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March, 2014:

SCMP: Pollution kills 7 million people every year, says WHO report

from Lo Wei of the SCMP:

Around seven million people died in 2012 as a result of exposure to air pollution, accounting for one in eight deaths around the globe, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.

The figure has doubled over eight years. WHO officials explained that the latest estimate was more comprehensive than those in the past.

New methods were developed to measure outdoor air pollution in rural areas and more diseases like stroke and heart disease were found to be caused by air pollution, said Dr Carlos Dora, co-ordinator for interventions for healthy environments with the WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

He said the figures might not show whether the problem had worsened, but he added: “The problem is at large and should be a priority.”


Guardian: China’s toxic air pollution resembles nuclear winter, say scientists

by Jonathan Kaiman, reporting from Beijing for the Guardian:

Chinese scientists have warned that the country’s toxic air pollution is now so bad that it resembles a nuclear winter, slowing photosynthesis in plants – and potentially wreaking havoc on the country’s food supply.

Beijing and broad swaths of six northern provinces have spent the past week blanketed in a dense pea-soup smog that is not expected to abate until Thursday. Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles – those small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream – hit 505 micrograms per cubic metre on Tuesday night. The World Health Organisation recommends a safe level of 25.

The worsening air pollution has already exacted a significant economic toll, grounding flights, closing highways and keeping tourists at home. On Monday 11,200 people visited Beijing’s Forbidden City, about a quarter of the site’s average daily draw.

He Dongxian, an associate professor at China Agricultural University‘s College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said new research suggested that if the smog persists, Chinese agriculture will suffer conditions “somewhat similar to a nuclear winter”.

She has demonstrated that air pollutants adhere to greenhouse surfaces, cutting the amount of light inside by about 50% and severely impeding photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light into life-sustaining chemical energy.

She tested the hypothesis by growing one group of chilli and tomato seeds under artificial lab light, and another under a suburban Beijing greenhouse. In the lab, the seeds sprouted in 20 days; in the greenhouse, they took more than two months. “They will be lucky to live at all,” He told the South China Morning Post newspaper.

She warned that if smoggy conditions persist, the country’s agricultural production could be seriously affected. “Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic,” she said.

A farmer turns soil to plant crops near a state-owned lead smelter in Tianying that has made much of the land uninhabitable. (David Gray/Reuters/Corbis)

Early this month the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences claimed in a report that Beijing’s pollution made the city almost “uninhabitable for human beings“.


SCMP letters: Concerns over new organic waste plant

from Emily Lam, Tai Po resident, writing in to the SCMP:

I am pleased that the Legislative Council’s panel on environmental affairs has approved funding for the construction of Hong Kong’s first organic waste treatment plant in northern Lantau.

Although some argue that the government should focus on waste reduction at source, building the Siu Ho Wan facility is still necessary to treat the waste that cannot be avoided, such as vegetable and fruit trimmings, and fish bones.

However, I have some concerns about the project.

According to the Environmental Protection Department’s website, the collected food waste will be composted to produce soil conditioners, for example. It is estimated that about 20 tonnes of compost will be generated daily.

Yet, soil conditioner does not have to be applied every day to enhance the growth of plants and crops.

I therefore think this 20 tonnes will exceed the demand in Hong Kong.

The government should think of the possible uses and distribution channels for the soil conditioner.

If it is not used and therefore some of this material is wasted, the plant will become a white elephant.

Apart from market size, the department will also have to recognise the importance of quality control. If quality control is variable, it will be difficult to process it effectively.

Given that 200 tonnes of food waste will be treated per day, how can the government ensure the quality of the organic product that is generated by the plant?

As the focus initially is on business waste, officials will have to work with what are described as “professional kitchens” so that companies educate kitchen staff to co-operate with the food waste recycling programme.

It might be more cost-effective for the department to start with large food companies and hotels.

It could also work with property management companies of shopping malls to engage restaurant tenants in the programme as they can spread the message more quickly and effectively.

24 Mar 2013

Standard: Team to liaise with public on landfill issues

from Hillary Wong of the Standard:

A public liaison team has been set up to help ease concerns over landfill expansion, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said.

“The issue has been dragging for a long time and needs to be dealt with, or it will affect the hygiene of the community,” Wong said. “We also understand the people are affected in this issue. So we’ve set up a public liaison team, with the government officers to negotiate with citizens so as to relieve their anxiety over the issue,” he told TVB talk show On the Record.

Wong also said his visit to Europe to observe relevant infrastructure will help enhance “everyone’s understanding of the issue.”

Wong and nine legislators visited Europe earlier this month to learn about waste management strategies in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden.

Wong said giving subsidies to people living near landfills was rarely done overseas.

“For example, having an established incinerator, there might be some community education center nearby. For infrastructure that produces heat, some relevant facilities will be built like a heated pool,” he said.

Subsidies need further discussion with the public liaison team, he added.

Residents living within 300 meters of landfills in South Korea were given a subsidy, however.

“This mechanism was also controversial in South Korea because there were no subsidies for residents outside 300 meters,” Wong said.

But he added that in Hong Kong, the nearest residents are about three kilometers away.

He said that while the government is open-minded, the question should be studied carefully.

“For our case in Shek Kwu Chau [incinerator], its distance to Cheung Chau reaches three to five kilometers – 10 times more than in South Korea. Also, ships will mainly be used to transport refuse from Island East and West, and Kowloon West to Shek Kwu Chau, which does not make a great impact on the environment,” he said.

Wong also said he remained open-minded about suggestions by the Council for Sustainable Development’s Bernard Charnwut Chan on plans to give some assistance to nearby residents.

Wong said expanding the landfill in phases is not feasible as it involves tender and technical issues. He added public money would not be put to good use.

24 Mar 2014