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January, 2017:

Climate Science Denier Myron Ebell Explains How the Trump Team Will Gut the EPA, Abandon the Paris Agreement

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/01/31/myron-ebell-epa-transition-how-trump-gut-epa-abandon-paris-agreement

As senators get set to vote Wednesday on the confirmation of President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the EPA, the man who was charged with leading the Environmental Protection Agency’s transition team gave some clues as to how it might be run.

Myron Ebell is one of the country’s most prominent climate science deniers, is the Director of Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and until inauguration day was leading the EPA transition team at the behest of the then president-elect.

At a press event in London on Monday, attended and covered by DeSmog UK’s Mat Hope, Ebell admitted that he had never actually spoken to Trump, and that he was recruited to the transition team by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

What did Ebell’s transition team actually do?

“We did produce an action plan and an advisory document,” he said, but refused to discuss the contents of the “confidential” document. Coincidentally, in December, the CEI released a set of policy proposals called “Free to Prosper: A Pro-growth agenda for the 155th Congress,” which included a 26-page chapter on energy and the environment, though there is no way of knowing for sure if there is any overlap between the CEI proposal and Ebell’s action plan.

Although Ebell is no longer involved with the administration in any way, he made bold predictions and spoke confidently about how the Trump team would work to dismantle the EPA and pull out of the Paris Agreement, while finding plenty of time to bash the “climate industrial complex” and deny the consensus of climate scientists.

“The people of America have rejected the ‘expertariat’ about one thing after another including climate policy… climate scientists are in this for the glamour and the fame.”

“If we’re going to have some warming it should have started… it has been vastly exaggerated.”

Ebell indicated that Trump’s trust in Steve Bannon, the controversial former manager of Breitbart News who is now one of Trump’s closest advisors, was proof enough that Trump’s administration would take a torch to international climate action.

When pressed by reporters on the Paris Agreement, who brought up the fact that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson said in his confirmation hearing that “it’s important that the U.S. maintains its seat at the table,” Ebell seemed confident that Tillerson wouldn’t get his way. “If Rex Tillerson disagrees with the president — who will win that? The president was elected and Rex Tillerson was appointed. I’d say the president was odds on to win.”

He also said that even if the U.S. wasn’t able to ditch the Paris Agreement immediately, the “cleanest” way to abandon the deal would be to “withdraw from the framework convention” entirely. Ebell was referring to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body that holds the annual climate conferences and serves as the overarching body under which all international climate diplomacy is conducted.

Speaking specifically about the EPA, Ebell suggested that after Pruitt is confirmed, the agency will make a priority of stripping “harmful” air and water pollution regulations, and that the web of climate-related rules and actions would be systematically dismantled. Of the Climate Action Plan in particular, Ebell said, “There are numerous grounds that it should be undone and I hope that it will be undone.”

Ebell did not mention, however, that the EPA’s climate regulations stem from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants that should be covered by the Clean Air Act.

Ebell was speaking as a man no longer serving in the administration, as he resigned when Trump took office and presumably wasn’t asked to stay on board to lead the “beachhead” teams that are now lining the agency up for Pruitt’s likely arrival.

Some are speculating that Ebell’s move away is a sign that the Trump team is shifting away from the extreme climate deniers of the far right, and replacing them with personnel, like Tillerson, who at least publicly acknowledge the existence of manmade climate change. Regardless, it will be critical to track the early actions of the EPA after Pruitt presumably takes the helm, to see how they align with proposals that CEI put forth in December. For his part, Ebell is back at the fossil fuel industry–funded CEI full time.

The surprising link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-air-pollution-alzheimers-20170131-story.html

With environmental regulations expected to come under heavy fire from the Trump administration, new research offers powerful evidence of a link between air pollution and dementia risk.

For older women, breathing air that is heavily polluted by vehicle exhaust and other sources of fine particulates nearly doubles the likelihood of developing dementia, finds a study published Tuesday. And the cognitive effects of air pollution are dramatically more pronounced in women who carry a genetic variant, known as APOE-e4, which puts them at higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a nationwide study that tracked the cognitive health of women between the ages of 65 and 79 for 10 years, those who had the APOE-e4 variant were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia if they were exposed to high levels of air pollution than APOE-e4 carriers who were not.

