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Experts reveal bigger pollution problem

HK Standard

Kenneth Foo

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coarse particulate pollutants, such as road dust and sea salt, send nearly 900 sufferers a year to emergency rooms.

That’s the claim of Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers who are calling for the particulates to be included in the latest reviews of air quality objectives.

In the largest single-city study of its kind, researchers examined a Hospital Authority database of more than 500,000 daily emergency hospital admissions from 1999 to 2005 and corresponding records of air pollution data.

Results showed that a slight increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter in coarse particles will more than likely result in an additional 830 emergency admissions to hospitals due to lung problems annually.

Of these, 482 are likely to be due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a common lung ailment during which air passages are narrowed and asthma exacerbated.

According to the head of the university’s Occupational and Environmental Health Division, Ignatius Yu Tak-sun, many scientific studies have linked particulate air pollution to emergency admission rates but most have focused on fine particles.

“Our findings show that the health effects of these medium-sized particles are significant and can no longer be ignored,” Yu said yesterday.

He added that the government needs to start official monitoring of coarse particulate levels as current methods are still rudimentary and highly likely to be inaccurate.

Assistant professor Tian Linwei said it will be difficult to regulate natural sources of coarse particulates, such as dust and sea salt, but urged authorities to take the matter seriously by enacting new guidelines in a review of air quality objectives.

The results of the study have been published in a top international journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

Clean Air Network campaign manager Erica Chan Fong-ying welcomed the findings but added: “Looking at the years the government took to set new standards and its unwillingness to set tougher ones, I don’t think we will see a guideline for a new pollutant any time soon.”

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