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A poor disconnect on air quality

South China Morning Post

Edward Yau Tang-wah, our secretary for environment, is fond of saying when discussing air quality objectives that it’s useful to have them as a standard but you must also have effective means for achieving them. You never feel that he really gets it. The thinking behind air quality objectives is that if they are exceeded, public health is damaged. Hong Kong’s objectives are way below World Health Organisation guidelines so the danger to public health from roadside pollution is much greater than indicated by the Environmental Protection Department’s index. But Yau’s approach is to say that we should match the objectives to the measures we are prepared to take to improve the air. His actions indicate he thinks it’s okay to keep the threat to public health at the current dangerously high levels because he and the government are not prepared to take radical measures to quickly improve air quality.

As everyone knows, the dirty engines in buses and trucks cause 80 to 90 per cent of roadside pollution. These old engines need to be taken off the streets – it’s not difficult to achieve. As Civic Exchange pointed out in its report last week, one of the governmental problems is that many years ago the Secretary for Health had oversight over the Air Pollution Control Ordinance and air quality objectives, and could speak with a much stronger voice to the Legislative Council on the dangers to public health of bad air. This disconnect is poor government.

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