Among carriers of that gene, older women exposed to heavy air pollution were close to four times likelier than those who breathed mostly clean air to develop “global cognitive decline” — a measurable loss of memory and reasoning skills short of dementia.

While scientists have long tallied the health costs of air pollution in asthma, lung disease and cardiovascular disease, the impact of air pollutants on brain health has only begun to come to light. This study gleans new insights into how, and how powerfully, a key component of urban smog scrambles the aging brain.

Published Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry, the research looks at a large population of American women, at lab mice, and at brain tissue in petri dishes to establish a link between serious cognitive decline and the very fine particles of pollution emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and the burning of biomass products such as wood.

All three of these biomedical research methods suggest that exposure to high levels of fine air pollutants increases both dementia’s classic behavioral signs of disorientation and memory loss as well as its less obvious hallmarks. These include amyloid beta protein clumps in the brain and the die-off of cells in the brain’s hippocampus, a key center for memory formation.

Using air pollution standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, researchers found significant differences on all those measures between those who breathed clean air and those exposed to pollution levels deemed unsafe.

In lab mice, breathing air collected over the 10 Freeway in Los Angeles led to brain concentrations of amyloid protein that were more dense and more likely to form dangerous clumps than breathing air that satisfied EPA standards before 2012. When lab mice were bred with a strong predisposition to develop dementia and its hallmarks, the brain differences between pollution-breathing animals and those that breathed clean air were starker.

In 2011, a study in the journal Lancet found that those who lived close to densely trafficked roads were at a far higher risk of stroke and dementia than those who lived farther away. A year later, a team led by Alzheimer’s disease researcher Dr. Samuel Gandy at Mt. Sinai in New York first established that air pollutants induced inflammation, cell death and the buildup of amyloid protein in the brains of mice.

The new study extends those findings.

Authored by geriatric and environmental health specialists at USC, the new study estimates that before the EPA set new air pollution standards in 2012, some 21% of new cases of dementia and of accelerated cognitive decline could likely have been attributed to air pollution.

There is potential legal significance to the researchers’ finding that women (and mice) who carried a genetic predisposition to developing Alzheimer’s disease were far more sensitive to air pollution’s effects. In devising pollution standards, the EPA is currently required to consider their health impact on “vulnerable populations.” The agency is also required to use its regulatory authority to take steps to protect those populations.

Air pollution has been declining steadily since the EPA promulgated new standards in 2012. But Dr. Jiu-Chiuan Chen, an environmental health specialist at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said it’s not clear that even current standards are safe for aging brains, or for brains that are genetically vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

The Trump administration has signaled it will look to scrap or substantially rewrite Obama administration regulations that tightened emissions from power plants and established tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars in an effort to curb climate change and reduce air pollution.

“If people in the current administration are trying to reduce the cost of treating diseases, including dementia, then they should know that relaxing the Clean Air Act regulations will do the opposite,” Chen said.

Waste management problems are getting worse in Hong Kong

http://www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/2064988/waste-management-problems-are-getting-worse-hong-kong#add-comment

Rarely has an organisation performed as miserably, every year, as the Environmental Protection Department in its waste management programme.

Its failure was highlighted in reports by the Audit Commission and the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee last year. Predictably, the department’s latest waste management report, for 2015, is no different.

Its two major targets have moved in the wrong direction five years in a row – the amount of waste per person disposed daily increased, while the waste recovery rate decreased. From 2014 to 2015, waste disposed went up (from 1.35 to 1.39kg), while waste recovered went down (from 36.5 to 35.4 per cent). That’s the worst performance in a decade.

In the Environment Bureau’s waste-management blueprint issued in 2013, the objective for the amount of waste per person disposed daily was set at 1kg by 2017 and 0.8kg by 2022. The recovery rate was to be 55 per cent by 2022.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing has talked up the blueprint for the past two years. But at a January 17 press conference, he was mum about waste management performance, except for an 8 per cent decrease in food waste, which is just 30 per cent of total domestic waste.

I have long argued that the blueprint’s waste disposal and recovery targets are unattainable.

Wong and his department seem incapable of grasping the simple equation governing waste management: waste disposed is equal to waste generated less waste recovered.

Imposing a waste-charging scheme cannot lower significantly the amount of waste disposed, unless there’s a commensurate increase in the amount of waste recovered.

