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June 9th, 2016:

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