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Plan for third runway should include a study of residents’ health impact

South China Morning Post – 24 June 2011

Edwin Lau urges airport officials to ensure that residents’ well-being will not be further damaged

The Airport Authority says that preliminary information about the potential environmental and health impact of its proposal for a third runway at Hong Kong International Airport will be made available when the proposed expansion gets the nod. Only then will a detailed environmental impact assessment on air pollution, noise and marine habitat be conducted.

If the authority were sincere about its green concerns, it would make available immediately the data jointly requested by nine environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth (HK). This would help the community make an unbiased judgment. Without this vital information, the three-month consultation will merely be a public relations exercise.

The authority has conducted preliminary assessments on nine aspects including economic and environmental issues, but two important ones are missing – a health impact assessment and climate change assessment.

A 2005 survey of Tung Chung residents conducted by Friends of the Earth found that 44 per cent of respondents said family members had suffered respiratory illnesses. According to Environmental Protection Department data, Tung Chung’s air quality is one of the worst in Hong Kong.

Yet, more pollution is likely to be generated by the additional air and road traffic resulting from the runway expansion, not forgetting the extra pollution emitted by the thousands of trucks that will be using the bridge to Zhuhai and Macau every day.

By 2020, we estimate that there will be somewhere between  5 million and 7 million vehicle journeys added to Tung Chung in a year. That means there could be up to 20,000 heavy diesel vehicle journeys through north Lantau every day, more than six times the vehicle journeys for the whole of Lantau in 2004.

This could bring even more health risks for people living in Tung Chung and the surrounding area. The Airport Authority should study this and share its findings as soon as possible.

The authority also needs to unveil its proposals to mitigate the additional greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the runway expansion, to act in line with government policies.

With expansion plans on such a grand scale, it is irresponsible for the Airport Authority not to provide the public with a preliminary health impact assessment and proposed mitigation measures to ensure, at the very least, that the health of residents living near the airport will not be further damaged.

Reviewing a project’s environmental impact does not mean stopping any development; we should make sure it will be a genuinely sustainable development project.

Edwin Lau Che-feng is director of Friends of the Earth (HK)

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