And the waste recovery rate cannot increase much without waste separation at source.

Wong cited the success of South Korea and Taipei in reducing waste disposed by imposing waste charging. He omitted the crucial factor in their success: waste separation at source is required by law.

Waste-recovery companies in Hong Kong have to sell paper, plastic and metal to the mainland at market prices, which cannot be controlled by the Environment Bureau.

This means the current 36 per cent waste recovery rate cannot realistically increase to 55 per cent, which is the rate achieved by countries that successfully manage their waste.

At its 36 per cent waste recovery rate, Hong Kong needs to reduce waste generation by 40 per cent from the current level to achieve the 0.8kg average amount of waste per person disposed daily by 2022. In their dreams.

Tom Yam, Lantau

China orders local meteorological bureaus to stop issuing smog alerts

China is suspending local meteorological bureaus from issuing smog alerts, media reported Wednesday, raising suspicions the government is attempting to suppress information about the country’s air pollution as public anger over the issue grows.

China’s Meteorological Administration notified local bureaus Tuesday to “immediately stop issuing smog alerts”, according to a photo of a notice posted on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo.

Instead, the local departments can issue alerts for “fog” when visibility is less than 10 km, according to the notice.

The notice was issued because local “meterological bureaus and the environmental protection administration often disagree when they issue smog-related information,” a representative from the China Meteorological Administration told the Chinese website The Paper.

“A joint alerting mechanism will be formulated to consult how to and who should issue alerts for smog,” the representative said.

One single department will now be responsible for issuing smog alerts, The Paper reported.

The reports met with stinging criticism from online commentators who have long doubted the credibility of official data on air pollution.

“Before, they cheated us separately, and now, they are going to cheat us together,” one person said on Weibo.

“Even though they are working on a unified alert standard, they should not stop the existing alert system,” another replied.

The Chinese government has a colour-coded system of smog alerts, topping out at red when severe pollution is likely to last more than 72 hours.

The notice sets off a series of emergency measures, ranging from taking cars off the road to closing heavily polluting factories.

Local authorities have long hesitated to issue the notices over fears that they will harm economic performance, even when pollution levels are literally off the charts.

In late 2015, China issued its first ever red alert in response to public anger over the government’s reluctance to take action after a wave of suffocating smog hit the country’s northeast.

In the past, local and national authorities have issued contradictory, confusing alerts, one ordering factories and schools to be closed and one not.

Bad air is a source of enduring public anger in China, which has seen fast economic growth in recent decades but at the cost of widespread environmental problems.

In recent weeks, parents in particular have expressed outrage over the miasma that regularly affect hundreds of millions and has led to high levels of lung cancer, demanding that schools be equipped with air purifiers.

Earlier this month, many took to social media to express their anger about the thick smog that choked Beijing for over a week around the New Year but found their articles quickly deleted, a move that only increased their frustration.

“When people are gagged, the sky will be blue,” said one sarcasm-laced Weibo comment.

Hong Kong’s ‘producer pays’ e-waste levy to range from HK$15 to HK$165 per item

A long-awaited “producer pays” levy fee covering certain waste electrical and electronic equipment is likely to range between HK$15 and HK$165, according to a government paper.

Once fully implemented, manufacturers and importers will have to be registered and must bear the costs of properly recycling the items.

The proposed charges are HK$15 per item for computers, printers and scanners, HK$45 for monitors, HK$125 for washing machines and air-conditioning units, and HK$165 for television sets and refrigerators. They must be paid to the government on a quarterly basis.

Appliance sellers are also required to collect old appliances upon request from purchasers of new ones and deliver them to a licensed recycler for free.

Environmental Protection Department assistant director Samson Lai said the charges recovered the full costs of recycling and the scheme could be reviewed when appropriate. But he admitted that some retailers might try to pass some of the costs to consumers.

“The idea is based on a ‘polluter pays’ principle and creating a closed-loop recycling system in which e-waste is collected, processed and turned into resources via proper treatment,” he said. “It will also help reduce pressure on landfills.”

About 70,000 tonnes of e-waste is disposed of in the city each year, 80 per cent of which is exported and the rest usually landfilled locally – a situation the government says is unsustainable.

The government’s new treatment and recycling facility in Tuen Mun, scheduled for commissioning this year and operated by ALBA IWS, will have the capacity to handle 30,000 tonnes.

