of Detroiters as well.


Toxic-ash testing clouds incinerator plans


VICTORIA — The Globe and Mail (includes correction)

Published Wednesday, Nov. 07 2012, 6:39 AM EST

The chair of the Fraser Valley Regional District says B.C.’s environment minister Terry Lake is being “cavalier” about the risks of a carcinogenic substance, cadmium, that was recently found in 1,800 tonnes of ash transported to the Cache Creek landfill.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz, whose community is upwind of the Burnaby incinerator that generated that ash, is also challenging her Metro Vancouver neighbours to abandon plans for a second garbage incineration plant, saying the mishandling of toxic ash from the region’s existing facility is scary enough to warrant a different approach to waste management.

“In the Fraser Valley, we already have the highest rates of respiratory illness in the province. We don’t want to breathe these fumes.”

Testing at the landfill revealed the ash, brought from the Burnaby incinerator in July and August, could leach cadmium approaching levels at least twice the province’s acceptable limits.

“The minister says there is no harm to the environment and to the public. Cadmium causes lung cancer. To be cavalier about this issue is a black mark against the minister of environment and Metro Vancouver,” Ms. Gaetz said. “It’s about the risk and uncertainty. We don’t think it’s a green waste management option.”

Mr. Lake, in an interview Tuesday, said his ministry is investigating to find out if the ash from the Burnaby incinerator is hazardous, and if so how it was shipped to Cache Creek in contravention of the rules. As well, investigators will sample ash that has been shipped to the landfill over the past 12 years.

If core samples by the ministry confirm it is hazardous, it will have to be dug out and moved to a facility in Alberta that is set up to handle hazardous waste.

However, Mr. Lake accused Ms. Gaetz of using the issue for political leverage in her fight against Metro Vancouver’s plans for a second incinerator. “The people in the Fraser Valley are obviously concerned about air quality but essentially, the system is working. It is taking the bad stuff out so that it wasn’t in the airshed,” he said.

Metro Vancouver’s “Zero Waste” committee has won approval from Mr. Lake for a solid-waste management plan that proposes a “waste to energy” plant. The final decision will not be made until 2014, and would have to pass an environmental assessment hearing. “I feel strongly the decisions of the environment minister should be based on science, not politics,” Mr. Lake said.

Minutes from one of the committee’s meetings, however, point to concerns that the amount of garbage to feed the new facility is less than originally forecast. Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer said that is troubling, because there would be pressure to find more fuel for the proposed facility – instead of a focus on reducing waste.

“It’s all about the feed-the-beast argument,” she said, which goes against the City of Vancouver’s push for greater reduction and recycling of waste. “We will continue to aggressively fight pieces of the plan that would work against greater reduction of waste. In our strong opinion, a new mass burn incinerator serving this region would absolutely make it impossible for us to get to those diversion and reduction targets.”

The chair of Metro Vancouver, Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore, said it is too early to say if the incident with the Burnaby ash will derail plans for a second incinerator. “We have to go through the process to find out what happened,” he said. “It’s about how we deal with it when we found something was not in compliance with the regulation.”

Mr. Moore said the proposed $450-milllion plant would not lock the region into producing more garbage. Instead, the Burnaby facility would be phased out if garbage levels are reduced over time.

Currently, Metro Vancouver produces about 1.3 million tonnes of garbage a year. Most is either shipped to Cache Creek or handled at the Vancouver landfill in Delta. About 300,000 tonnes are burned in the Burnaby incinerator.

Environmental watchdog needs to rebuild trust

Download PDF : CTAOPINIONeiasystem

ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT IN A CHANGING WORLD: Evaluating Practice to Improve Performance Prepared by Barry Sadler June 1996 I+1 Canadian Environmental Agence canadlenne Assessment Agency d’baluation environnementale International Association

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Environmental Protection

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US study links autism to roadside pollution

Submitted by admin on Nov 29th 2012, 12:00am



Howard Winn

Researchers in California have found that exposure to roadside pollution during pregnancy is associated with autism. The study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found evidence that pollution may affect the developing brain among children whose mothers lived in areas where there was poor air quality, the Los Angeles Daily News reports.

