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Will ‘measurement’ of pollutants in HK take extraterritorial sources into consideration?

Cheung Chi-fai of the SCMP reports that Hong Kong will be linking up with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to ‘develop a mechanism to measure changes in air quality and public health’ to help the city improve its environment. The plan, if it could be called one at all at this time, is extremely vague, but even if it becomes the best-laid of plans, it would run into a fundamental problem: the basis of the study is an investigation about the city’s clean air policies, but some of the worst air pollutants come from outside the city’s jurisdiction. For example, ocean-going vessels passing through Hong Kong’s nearby shipping channels use bunker fuels with 2.75 to 4% sulphur content, significantly higher than the 0.005ppm(0.0000005%) of Euro5 diesel fuel; prevailing easterly winds blows sulphur compounds and respirable suspended particles (RSP) into Hong Kong, a situation worsened by the density of urban structures that helps to trap air particles within its confines. The many incinerators on the Shenzhen side of the border also figures to be a major factor in Hong Kong’s air quality.

This ‘plan’ would need more serious thinking if it intends to be anywhere near producing true analysis of Hong Kong’s air quality.

Hong Kong to collaborate with WHO to measure success in pollution fight

City’s new ‘globally important’ partnership with WHO to measure success in pollution fight and improvements in public health hailed by official

Cheung Chi-fai

Hong Kong is to be the focus of a “globally important” link-up with the World Health Organisation to monitor the success of clean air policies in the city.

The aim is to develop a mechanism to measure changes in air quality and the public’s health.

The idea comes as the city plans to introduce what could be the world’s biggest diesel vehicle replacement scheme to improve roadside pollution at a cost of nearly HK$12 billion. It is one of a series of measures included in a comprehensive seven-year blueprint to tackle Hong Kong’s environmental problems that was launched in March.

Dr Carlos Dora, a co-ordinator at the WHO’s Department of Public Health and Environment, said: “We are interested in documenting what policy measures are introduced and what follows in terms of changes in air quality.

“It is about connecting different data sources over time and creating a system to track changes in policy and improvements in the quality of the air and people’s health.”

Dora, who met Hong Kong officials during a visit last week, added: “The WHO believes it is important globally and we see Hong Kong has a reason and the means to do that.”

Dora said the clean air plan rolled out by the government was a “very good” one as it clearly identified problems.

He also suggested that the wider benefits of some clean air policies be taken into account in evaluating new policies.

The benefits could include reductions in noise pollution and traffic injuries and an increase in people’s physical activity.

Dora also dismissed worries that the pending introduction of a new health-based air pollution alert system could hamper the city’s competitiveness by revealing how frequently it suffered from poor air quality.

The city’s Air Quality Objectives were updated this summer to tighten air quality standards first agreed in 1987 and will become effective next year.

WHO targets, which were updated in 2005, are included in the new objectives, most significantly those measuring and reporting the type and concentration of pollutants.

Dora said the mainland had demonstrated it was not afraid of releasing its fine particle pollution data, and such disclosure showed a commitment to accountability and improvement.

“To be clear, ‘transparent’ and ‘accountable’ in my dictionary is good,” he said.

Estimates by the Environmental Protection Department show the number of days when a very high pollution level is indicated will increase several times under the new system.

14 Oct 2013

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