The latest updates will be discussed at the Legislative Council environmental affairs panel next week. Draft legislative amendments will be tabled to the council for scrutiny in the second quarter, with implementation expected in the third.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at the Green Earth, welcomed the updates but believed the levy rates were still quite low and would have minimal impact on producers.

Meanwhile, a report released on Sunday by United Nations University, the UN’s academic arm, found Hong Kong to have the highest e-waste per capita generation out of a dozen Asian countries, followed by Singapore and Taiwan.

The report attributed the average increase in e-waste generation over the region – 63 per cent from 2010 to 2015 – to more gadgets and consumers and devices being replaced more frequently.

Hong Kong and Singapore’s levels, it said, were particularly high because they did not yet have specific e-waste legislation. Both also had significant trans-boundary movements of e-waste generated domestically and in transit from other countries.

“Increasing the burden on existing waste collection and treatment systems results in flows towards environmentally unsound recycling and disposal,” co-author Ruediger Kuehr said.

An investigation by environmental group ¬Basel Action Network last year found Hong Kong to be a dumping ground for unwanted e-waste from the US [3].

Under the new scheme, a permit will be required for the importing and exporting of regulated e- waste. Regulated e-waste will also no longer be accepted at landfills.
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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2062599/hong-kongs-producer-pays-e-waste-levy-range-hk15

Hong Kong’s official air quality index failing to warn on deadly health hazard

Paul Stapleton warns that the Air Quality Health Index is creating a false sense of security by consistently failing to consider dangerous levels of PM2.5, the fine particulate matter associated with lung disease

Each morning after waking up, I look out of the window at the clarity of the air and then check two websites that give air pollution readings for Hong Kong.

Admittedly, my first action is very subjective. Air clarity is a crude way to measure pollution levels, especially during months that tend to be foggy. This is why I check the indexes on those two sites. Then, I decide whether to go out for a jog or stay indoors on the treadmill.

One of the websites is run by the Environmental Protection Department. It makes air-quality forecasts and generates a real-time Air Quality Health Index [2] scaled from 1 to 10+, or “low” to “serious”. The other site is the reputable World Air Quality Index (aqicn.org) [3], which measures only particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5), one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.

These microscopic particles that just hang in the air are known to penetrate deep into our lungs when we breathe. They mostly come from vehicle exhausts, the burning of coal to make electricity and other industrial activities.

They are also known to be hazardous to health, especially of children; PM2.5 is associated with lung diseases, including cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease.

During the past week, the air pollution forecast on the local TV news each day, presumably taken from the government service, was for “low” to “medium” levels. However, at the World Air Quality Index, PM2.5 levels have been in excess of 100 for several days running. The US Environmental Protection Agency puts the 24-hour and annual standard for PM2.5 at 35 and 15 respectively. Thus, on days when Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department was informing the public that the level of air pollution was forecast to be low to medium, the amount of PM2.5 – arguably the mostly deadly pollutant – exceeded safe levels by a big margin.

In defence of the Air Quality Health Index, many other pollutants, such as ozone, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, are included in its composite measure, and their levels may have been “low”. However, even if their levels are low and only the PM2.5 is high, that does not mean it is safe to be outdoors for extended periods, especially for young children whose lungs are particularly prone to damage [6] by pollutants in the air.

Unfortunately, the discrepancy I noticed this past week is not an isolated incident. Regularly, the index forecasts the level of air pollution in Hong Kong to be “low to moderate” on the following day when the PM2.5 reading turns out to be at levels much higher than that acceptable by international standards. Sadly, the government’s daily forecast lends a false sense of security about air quality. In the end, it may be best to look out of the window and judge for oneself.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Education University of Hong Kong

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Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2061239/hong-kongs-official-air-quality-index-failing-warn-deadly

Easterly wind spares Hong Kong from Pearl River Delta smog

City’s air to remain relatively clean despite heavy pollution in nearby Foshan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou

The severe smog enveloping the Pearl River Delta will not affect Hong Kong for now thanks to the favourable wind direction, a representative from an environmental group said.

Despite high concentrations of harmful pollutants recently recorded in nearby Foshan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, which saw the air quality index hit the hazardous 300 benchmark in some areas, Hong Kong has been able to enjoy a breath of fresh air because the easterly wind currently blowing through the city does not pass through the smoggy areas.

