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June, 2016:

Hong Kong becomes a dumping ground for US e-waste, research finds

A two year investigation by Basel Action Network attached 200 GPS trackers on broken electronic items in the US and found many ended up in dumping grounds in the New Territories.

Hong Kong has become a haven for exporters of electronic waste in the United States, according to an environmental group that claims the SAR has replaced the mainland to become “ground zero” for toxic electronic materials.

A two-year investigation by Seattle environmental group Basel Action Network, attached 200 GPS trackers on broken electronic items in the US, and found many ended up in dumping grounds in the New Territories.

Of the 200 trackers, 65 were found to have been exported out of the US. Out of those 65, 37 were exported to Hong Kong, making it the most popular destination for the harmful electronic waste. By contrast, eight were detected on the mainland.

“These findings are very different than our findings over the past decade, when it was observed that the vast majority of e-waste from North America went to China, and most of that to Guiyu, a township and region in Guangdong Province,” the report states. Previous research from 2002 put e-waste exports to the mainland in the spotlight.

The research project, supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable City Lab, is the first of its kind. Previous efforts commissioned by the US federal government to quantify e-waste being exported out of the US have only been based on trade reports or surveys from recyclers claiming to act responsibly.

BAN, by contrast, installed the trackers in printers, flat-screen monitors and cathode ray tube monitors. These items were then delivered to publicly accessible e-waste recycling drop-off sites across the US.

The research found that many of the items – which contain toxic materials such as lead and mercury – were being exported out of the US, with the group estimating 65 of the devices to be illegal shipments due to the laws in the importing country or regional government.

“Ironically, it appears that Hong Kong, usually thought of as one of the most technologically and economically advanced areas of China, has not enforced the Chinese import ban as diligently as mainland China has done, and appears to have, in fact, become a new pollution haven,” the report reads.

The report comes as Hong Kong legislators call upon the government to better regulate and ¬investigate dumping grounds on the SAR’s outskirts, which they suspect to contain hazardous electronic waste.

Accusing the government of sitting on its hands, democratic legislators this week called upon the government to investigate open air dumping grounds in the New Territories, of which around 100 are expected to exist.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Andrew Wan Siu-kin said he had been tracking two sites ¬– one in a green belt zone near the ¬wetland park in Sheung Pak Nai, Tin Shui Wai; another zoned for “recreation and farming” at Hung Shui Kiu near Lau Fau Shan – which he suspected as places where electronic waste was not just stored, but also possibly processed.

“There’s no way out [for the materials], it’s contaminating Hong Kong’s environment,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wa, who complained that the SAR lacked a tracking system for monitoring e-waste.

“The mainland tightened ¬controls almost two years ago, so now it is more and more likely that this material is remaining in Hong Kong.”

According to Hong Kong legislators, Hong Kong has failed where mainland China has succeeded in enforcing its ban on ¬importing hazardous waste, which it implemented in 2000.

The US is thought to generate 3.14 million tonnes of e-waste each year, according to the ¬Environmental Protection ¬Agency, with an estimated 40 per cent expected to be turned around for recycling. But owing to a bear market for many commodities found in e-waste – such as copper, plastics and steel – recyclers are opting to export the goods rather than process them domestically.

Unlike China, the US is not party to the Basel Convention, a treaty which regulates the cross-border movement of hazardous materials.

China is party to the Basel Convention, which renders it ¬applicable to Hong Kong. But under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, the SAR is ¬responsible for implementing separate controls on the ¬cross-border movement of ¬hazardous waste.

Responding to the report, the Environmental Protection Department expressed “grave concern” and on Friday said it had immediately initiated an investigation against the alleged recycling sites in the New Territories. “The EPD will not tolerate any hazardous e-waste being illegally imported to Hong Kong,” a spokesman said.

The spokesman said the EPD has already contacted BAN for information and had urged them to provide US authorities “with relevant information at the same time to facilitate interception at source”.

