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November 16th, 2012:

The sheer willful stupidity of official inaction on pollution

Submitted by admin on Nov 16th 2012, 12:00am



Tom Holland

It would be far cheaper for the government to tackle air pollution now, rather than in a few decades when the health costs will be incalculable

This week’s Audit Commission report on the effectiveness of the Hong Kong government’s pollution policy makes depressing reading.

That is not so much because of the government’s repeated failure to meet even its own modest environmental targets, although that’s dismal enough.

No, the real reason the report is so discouraging is the sheer willful official stupidity that lies behind the government’s failure.

Back in the late 1980s, the government introduced targets for the maximum permissible concentrations of harmful atmospheric pollutants and set up the Environmental Protection Department to enforce them.

A quarter of a century later those targets look feeble compared with the latest international standards.

For example, the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines recommend an annual average PM10 – that’s cancer-causing diesel soot to you and me – concentration of no more than 20 microgrammes per cubic metre.

The Hong Kong government’s target is not even half as onerous; a generous 55 microgrammes per cubic metre.

But the government has never come close to meeting even its own undemanding objectives. For instance, last year the average roadside concentration of lung-shrivelling nitrogen dioxide was 50 per cent above the government’s target, and three times the WHO’s ceiling.

Officials cannot blame their failure on pollution from the mainland. Yes, smog drifts down from Guangdong. But pollution concentrations are inversely proportional to the cube of the distance from the source.

So although a factory 80 kilometres away in Dongguan might emit 100,000 times as many pollutants as that bus roaring past you in the street, the bus is doing twice as much damage to your health. In short, the harmful stuff is pumped out right here in Hong Kong.

Yet the government has consistently failed to tackle the problem. Despite 10 years of official promises to clear the air, there are still more than 50,000 trucks and buses with highly polluting pre-2001 diesel engines plying our roads.

Similarly, the government has failed to introduce new standards requiring shipping to use less polluting low-sulphur fuels.

Meanwhile, most of the electricity we consume is still generated locally by burning coal instead of natural gas, which is much cleaner.

Nor can officials blame their failure to do anything on a lack of resources.

At the last count the Hong Kong government was sitting on accumulated excess reserves of HK$1.3 trillion. That’s more than three years’ worth of government spending.

And this is where we encounter mind-boggling levels of stupidity. Asked what all this money is for, officials occasionally mutter something about needing the reserves to meet future health care liabilities as the city’s population ages.

Yet the single most effective thing the government could do to ensure it can meet its future health care liabilities would be to cut local pollution levels.

According to estimates compiled by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, last year the city’s high pollution levels were responsible for 8.7 million visits to the doctor, 24,500 hospital admissions and 3,600 deaths.

HKU estimates the total cost to Hong Kong’s economy was more than HK$42 billion.

What the cumulative health effects of living in such a polluted environment will turn out to be over the coming decades is incalculable. But it is safe to assume that the annual cost will be many multiples of last year’s figure, placing a massive strain on the city’s economy.

As a result, on the principle that prevention is better than cure – and far better than palliative care – the government should do now what it ought to have done 10 years ago and spend as much as it takes to cut local pollution levels to meet, and even exceed, the WHO’s most stringent guidelines.

In the short term, it should order all pre-2001 dirty diesel-engined vehicles off our roads. It should require all shipping to comply with the latest International Maritime Organisation emission standards, while insisting local vessels like ferries use only ultra-low-sulphur fuels. And it should compel Hong Kong’s power companies to stop burning coal entirely, switching to natural gas as soon as possible.

In the longer term the government should draw up plans to phase out diesel-engined trucks and buses altogether.

Starting with the city’s buses, it should replace them with electric-powered vehicles, moving the source of pollution away from street level where it does the most harm.

All this will be expensive. But Hong Kong can easily afford it. And in the long run the costs of doing nothing will be far higher.

Surely our officials aren’t that stupid. [1]


Air Pollution in Hong Kong

roadside pollution

Health Care

Environmental Protection Department

World Health Organisation

Air Quality Index


Vietnam News: Living together with smoke from incinerators

VietNamNet Bridge – Black smoke spirals up through the exhaust pipe on the roof of the funeral home. The fishy smell comes from the open outlets to the surrounding areas. Local residents in Binh Duong province complain they have to live together with the smoke from incinerators.

The incinerator next to residential quarter

The Binh Duong incinerator in Tan Dong Hiep ward of Di An town of Binh Duong province handled three incineration cases on the morning of November 5. When the mourners left, the incinerator began operating, discharging black smoke through the three exhaust pipes to the sky.

