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Emergency measures are needed

South China Morning Post

31 Jan 2012

I refer to Guy Shirra’s letter (“Treat bad air problems as a crisis”, January 25).

Last year in a letter to these columns, I said Hong Kong does not have an air pollution problem, it has an air pollution emergency. Thus, the government’s crisis managers should be treating the situation as an emergency.

In Lai See (“Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index is shamefully misleading”, January 27), Howard Winn quotes Professor Anthony Hedley as writing: “Hong Kong’s pollution is a significant cause of premature death from cardiopulmonary disorders.

“Present levels of pollution cause injury to the immature developing lungs of children and adolescents. This damage will lead to lifelong health problems in many and a reduction in life expectancy.”

Lai See also mentions that around 3,200 deaths a year in Hong Kong can be directly attributed to the air quality emergency whilst World Health Organisation figures for bird flu are 341 deaths worldwide since 2003 and a worldwide total of 913 deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome.

We have a typhoon warning system that is presumably based on some form of risk management principles. The conclusion of this process seems to be that when the typhoon signal No 3 is hoisted, the weather has become sufficiently dangerous for workers to prepare to return home.When the No 8 signal goes up, workers remain at home.

Given that very few people are killed or injured by typhoons in comparison to the numbers killed and injured by our poisonous air, the Air Pollution Index must follow a similar warning system to that used for typhoons. Workers should remain at home when roadside air pollution is deemed to be unsafe.

Perhaps days and days of empty offices and lost production might ram home the point that there is an emergency and emergency measures are needed to deal with it.

Mark Ranson, Sai Kung

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