The department stressed that provisions set out in the city’s Waste Disposal Ordinance were formulated “in accordance with the requirements of the Basel Convention” and were consistent with those adopted by other jurisdictions including member countries of the European Union.

The department said it had inspected about 3,200 containers in the past five years and successfully carried out prosecution of 100 cases. All illegally imported e-waste had been returned to the originating places of export, it said.
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TPP: This Election Could Decide If Companies Can Sue Australia Over Environmental Policy

Experts are warning that the Trans Pacific Partnership could get in the way of effective action on climate change, and Australia’s international obligations, at a symposium being hosted by the Queensland University of Technology.

The apprehension comes as political players take different positions on the controversial Pacific Rim trade deal, ahead of the July 2 poll which could prove critical to Australia’s involvement. The Labor Party has taken a dim view of aspects of the deal, but is yet to rule out voting for it.

Central to widespread concerns about the deal is what’s known as an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which would allow foreign companies to sue the Australian government in offshore tribunals that sit outside the judicial system.

“In the same way the tobacco companies are sort of grasping onto every last straw they can to save their business model, the energy companies are going to do the same thing,” said Dr Kyla Tienhaara, a Research Fellow at the Australian National University.

She said regulatory interventions like a moratorium on coal seam gas, or governments rejecting a coal mine because of the emissions it would create, could fall foul of the ISDS clause.

Challenges to government policies can be brought if they materially impact on the profits a company reasonably expected to make. The tribunals which companies can appeal to are presided over by investment lawyers, who have the power to determine what compensation may be owed.

“The essential problem is these cases are decided very much on the ideology of the arbitrators that sit on the panel, and there’s no precedent. They can pick the words they like and ignore the words they don’t like, and there’s no process of appeal,” Dr Tienhaara said.

That makes it difficult to predict outcomes, and can lead to a chilling affect on the sort of bold regulation that’s needed to reduce carbon emissions and give affect to the international climate deal struck in Paris last year.

Deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have led to governments being sued for making decisions on public policy in order to protect the environment. The Labor Party has expressed serious reservations about ISDS clauses, and said it would not enter into any new ones if it wins government later this year. Since it’s already been negotiated, it’s not clear whether they would reject the TPP on this basis.

The Opposition has said it will try to get out of ISDS provisions, or at least renegotiate them. It’s unlikely the text of the deal could be substantially changed at this point, but before the TPP becomes binding, Australia’s Parliament would need to pass enabling legislation.

The Greens and Nick Xenophon take a similarly dim view of the ISDS provisions, and have vowed to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership in its current form. With these two players likely to hold the balance of power, their opposition could prove significant. The Coalition, on the other hand, has negotiated a steady stream of ISDS provisions in trade deals, and presented them as an essential element of their ‘jobs and growth’ mantra.

“I don’t think the current government is particularly worried about it,” Dr Tienhaara said. “I think the Coalition sort of sees it as they’re open for business, and they’re not likely to be hit with this.” One of the issues with this mentality is that it’s often state government policies that come into conflict with companies claiming lost profits.

Because international trade agreements are the purview of the Commonwealth, however, it’s the Federal Government that would end up in a tribunal.

Dr Abbe Brown has also been speaking at the QUT symposium about the possibility that international agreements signed onto by the Commonwealth, like the Paris climate deal, could be overridden by the Trans Pacific Partnership. One example is that the Paris agreement encourages the sharing of renewable energy technology, but the ISDS clauses in the TPP could be used by companies to attack states on intellectual property grounds.

The Australian Government could ultimately end up forking out millions of dollars, as Canada has after being hit with more than 35 ISDS challenges. Many of those cases have been brought by US companies, which tend to be the most litigious.

Australia was recently hauled into a tribunal by tobacco giant Phillip Morris, which challenged Labor’s plain packaging laws under a bilateral agreement with Hong Kong.

Whether the world’s biggest trade deal, the TPP, will go ahead in the end is still highly uncertain. Both presumptive American Presidents, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have expressed opposition to it, and President Barrack Obama has had trouble passing the deal.