But a government official said regional efforts were needed to maintain healthy air quality in the city as New Territories West was vulnerable to pollutants produced in the adjacent mainland industrial zone.

“We don’t exclude the possibility that the smog might be blown into Hong Kong under favourable conditions,” Clean Air Network campaign officer Winnie Tse Wing-lam said during a radio programme on Friday. “But will Hong Kong turn into a smoggy city like Foshan? I don’t think so.”

Tse said the city will continue to be controlled by the easterly wind in the next couple of weeks, while the severe smog mainly affects cities located to the northwest of Hong Kong.

This means the air brought to the city will be relatively fresh.

Speaking on the same radio programme, Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of air policy at the government’s environmental protection department, said cooperation with mainland cities in the Pearl River Delta was necessary to improve the air quality in Hong Kong.

He said the government had been working with the Guangdong provincial government to set emission reduction targets, and both sides will review the results in the first quarter of this year.

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year, including the tiny particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs, but roadside-dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city, with most figures failing annual air quality targets, according to preliminary air quality data for 2016 released by the department.

However, much of the decline was due to wetter, windier weather in what are traditionally two of the most polluted months, January and October, according to Dr Cheng Luk-ki, head of scientific research and conservation at Green Power.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2059905/easterly-wind-spares-hong-kong-pearl-river-delta

Dementia rates ‘higher near busy roads’

People who live near major roads have higher rates of dementia, research published in the Lancet suggests.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38506735

About 10% of dementia cases in people living within 50m of a major road could be down to traffic, the study suggests.

The researchers, who followed nearly 2m people in Canada over 11 years, say air pollution or noisy traffic could be contributing to the brain’s decline.

Dementia experts in the UK said the findings needed further investigation but were “certainly plausible”.

Nearly 50 million people around the world have dementia.

However, the causes of the disease, that robs people of their memories and brain power, are not understood.

Population growth

The study in the Lancet followed nearly two million people in the Canadian province of Ontario, between 2001 and 2012.

There were 243,611 cases of dementia diagnosed during that time, but the risk was greatest in those living closest to major roads.

Compared with those living 300m away from a major road the risk was:

• 7% higher within 50m
• 4% higher between 50-100m
• 2% higher between 101-200m

The analysis suggests 7-11% of dementia cases within 50m of a major road could be caused by traffic.

Dr Hong Chen, from Public Health Ontario and one of the report authors, said: “Increasing population growth and urbanisation have placed many people close to heavy traffic, and with widespread exposure to traffic and growing rates of dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure could pose a large public health burden.

“More research to understand this link is needed, particularly into the effects of different aspects of traffic, such as air pollutants and noise.”

The researchers suggest noise, ultrafine particles, nitrogen oxides and particles from tyre-wear may be involved.

However, the study looks only at where people diagnosed with dementia live. It cannot prove that the roads are causing the disease.

‘Provocative’

“This is an important paper,” says Prof Martin Rossor, the UK’s National Institute for Health Research director for dementia research.

He added: “The effects are small, but with a disorder with a high population prevalence, such effects can have important public health implications.”

Prof Tom Dening, the director of the Centre for Dementia at the University of Nottingham, said the findings were “interesting and provocative”.

He said: “It is certainly plausible that air pollution from motor exhaust fumes may contribute to brain pathology that over time may increase the risk of dementia, and this evidence will add to the unease of people who live in areas of high traffic concentration.

“Undoubtedly living in conditions of severe air pollution is extremely unpleasant and it is hard to suppose that it is good for anyone.”

The best advice to reduce the risk of dementia is to do the things that we know are healthy for the rest of the body – stop smoking, exercise and eat healthily.

Scientists disprove there was a hiatus in global warming after confirming controversial study

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/01/05/scientists-disprove-hiatus-global-warming-confirming-controversial/

A reported pause in global warming between 1998 and 2014 was false, according to US-British research published Wednesday that confirmed the findings of a controversial US study on ocean warming.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of York, England, corroborated the results of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) research paper in 2015.

Their findings were reported in the US journal Science Advances.

The NOAA paper had shown ocean buoys now used to measure water temperatures tend to report slightly cooler temperatures than older ship-based systems.

The switch to buoy measurements had hidden some of the real-world warming during the 1998-2014 period, the NOAA scientists concluded.

