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Young And Old Pay High Price For Bad Delta Air

Mary Ann Benitez – Updated on Jun 12, 2008 – SCMP

Children and the elderly in the greater Pearl River Delta are paying a high price for worsening air pollution, researchers warn, following a study that puts the health impact of air pollution at 6.7 billion yuan a year.

Poor air quality is causing 10,000 premature deaths a year, 440,000 hospital bed days and 11 million doctors’ visits in Hong Kong, Macau and the Pearl River Delta, states the study, entitled “A Price Too High”, by Civic Exchange.

A first in terms of pinning down the health cost of bad air in the region, the study was conducted over nine months by leading health, science and public policy experts who analysed ambient air pollution from 2003-2006, before projecting its health impact.

This impact is steep: HK$1.1 billion a year in Hong Kong, HK$18 million in Macau and 1.8 billion yuan a year in the Pearl River Delta, the study says.

“If adjusted for differences in gross domestic product, the health-related monetary costs of air pollution in the PRD amounts to 6.7 billion yuan,” said Anthony Hedley, chair professor of the University of Hong Kong’s department of community medicine, who noted the estimates were “very conservative”.

The costs represent only the economic losses and do not take into account the pain and suffering or put a value on life.

The team said air pollution was hitting children and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of society, particularly hard.

“It will begin to erode progress in life expectancy, but more than that it will make people sick before they die,” Professor Hedley said.

The scientists said businesses were concerned about air pollution because they had difficulty recruiting people from overseas.

“My concern is lung health, growth and development of a child who is growing up in Mong Kok or Causeway Bay,” Professor Hedley said.

He spoke of a cumulative effect on children and adolescents who have been exposed to poor air quality in the past 10-15 years; and the aged, who might require more medical attention than expected.

The team urged the government to adopt an overall total air quality management framework, provide real-time data to the public, act to cut emissions from land and marine transport, adopt a clean-fuel initiative, regularly review policies and standards, and fund research.

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