At home, the Labor party could yet foil it, and the Greens and Nick Xenophon could potentially stand in the way of implementing legislation too.

The Coalition, however, will do what it can to see the deal passed, despite the negative consequences experts are warning that might have for environmental policy.

Former health chief rubbishes design of Hong Kong’s new bins

Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, the former Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, has said that the new bins had clearly not been tested before deployment and were ‘not logical’

The city’s newly introduced bins, which have smaller openings for rubbish, have been criticised as “not very logical” by a former health chief.

Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, the former Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food from 1999 to 2004, said that they lack a “human-centred design”, which is crucial for public health.

Speaking in the forum of Knowledge of Design Week, Yeoh, who heads the Chinese University’s Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, said the newly introduced rubbish bins were an example of design that has not been fully tested before deployment.

The bins were installed in busier districts from Monday this week as part of the government’s plan to solve the problem of oversized rubbish being dumped in public bins.

“People still perceive rubbish bins as garbage collecting points … more rubbish has been placed next to it,” said Yeoh, adding that it was a “question of design”.

The government has also installed around 2,000 recycling bins, around one-tenth the amount of ordinary rubbish bins, to encourage waste recycling, but the design of those bins discouraged people from using them, said Yeoh.

“The strength of the spring of the door sometimes makes it difficult to push the items into the bins without touching the door,” he said, which raises hygiene concerns.

Taking reference from bins in Barcelona, Spain, Yeoh said a more human-centred design could use a foot pedal for easier opening of the cover, and a larger size to avoid overflowing.

He said that a more effective way to reduce rubbish was to add more user-friendly recycling bins.

Poor design of rubbish bins was used as an example by Yeoh to illustrate the importance of design in facilitating a safer health care system in the city, which has always been “bombarded by medical incidents”.

He said feedback and indicators should be involved in public health care facilities to prevent human error, such as different designs of syringe for different chemotherapy drugs to avoid overdose.
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Air pollution becomes leading risk factor for stroke worldwide

Three quarters of strokes worldwide could be prevented by addressing behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and low physical activity

Air pollution – including environmental and household air pollution – has emerged as a leading risk factor for stroke worldwide, associated with about a third of the global burden of stroke in 2013, according to a new study published in The Lancet Neurology journal.

The findings, from an analysis of global trends of risk factors for stroke between 1990-2013, also show that over 90% of the global burden of stroke is linked to modifiable risk factors, most of which (74%) are behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and low physical activity. The authors estimate that control of these risk factors could prevent about three-quarters of all strokes.

The study is the first to analyse the global risk factors for stroke in such detail, especially in relation to stroke burden on global, regional and national levels. The researchers used data from the Global Burden of Disease Study to estimate the disease burden of stroke associated with 17 risk factors in 188 countries. They estimated the population-attributable fraction (PAF) of stroke-related disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) – ie. the estimated proportion of disease burden in a population that would be avoided if exposure to a risk factor were eliminated.

Every year, approximately 15 million people worldwide suffer a stroke – of these, nearly six million die and five million are left with permanent disability. Disability may include loss of vision and/or speech, paralysis and confusion.

Globally, the ten leading risk factors for stroke were high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, high body mass index (BMI), diet high in sodium, smoking, diet low in vegetables, environmental air pollution, household pollution from solid fuels, diet low in whole grains, and high blood sugar (figure 2). About a third (29.2%) of global disability associated with stroke is linked to air pollution (including environmental air pollution and household air pollution). This is especially high in developing countries (33.7% vs 10.2% in developed countries).

In 2013, 16.9% of the global stroke burden was attributed to environmental air pollution (as measured by ambient particle matter [PM] pollution of aerodynamic diameter smaller than 2·5 μm) – almost as much as that from smoking (20.7%) (paper, table). From 1990 to 2013, stroke burden associated with environmental air pollution (PM25) has increased by over 33% (Appendix, table 4).