“We always get suffocated with the smoke. The situation is more terrible at night than in the day,” a local resident said to reporters. “We have to have the blanket cover over the surface to prevent the smell. If not, we cannot sleep,”he said.

Meanwhile, the reporters, though wearing two protective masks, still clearly smelled the fishy odor and the bone-ash.

A broken pipe was found behind the incinerator, from which the water from the incinerator comes out directly to the environment. Reporters’ heads got dizzy just after several minutes of standing there and breathing the fish smell.

Local residents said that the waste water has been flowing from the incinerator for the last many years, which has been soaking into the earth and the water wells, thus making the water dirty unusable.

Since the local residents reported the case to the incinerator’s management board, an edge has been built to prevent the waste water from flowing to the road. As a result, the waste water has been threading its way among the tombs and then soaking into the earth.

People not only have to live with the terrible waste water, but also have to sniff the smoke from the cremation.

Waste water and smoke attack people

Nguyen Tan Hoang, whose house faces the incinerator, said that he has been living in the fishy odor and the burnt smell for the last few years already. He has to close the doors tightly after 10 pm every day to prevent the smell, wearing a protective mask when sleeping.

Especially, Hoang complained relatives and friends do not want to visit him at home because they do not want to stay in the terrible atmosphere.

Tran Van Dinh, who lives next to Hoang, said that the board of management of the incinerator always promises that they would apply necessary measures to settle the problems, but nothing has been changed.

There are some 40 households living in the Tan An residential quarter of Tan Dong Hiep ward. The local residents here joked that they can be full up with the smoke every day, no need to eat.

Nguyen Van Trieu, an old man, said that every family has 2-3 children, and most of the children suffer bronchitis regularly. He said that local residents have complained about the environment pollution since the day the incinerator began operation.

However, the incinerator’s board of management still keeps a deaf ear to the complaints, while the situation is getting worse.

Tran Quoc Tuan, Chair of the Tan Dong Hiep ward People’s Committee, said that when inspectors come, the pipes would stop generating smoke. Therefore, the provincial environment department concludes that is cannot find any problems here. Meanwhile, local people still have to live in the serious pollution.

However, Tuan said, people have vowed that they would keep struggling to protect their lives. The problem would be discussed at the upcoming meeting between the local National Assembly’s deputies and voters.

Thanh Mai

Lawyer slams government impact report on offshore incinerator

Submitted by admin on Nov 16th 2012, 12:00am

News›Hong Kong


Austin Chiu

It was a breach of natural justice for head of environment department to approve review that gave green light to incinerator, court told

It was unreasonable for the Environmental Protection Department director to approve an impact-assessment report made by his own department on the proposed building of a massive offshore waste incinerator, a court heard yesterday.

Barrister Hector Pun Hei made the criticism on behalf of a Cheung Chau resident, who brought a judicial review against the HK$23 billion project on Shek Kwu Chau, an island south of Lantau.

In the Court of First Instance, Pun, one of the lawyers representing 66-year-old Leung Hon-wai, said it involved a conflict of interest when the director granted the permit that allowed the proposal to go ahead.

“It is a breach of natural justice to make a person a judge in his own cause,” Pun said.

Leung is challenging decisions by the Town Planning Board and the director of the Environmental Protection Department, which cleared the way for the incinerator’s construction. He is one of four people who lodged a judicial challenge. His was selected to proceed and the other applicants will be bound by the decision.

Johnny Mok SC, for the government, rejected a criticism by Leung’s lawyers that the environmental-impact assessment report did not meet the requirements specified in a technical memorandum and a study brief from the administration.

On Wednesday, Leung’s lawyer contended that the report was substandard, because the department deferred looking at how it would remedy the permanent loss of a 31-hectare marine habitat of high ecological value. That problem was to be considered in a supplementary study.

Yesterday, Mok said that while the department was not allowed to make another environmental-impact report, a supplementary study that sought to help with the “technical implementation” of the measures must be permitted.

Mok said the environmental-impact assessment already included, as required, a study on the feasibility and effectiveness of establishing a 700-hectare marine park to make up for the loss of the existing habitat, which was home to finless porpoises.

The supplementary study would deal with the marine park’s ecological profile, extent and location.

“It would be strange if there was no further study,” Mok said. “The fact that a small corner of a vast stretch of water where finless porpoises swim is cut out doesn’t mean a massive loss. You have to consider the bigger picture.”

He also said it was wrong for the other side to suggest that the department did not conduct any studies on the establishment of the marine park, citing reports from various departments from 2002 and last year.

“This is a careful regime designed to protect the valuable species,” Mok said, referring to the creation of the marine park.

The hearing continues today before Mr Justice Au Hing-cheung.



Shek Kwu Chau


Environmental Protection Department

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