“We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain,” Heather Volk, the lead researcher and assistant professor from the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California, told the newspaper.

“Our study found that local estimates of traffic-related air pollution and regional measures of PM2.5, PM10, or nitrogen dioxide at residences were higher in children with autism,” researchers said.

Autism is rising globally, including Hong Kong. According to a government response to a question in the Legislative Council, in 2009, there were 2,500 children under the age of 15 with autism in Hong Kong.

Ricci Chang Lik-chee, a specialist psychiatrist, told Lai See that it was known that exposure to pollution affected health, but it was hard to say at this stage exactly what factors triggered autism in children.

Killer blow?

The big tobacco companies have suffered a thumping setback in a judgment handed down in the US by Federal Judge Gladys Kessler in the long-running court battle between the government and the big tobacco companies, which included Philip Morris and its parent, Altria Group, RJ Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco and British American Tobacco.

The court found that all the defendants had publicly denied the existence of adverse health effects from smoking despite “massive documentation” in their own files, and have known since 1964 that there was a medical consensus that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and other diseases.

It also found that they had “denied and distorted the truth as to the addictive nature of their products for several decades” adding “defendants have designed their cigarettes to precisely control nicotine delivery levels and provide doses of nicotine sufficient to create and sustain addiction”.

The firms were ordered to publish statements on their websites, as well as in ads in newspapers and on television and as inserts in cigarette packaging, acknowledging smoking’s consequences. Among other things, the companies must say: “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans. Every day. More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.”

Other statements include “second-hand smoke kills over 3,000 Americans each year. Smoking causes heart disease, emphysema, acute myeloid leukaemia, and cancer of the mouth, oesophagus, larynx, lung, stomach, kidney, bladder ,and pancreas” and that “smoking also causes reduced fertility, low birthweight in newborns, and cancer of the cervix and uterus”.

The companies had argued that some elements of the forced statements violated their First Amendment rights, a claim the judge rejected. The firms were ordered to begin discussions on how to implement the ruling next month, though that timeline could be extended with additional appeals.

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Causes of Autism

Air Pollution


Source URL (retrieved on Nov 29th 2012, 6:15am):

Air pollution may be factor in autism, researchers report

Air pollution may be factor in autism, researchers report

By Susan Abram

| Los Angeles Daily News

First Published Nov 26 2012 06:11 pm • Updated 7 hours ago

Researchers have found that exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy is associated with autism, according to a new study released on Monday.

The study, published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, found evidence that pollution may affect the developing brain among children whose mothers lived in areas where there was poor air quality.

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“Our work on autism is a piece of a great body of research on pollution as a health risk factor,” said Heather Volk, the lead researcher and assistant professor from the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.

“We’ve known for a long time that air pollution is bad for our lungs, and especially for children. We’re now beginning to understand how air pollution may affect the brain.”

Researchers examined 500 children, mostly boys, who lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. Half the children had autism. They studied mothers’ addresses from birth certificates and residential history then examined data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency from those areas, looking at levels of nitrogen dioxide, as well as fine (PM2.5) and course (PM10) particulate matter. They found that the finest particulate matter, even far from freeways, enters the lungs and blood, and eventually finds its way to the brain.

“Our study found that local estimates of traffic-related air pollution and regional measures of PM2.5, PM10, or nitrogen dioxide at residences were higher in children with autism,” researchers wrote.

The new study builds on previous work released in 2010 that found an association between the risk of autism and living within 1,000 feet of a freeway, though Volk would not specify which freeways were studied.

But Volk and other researchers cautioned that their work is not a definitive answer to why more children are being diagnosed with autism.

In 2006, 1 in 110 children in the United States was diagnosed with autism. Now the latest figures from the CDC indicate the rate has increased to 1 in 88.

Genetics, nutrition, and other environmental factors also must be considered. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children are born with an autism-spectrum disorder.