“A striking finding of our study is the unexpectedly high proportion of stroke burden attributable to environmental air pollution, especially in developing countries. Smoking, poor diet and low physical activity are some of the major risk factors for stroke worldwide, suggesting that stroke is largely a disease caused by lifestyle risk factors. Controlling these risk factors could prevent about three-quarters of strokes worldwide.” says lead author Professor Valery L Feigin, of Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand.

“Our findings are important for helping national governments and international agencies to develop and prioritise public health programmes and policies. Governments have the power and responsibility to influence these risk factors through legislation and taxation of tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar or saturated fat content, while health service providers have the responsibility to check and treat risk factors such as high blood pressure,” he says.

“Taxation has been proven to be the most effective strategy in reducing exposure to smoking and excessive intake of salt, sugar and alcohol. If these risks take a toll on our health, and taxation is the best way to reduce exposure to these risks, it logically follows that governments should introduce such taxation and reinvest the resulting revenue back into the health of the population by funding much needed preventative programmes and research in primary prevention and health. All it takes is recognition of the urgent need to improve primary prevention, and the good will of the governments to act,” says Professor Feigin.

The relative importance of risk factors varied depending on age group, country and region:

  • Household air pollution was a more important risk factor for stroke in central, eastern, and western sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia (ranked 3rd), compared to North America, central, eastern and western Europe (where it was not in the top 10 risk factors) (paper, figure 2)
  • Low physical activity was a much greater risk factor for stroke among adults over 70 than among adults aged 15-69 (Appx, table 2)
  • Globally, the risk factor that was most reduced between 1990 and 2013 was second-hand smoke (31% reduction in stroke-related DALYs). The greatest reduction was in developed countries (Appx, table 4), but the contribution of second-hand smoke to global stroke burden still remains noticeable at 3.1% for 15-49 year olds, especially in developing countries where it reaches 3.2% (Appx, table 2).
  • The risk factor that was most increased was a diet high in sugar-sweetened beverages (63.1% increase in stroke-related DALYs). The greatest increase was in developed countries (Appx, table 4) but the contribution to stroke burden remains low at 1.6% for 15-49 year olds (Appx, table 2).
  • Air pollution, environmental risks, tobacco smoke, high blood pressure and dietary risks were more important risk factors for stroke in developing countries compared to developed countries.
  • Low physical activity was a more important risk factor for stroke in developed countries compared to developing countries.

The authors say that because of a lack of data, they could not include some important risk factors for stroke such as atrial fibrillation, substance abuse or other health conditions. They were also unable to account for patterns of some risk factors such as levels of smoking, BMI level or underlying genetic risk factors. The data does not differentiate between ischaemic and haemorrhagic strokes but the authors say that while the risk factors for different types of stroke may vary slightly at the individual level, global, regional and national policies tend to look at the overall risk of stroke.

The study also provides information on the contribution of all 17 risk factors for stroke for 188 countries, for example the top 5 risk factors for stroke in the following countries were:

  • UK & USA: high blood pressure, high BMI, diet low in fruit, diet low in vegetables, smoking (Appx, table 7 and 8).
  • India: high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, household air pollution, diet low in vegetables, diet high in sodium (Appx, table 7 and 8).
  • China: high blood pressure, diet low in fruit, diet high in sodium, smoking, environmental air pollution (Appx, table 7 and 8).

Writing in a linked Comment, Professor Vladimir Hachinski, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada and Dr Mahmoud Reza Azarpazhooh, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran, say:

The most alarming finding was that about a third of the burden of stroke is attributable to air pollution. Although air pollution is known to damage the lungs, heart, and brain, the extent of this threat seems to have been underestimated. Air pollution is not just a problem in big cities, but is also a global problem. With the ceaseless air streams across oceans and continents, what happens in Beijing matters in Berlin. Air pollution is one aspect of the fossil fuel and global warming problem, which is itself partly a result of westernisation and urbanisation, especially in India and China. In 1900, only about 15% of the world’s population lived in cities; now more than half the world’s population does. In cities, particularly in megacities (>10 million inhabitants), getting unhealthy food is easy and getting exercise is hard, emphasising the difficulty of achieving a healthy lifestyle in an unhealthy environment.

