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Howard Winn/SCMP: Air pollution continues to plague streets of HK; health costs pile up

Howard Winn, in his column for the SCMP, has tirelessly written articles for consecutive weeks to promote awareness over the continued poor state of air quality on the streets of Hong Kong; its slow but deadly and very costly effects on the health of Hong Kong’s citizens, especially children; and the lack of action and evidence of aptitude from the Hong Kong government in dealing with this matter:

How much longer for action on roadside pollution?

The Environmental Protection Department issued a statement yesterday morning pointing out that its air pollution indices at roadside air quality monitoring stations reached a “very high” level. However, turning to the Hedley Environmental Index (HEI), we see that it described air pollution over Hong Kong more graphically as being “very dangerous”.

The HEI is linked to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines which indicate the levels beyond which air pollution begins to affect health.

In Causeway Bay, the hourly concentration of nitrogen dioxide at 5pm was 259ìg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre), compared with the WHO guideline average level for a 24-hour period of 140ìg/m3 – i.e. 85 per cent over the WHO limit. At the roadside in Central, the nitrogen dioxide level was 338ìg/m3. The PM10 respirable particles were 99ìg/m3 and 105ìg/m3 at Causeway Bay and Central respectively, compared with the WHO short-term guide of 50ìg/m3.

Levels of the much more dangerous PM2.5 particles, which can enter the lungs, were also dangerously high at 65ìg/m3 and 61ìg/m3 in Causeway Bay and Central, compared with the WHO guideline of 25ìg/m3. These figures are way above WHO guideline levels.

We are told weather conditions have exacerbated the high levels of pollution. But the street level pollution is produced locally. The absence of strong winds with the canyon effect created by skyscrapers means that the pollution is not being dispersed. This is not a new problem. A year ago we were promised action on this problem by taking old diesel-engined vehicles off the streets. We’re still waiting. Meanwhile, thousands of unnecessary deaths are occurring every year due to our dirty air. Surely this is one area where the government can take resolute action without fearing street protests.

25 Oct 2013

Hong Kong’s roadside pollution is affecting children’s lungs

A new survey shows there is a correlation between lung conditions in children and roadside pollution. The study by Polytechnic University shows that the lungs of children exposed to higher levels of roadside pollution did not function as well as those exposed to lower levels. The survey, which was overseen by Professor Hung Wing-tat and is due to be released next month, also found that the biggest source of the roadside pollution children are exposed to is school buses, followed by private cars. Hung said many of the 20-seater and 40-seater school buses had old diesel engines. The lungs of children travelling by public buses, minibuses and rail were less affected, while the lungs of those who walked to school were least affected. The survey also showed levels of roadside pollution near some schools that were significantly higher than World Health Organisation guidelines. The pollutants include the so-called BTEX volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, which are found in petroleum derivatives – and some of which are carcinogenic. The survey was done on children between 10 and 13 years old in 12 schools in the city, although none were in the most polluted urban areas. Nevertheless, in one class 25 per cent of the children suffered from asthma, and in another 15 per cent had the condition. “These are high levels,” Hung said.

The survey measured lung performance, and the pollution levels in the transport children took to travel to school and on the streets they walked along. The micro environments of their homes and their medical histories were also taken into consideration. Hung said that smoking in the home also had a significant impact on the children’s lung condition. In one class, there was smoking in 60 per cent of pupils’ homes. Admittedly, this a fairly small survey, but its findings should worry the parents of young children. The Hong Kong government has ignored the problem for far too long.

31 Oct 2013

Pollution linked to asthma

For those in the government that remain to be convinced that air pollution is a problem and should be dealt with urgently, the Science Daily reports of research that shows exposure to air pollution is linked to a gene that appears to increase the severity of asthma in children.

The study by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, first appeared in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and is based on a study of 181 children suffering from asthma in California’s Central Valley, otherwise known as the asthma capital of California.

The researchers say the findings have “potential implications for altered birth outcomes associated with polluted air, much the same as those noted for the effects of cigarette smoke”. The lead author, Dr Kari Nadeau, paediatrician at Stanford’s School of Medicine, said: “When it came out that cigarettes can cause molecular changes, it meant the possibility that mothers who smoked could affect the DNA of their children during foetal development. Similarly, these new findings suggest the possibility of an inheritable effect from environmental pollution.”

This effect has been evident in Hong Kong for some time on an anecdotal basis. The incidence of asthma among children has been on the increase and paediatric clinicians have been doing a roaring trade on the back of it.

8 Nov 2013

One Comment

  1. Daniel Barbera says:

    It annoys me to no end how the Hong Kong Observatory uses the phrase, lately on a daily basis, “locally, under the influence of HAZE…” .

    It’s not haze, it’s POLLUTION! It’s been on the front of the South China Morning Post for days, and it’s not just from China, Hong Kong is also to blame!

    I would have thought meteorologist professionals would be able to tell the difference between haze and pollution. You are not fooling any of us.

    All the HKSAR Government agencies are as useless as each other when it comes to acknowledging pollution is present in this city, let alone attempting to fix the issue.

    I have stopped using the HK Government’s observatory website as my source of weather information.

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