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Updated air quality guide would show threat to health from larger Chek Lap Kok

South China Morning Post – 16 Jan 2012

Air quality is a non-negotiable right and, with public health, a matter of urgency, which should always be protected and guaranteed.

Nevertheless, in Hong Kong it falls behind economic concerns and everyone must fend for themselves with masks. Only those who are better off can escape the polluted roadside air in their private cars, instead of waiting for buses.

Supporters of the airport expansion say green groups object to all kinds of infrastructure projects when it comes to the environment and are irrational. However, based on public surveys, people put a lot of trust in green groups. Perhaps this is because of our persistence to work for a single interest: a sustainable (in other words, healthy) environment for all. This stubbornness has resulted in us calling for a simple air quality objective guide upgrade since 1987.

Renewal of the guide would affect the airport expansion plan. The government’s current health standards are described by Professor Anthony Hedley, of the University of Hong Kong, as lax and dangerous. But based on those standards officials would argue that the airport expansion would have insignificant consequences. What if you tighten this standard, which has been delayed for the past 25 years for places like Tung Chung Citygate, the airport itself or other locations? This would actually show that an expanded Chek Lap Kok would cause invisible health hazards like PM2.5 (fine particle concentrations) to get into our lungs.

I doubt if the air quality objective guide will be updated before Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen departs. The third runway is an example of the inconsistency between his rhetoric and his actions. When his first term started seven years ago he said he would not tolerate our first-class city’s poor air.

But what can we expect from chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen? During his term as chief secretary he was tasked with updating the air quality objective guide by the end of 2011, but nothing happened. I don’t want to prejudge. I hope whoever is elected will promptly act in the interest of our health.

First, he must immediately upgrade the guide and set a timetable for its compliance within four years. Second, within this four-year time frame, the new guide should be applied to pending environmental impact assessments, whether it is the airport or other infrastructure projects.

Chu Hon-keung, senior environmental affairs manager, Friends of the Earth (HK)

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