Hidden danger: keeping your house clean can harm your kids’ health, Hong Kong study finds

Researchers suggest limiting frequent exposure to chemicals to avoid rhinitis

Blocked noses, headaches, sneezing and other allergic symptoms among children in Hong Kong could be caused by household cleaning products, an alarming news study
has found.

Research by Chinese University of Hong Kong – the first to examine such products’ health effects on children in Asia – found that frequent use of the chemicals at home could increase the risk of children having rhinitis, or inflammation of the lining of the nose, by between 29 and 97 per cent.

The condition affecting up to 50 per cent of local primary school students could impair their quality of life as well as their scholastic performance, the researchers warned.

How living near a landfill can be harmful to health, especially for children ( Dr Xiangqian Lao, an assistant professor at Chinese University’s school of public health and primary care, said the findings suggested it was “necessary to develop healthier cleaning products”.

“Parents are also recommended to prevent triggering rhinitis in children by reducing their exposure to chemical cleaning products at home,” he said.

The three-year study surveyed over 2,299 students from 21 local primary schools on the use of 14 cleaning products at home.

It found the youngsters were most often exposed to kitchencleaning products, followed by floor-cleaning and bathroomcleaning products.

Children with the highest level of exposure to cleaning products – tallying more than 3.2 hours per week – had a 29 per cent higher risk of experiencing occasional rhinitis, a 97 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 67 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

Every additional hour of exposure was associated with a 2.1 per cent higher risk of occasional rhinitis, a 3.6 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 1.2 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

The results suggested the ensuing health effect could be due to one’s total exposure to an array of cleaning products rather than to just a single type of product.

But no such associations were observed regarding the use of clean water for daily household cleaning.

Hong Kong children wait more than a year for mental health treatment as list increases to 27,000 (The researchers suggested that common household cleaning products contained harmful chemicals, including propylene glycol, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or EDTA, and volatile organic compounds.

They said their study was in line with others noting the adverse effect of cleaning products, especially relating to various respiratory health outcomes like infections and

The study was published this month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

According to the World Health Organisation, allergies affect up to 40 per cent of the world’s population, and the rate is rising, with allergic rhinitis being the most common.

Vanishing rubbish bins and rotten attitudes: Hong Kong’s struggle to stay clean

Yonden Lhatoo despairs at the city’s garbage problem, suggesting that people are educated enough to be civicminded, but just have a rotten attitude

“My kingdom for a bin!” a friend of mine exclaimed in mock-Shakespearean despair, as we walked down the length of a popular street in Mong Kok, looking for a receptacle to dump a leaking coffee cup she was desperate to get rid of.

We finally found a rubbish bin after walking quite a distance, dripping java on the pavement all the way. And it presented another unnecessary dilemma, because the bin was chock-full of rubbish, and people had dumped all kinds of filth around it.

All this because the government, with the backing of environmental groups, has decided there are too many rubbish bins in Hong Kong. The logic being applied here is that if there’s no place to throw your trash, the streets will be cleaner because you’ll be forced to take it home.

Next week, the government will deploy the first batch of newly designed bins that have smaller openings for depositing waste. The idea is to dissuade people from cramming them with oversized packages. The new bins will feature bigger notices warning the public “not to discard refuse at the side or on top of litter containers and to dispose of bagged refuse properly at refuse collection points”.

What’s more, the government may further reduce the number of rubbish bins across the city, having already removed 15 per cent of them over the past 1½ years. That amounts to 3,100 bins, which is the equivalent of Taipei’s entire arsenal of bins. Singapore and Seoul also make us look like we have a bin fetish.