The NOAA paper had drawn outrage from some scientists who insisted there had been a “global warming hiatus” and from critics who consider global warming a hoax.

The US House of Representatives, controlled by the Republican Party, had even demanded the NOAA scientists provide lawmakers with their email exchanges about the research.

The US government agency agreed to transmit data and respond to scientific questions but refused to hand over the emails of the study’s authors, a decision supported by scientists worried about political interference.

“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and lead author of the new study.

The International Panel on Climate Change, in a report published in September 2013, said the average global warming between 1951 and 2012 had been 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade.

But between 1998 and 2012, warming had amounted to only 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade, indicating a ‘global warming hiatus.’

The 2015 NOAA analysis, which was adjusted to correct for the “cold bias” of buoy measurements, found there was no detectable slowdown in ocean warming over the previous 15 years.

Reporting in the journal Science, the NOAA scientists said the oceans has actually warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade since 2000, nearly twice as fast as the earlier estimates of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade.

That brought the rate of ocean temperature rise in line with estimates for the previous 30 years, between 1970 and 1999.

The new study uses independent data from satellites and Argo floats, a worldwide satellite-based location and data collection system, as well as from buoys.

The information gathered confirmed the NOAA results in 2015 were correct, the scientists said.

“We were initially skeptical of the NOAA result, because it showed faster warming than a previous updated record from the UK Met Office,” said Kevin Cowtan of the University of York.

“So we set out to test it for ourselves, using different methods and different data. We now think NOAA got it right, and a new dataset from the Japan Meteorological Agency also agrees,” he said.

Hong Kong enjoys a breath of fresh air but it’s not enough to meet annual quality goals

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year but roadside-dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city

Lower concentrations of harmful pollutants were recorded last year, including the tiny particulates that can penetrate deep into the lungs – but roadside- dominant nitrogen dioxide remains a headache for the city, with most figures failing annual air quality targets.

And while ambient concentrations of hazardous ozone fell for the second consecutive year, they are proving stubbornly hard to cut having increased 15 per cent since 1999.

The preliminary air quality data for 2016 was released by the Environmental Protection Department yesterday.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

At roadsides, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10) dropped by 15 per cent, fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) by 12 per cent, and sulphur dioxide
(SO2) by 10 per cent.

Similar drops were recorded at general stations. Fewer hours and days of high health risk air were recorded at both ambient and roadside stations last year.

But although roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a product of fuel combustion – fell by 17 per cent, the average annual concentration of 82 micrograms per cubic metre of air was still more than double the annual air quality objective target of just 40.

All three roadside monitoring stations also fell short of the air quality objectives for acceptable annual NO2 levels last year.

“Roadside NO2 remains a very big challenge as reduction technologies available now are not that sophisticated,” assistant director of air policy Mok Wai-chuen said.

He believed improvements in particulate pollution were a result of policy measures such as an ongoing scheme to phase out old diesel commercial vehicles progressively and new laws requiring ships at berth to switch to low- sulphur fuel.

“This proves our policies to tackle particulate matter have been effective,” he said, adding that other measures such as tightening emission controls are being looked at.

Mok claimed the most severely polluted days were a result of ozone, a regional problem, either from pollution blowing in from the Pearl River Delta or meteorological
conditions such as tropical cyclones.

Ozone is formed through a reaction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air and under sunlight. It is a main component of photochemical smog – which gives a dusk sky a lurid, orange tint – and at elevated levels, can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases.

Asked if the toxic smog plaguing northern China could have drifted south, he said “it could not be ruled out” but “was of low possibility”.

The Clean Air Network’s Loong Tsz-wai said Mok’s meteorological explanations diverted attention from the most pressing issue, which was roadside pollution and the
“uncontrolled growth” of road vehicles.

“Most of our exposure to bad air is at roadside,” he said. “NO2 concentrations may be going down but the effectiveness of exhaust pipe policies could be easily offset over the years if the number of private cars is not curbed.”

Wang Tao, chair professor of atmospheric environment at Polytechnic University, said the increase in regional ozone had indeed slowed since 2013, but not fallen. More control of precursors, such as VOC and NOX, were needed on both sides of the border, he said.

Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/healthenvironment/article/2059691/hong-kong-enjoys-breath-fresh-air-its-not-enough