The bin-free drive can be linked to the impending household waste charging scheme in a way that doesn’t reflect well on Hongkongers.

The government is concerned that when it starts charging people for the rubbish they produce daily at home, many of them will start dumping bagfuls at the nearest street bin.

If the Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Koreans and Japanese (who take it to Stepford Wives extremes) can get a grip on their garbage, why not Hongkongers, right? Wrong.

Has anyone stopped to consider that people in this city are just a completely different breed when it comes to civic-mindedness? They don’t care. I watched, in horrid fascination, a woman loudly inhaling instant noodles on a minibus the other day, and thought of how the government expected her to dutifully take the container and plastic bag home to put them into a garbage bag, for which she would pay an environmental levy like a good citizen. Yeah right.

She left them on the bus, by the way.

Look at the dustbins around the city. Even when they’re not overflowing, people would rather chuck their rubbish at the bins than in them.

And you want to put smaller mouths on the bins to solve the problem?

The truth is harsh. Hong Kong is not a cesspool only because we pay an army of cleaners to do the dirty work.

Civic sense is for the birds here. And spare me the clichés about educating people.

Have you watched Hongkongers on holiday in cities that take cleanliness very seriously? We’re model tourists. Oh, we’re educated alright, and on our best behaviour. It’s only when we return home that we can’t be bothered. It just boils down to a rotten attitude.

Nothing short of severe penalties and fierce enforcement will work. And you can’t do that in a city where everything is instantly politicised with placard-waving protests about freedom.

What a mess.

I have a question for Hong Kong’s No 2 environment chief, Christine Loh Kung-wai, the silent bureaucrat who once used to be an outspoken crusader in such matters: who are you and what have you done to Christine Loh?

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post

EU nations refuse to back limited licence for potentially cancercausing weedkiller

Scores of potentially carcinogenic weedkillers remain for sale across UK and Europe despite European Union nations refusing to back a limited extension of pesticide glyphosate’s licence for use.

A compromise proposal to renew the licence for glyphosate for 12-18 months yesterday failed to win support at the EU executive. Support of 65% was required, but reports said seven states abstained, 20 backed the proposal and one voted against.

Two earlier meetings in 2016 failed to extend the licence for up to 15 years, which led to the compromise and much shorter period being offered.

There are contradictory findings on the carcinogenic risks of glyphosate, which is a component of weedkillers commonly sold by UK and European retailers, which has placed it amid the scrutiny of EU and US politicians, regulators, researchers and consumer groups.

The EU executive hopes a pending study by the EU’s Agency for Chemical Products will allay concerns. European commissioners are due to disucss the matter again today.

The current EU licence for glyphosate expires 30 June.

In the absence of a majority decision, the EU executive could submit its proposal to an appeal committee of political representatives from member states within a month.

If there was again no verdict reached, the European Commission could adopt its own proposal.

A New Air Pollution Database Is Good, but Imperfect

WHO’s most recent atlas of air quality leaves significant gaps in coverage

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its latest global urban air pollution database, including information for nearly 3,000 cities—a doubling from the 2014 database, which itself had data from 500 more cities than the previous (2011) iteration. These increases in coverage in air pollution measurement and reporting is encouraging, but the WHO numbers reveal that we still have a ways to go to construct a comprehensive and accurate picture of global air quality.

WHO singles out Onitsha, Nigeria and Zabol, Iran as the cities with the world’s worst air pollution, the first for elevated coarse particulate, or PM10, levels and the second for extreme fine particulate, or PM2.5, concentrations.

Yet these dubious rankings come with many uncertainties and stir more questions than they answer. “It is difficult to get accurate measurements in Africa,” a WHO spokeswoman said. “[I]deally the measurements should be done over a year to include different seasons and times of day. The reading in Onitsha may be representative but not altogether reliable.”

The air in Onitsha and Zabol is, in other words, bad, though just how bad we cannot say with certainty. Global air quality is worsening, human exposure to air pollution is on the rise, and deaths caused by these toxins have increased from 4.8 million in 1990 to 5.5 million in 2015. These trends are not, however, represented evenly throughout the world. Developing nations, those experiencing rapid industrial and urban expansion, bear the brunt of air pollution’s pernicious effects. The air in cities like Onitsha and Delhi has worsened as their populations and polluting industries have grown, while New York and London’s air quality has steadily improved.

And yet it is developing cities and nations that are least equipped to monitor and manage their ambient environment. WHO’s latest air quality database underscores this problem, as nations with the most resources have steadily increased air quality monitoring and reporting and have seen their air quality steadily improve. Developing countries have experienced deteriorating air quality alongside economic growth, as measurement in these places lags behind.

The vast majority of ground-based monitors are located in Europe and North America meaning there are major “blindspots” obfuscating where air pollution is affecting the most people in the most pernicious ways. These blindspots are why we need new ways to monitor global air pollution. The 2016 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) reveals the extent to which ground-based air monitoring and reporting is missing areas suffering from some of the world’s worst air pollution. Using satellite data, researchers at Dalhousie University have estimated ground-based exposures to fine particulate pollution or PM2.5—microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into human lung and blood tissue, leading to cardiovascular disease and other serious health impacts.

These satellite data have advantages as well as their disadvantages compared to ground-based information. Satellites offer a globally-consistent, long-term, and dynamic view of air pollution levels, exposures and trends. Satellite data provide a picture of the average PM pollution that an individual living in a particular place would be exposed to on a typical day, potentially smoothing out outlying spikes in air toxin concentrations. These data can be used to gauge pollution’s impacts on human health – in total, Global Burden of Disease estimates outdoor and indoor air pollution is responsible for 5.5 million premature deaths a year. Satellites do not, however, measure air pollution at the ground level, where people live and breathe, which is why governments need to invest in ground-based monitors.

Here we present four visualizations from Data-Driven Yale’s latest research on global air pollution and a fifth graphic from recent studies on pollution sources with original analysis:

1. Nearly half of the world’s people breathes unsafe air, with populations in developing countries disproportionately exposed. One-third (1.3 billion) of these people live in the East Asia and Pacific region, where in China and South Korea more than 50 percent of their populations are exposed to unsafe levels of fine particulate matter. In India and Nepal, the percentage is nearly 75 percent – a figure reinforced by WHO’s 2016 database, showing that 16 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India. In our interactive map areas shaded red or darker experience air pollution that exceeds 10 micrograms/m3 – the threshold WHO considers unsafe for people to breathe. The map shows that East Asia, Northern India, and Northern Africa have the world’s highest levels of fine particulate pollution.



2. Nitrogen dioxide pollution, produced mainly from fossil fuel combustion, is a precursor of ozone and smog and mostly affects Europe and East Asia. In Europe, tax policies dating back to the 1970s and regulations from the 1990s designed to limit tailpipe CO2 emissions have encouraged the production and use of diesel vehicles, resulting in elevated NO2 levels. While diesel vehicles generate 15 percent less CO2 than their gasoline counterparts, diesel engines emit four times more NO2. In London, NO2 pollution is linked to 9,500 deaths annually. These data, derived from satellite estimates, show that air pollution is not only a developing world problem, but that industrialized countries also suffer from foul air. European cities, however, are implementing ambitious policies to reduce air pollution, such as the British capital’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which is expected to cut central London’s pollution in half by 2020. Overall air quality has improved in Europe in the last decade, while pollution continues to worsen in most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.



3. Global monitoring is improving, primarily in developed countries. Figure 3 shows increases in the number of cities monitoring air pollution from the WHO’s 2011, 2014 and 2016 databases. Cities monitoring air pollution have increased in number to the greatest extent in Europe and high-income countries in the Americas in the last five years. Progress in lower to middle-income countries has been much slower.



4. Governments that have implemented policies to control air pollution have reduced deaths. New data released in February of this year as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GDB) project show that 5.5 million premature deaths occur each year due to air pollution. Looking at GBD data over 10 years (Figure 4), key trends emerge. Air pollution-related deaths in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia have worsened more dramatically than other regions the last decade. The United States, European Union, and Australia have significantly reduced air pollution-related deaths, largely due to policy interventions targeted at industrial pollution control, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and improving fuel quality in the transport sector.



5. New sources of air pollution detected. Recent studies show that a major contributor to air pollution is shipping. This finding is particularly salient in coastal regions in East Asia. Forty-two percent of Hong Kong’s particulates, for instance, are from the maritime sector. And East Asia has experienced the highest number of shipping-related air pollution deaths. A new study shows that air pollution from the agriculture sector exceeds anthropogenic sources of particulate pollution in the United States and Europe (Figure 5). These studies underscore air pollution’s complex origins, as airborne toxins come from many different sources and activities, both natural and human-driven. The mix of sources makes it ever more challenging to design policies and interventions to address this class of pollutants. Despite the challenges, the imperative is clear: more efforts must be made to reverse the current trends, to reduce human exposure to air pollution and to improve global air quality.



Greening hit drainage, claims report

A big greening project is to blame for the collapse of the rooftop at City University of Hong Kong’s sports center last month, sources say.

A CityU investigation committee is understood to say in its report that large- scale greening projects should not have been carried out on the roof as it affected drainage, causing water to accumulate and overload the roof.

The committee held seven meetings in the 14 days of investigation, reading documents and structural plans of the project.

Thirteen witnesses, including staff responsible for the rooftop work and people who saw the collapse, testified before the nine-member committee led by vice president and chief of staff Paul Lam Kwan-sing.

The 1,400-square-meter roof of the Chan Tai Ho Multi-Purpose Hall on the fifth floor of the Hu Fa Kuang Sports Centre caved in suddenly on May 20, injuring three people, only three months after the rooftop greening was completed.

The sports center has been standing for two decades.

It is understood the committee has concluded that rooftop greening works – which began last December and was completed in February this year – affected drainage.

The original structure of the sports center was flawless, the report said, and the slope of the roof was enough for draining.

Greening works, however, pressed on the roof and decreased the slope, causing the drainage to flow too slow, sources said.

The water that accumulated caused the roof to become overloaded and eventually caused it to collapse.

Maintenance works had no link to the collapse, it added.

The report would also state the role of Sinoway Construction Engineering, the contractor responsible for the rooftop work.

The committee submitted its report to CityU president Way Kuo.

Kuo and Lam are set to meet the media on Friday to respond to the report.

New trash cans with smaller openings on the way

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) will be introducing new trash cans Monday, a statement on the government’s website said.

The new design includes smaller openings for trash and bigger warning notices on the containers telling the public not to discard refuse beside or on top of the bins and to dispose of bagged refuse properly at refuse collection points, it said.

The openings have shrunk from 370 millimeters x 190mm to 230mm x 150mm, the FEHD said.

Smaller openings mean the new trash cans will accept only small pieces of garbage, but not a typical plastic grocery bag of trash. Photos: i-Cable

Smaller openings mean the new trash cans will accept only small pieces of garbage, but not a typical plastic grocery bag of trash. Photos: i-Cable

The department will also introduce, later this year, 70-litre trash cans, with openings reduced in size from 290mm x 190mm to 205mm x 130mm.

An FEHD spokesman reminded the public that it is an offense to deposit waste beside or on top of the containers.

Offenders are liable on conviction to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,218) and imprisonment for up to six months.

They may also face a HK$1,500 fine under the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) Ordinance, the spokesman said.

However, some citizens are disappointed by the change, i-Cable reported.

Far from discouraging people from indiscriminately dumping garbage, the new design will encourage them to litter, they said.

The FEHD also said it is considering further reducing the number of litter containers placed on the streets in various districts later this year, as a similar move last year had a satisfactory result.

Chloe Chow contributed to this article.