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Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water

Following is a question by Dr Hon Helena Wong and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (July 6):


The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water released at the end of May this year has pointed out that “what we have seen is a collective failure on the part of all stakeholders to guard against the use of non-compliant solder in the plumbing system … every party transferred the duty of supervision to the other(s), resulting in a classic case of buck-passing. Trust was misplaced and in the end it was the residents who suffered the most”. Subsequently at a press conference, the Secretary for Development, Secretary for Transport and Housing as well as Director of Water Supplies apologised to the affected residents for the incidents of excessive lead content in drinking water (the lead-tainted water incidents), but the Chief Secretary for Administration (CS) did not. CS remarked that “even though the inquiry of the Commission has revealed that there has been inadequate alertness among government departments and a flawed regulatory system, it does not necessarily mean that there is any individual public officer who has not abided by the law or has neglected his or her duties and should thus be held personally responsible”. On the other hand, the aforesaid report recommended that “in order to put the minds of all public rental housing (PRH) residents at ease, the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again using an appropriate sampling protocol that would include the testing of stagnant water as well”. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that when the accountability system for principal officials was launched in 2002, the authorities indicated that “principal officials under the accountability system … will be accountable to the Chief Executive for the success or failure of matters falling within their respective portfolios. They will accept total responsibility and in an extreme case, they may have to step down for serious failures relating to their respective portfolios. These include serious failures in policy outcome and serious mishaps in the implementation of the relevant policies”, if the authorities have assessed whether, in the lead-tainted water incidents, there is any serious failure in policy outcome and any serious mishap in the implementation of the relevant policies on the part of the principal officials concerned, and whether such officials should be held responsible and step down; if the authorities have assessed, of the outcome; if the assessment outcome is in the negative, of the justifications, and whether they have reviewed if the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a “buck-passing system for high ranking officials”;

(2) whether it will request CS to apologise to the public for the lead-tainted water incidents; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(3) whether the authorities will immediately conduct sample tests on the lead content of the “initial draw-off” taken from all PRH estates, and whether they will make public all the data obtained from the water tests and blood tests conducted in relation to the lead-tainted water incidents; if they will not, of the reasons for that?


Acting President,

Following the briefing by myself, relevant Directors of Bureaux and civil service colleagues for the Legislative Council (LegCo) House Committee on September 1 and October 8 last year on the situation of the lead in drinking water incident at public rental housing (PRH) estates, we will attend the special meeting of the House Committee again on July 11 to brief Members on how the Government will follow up on the recommendations of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Report). Also, we have already submitted a detailed information paper and, therefore, I will reply concisely to the question raised by Dr Hon Helena Wong today.

For the three parts of the question, my reply is as follows:

(1) As early as October 16, 2015 at the LegCo motion debate on excess lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I have already taken the initiative to acknowledge that the incident has clearly reflected the inadequacies of the monitoring system of the Housing Department (HD) and the Water Supplies Department (WSD). At the press conference to make public the Report on May 31 this year, we have accepted the criticisms of the Commission of Inquiry into Excess Lead Found in Drinking Water (the Commission), i.e. the checking system of the two departments, for ensuring that the drinking water in PRH estates does not contain excess lead, has failed to function in reality. The Director of Housing and the Director of Water Supplies have already apologised to the public and the affected residents for the systemic failure and imperfect implementation. The policy areas of housing and water supply are under the purview of the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) and the Secretary for Development (SDEV) respectively. As politically appointed principal officials, STH Professor Anthony Cheung and SDEV Paul Chan are responsible for supervising their executive departments to ensure the effective implementation of the policies and the provision of sound service to the public. The two Secretaries of Bureaux did not evade their political responsibility, and apologised for the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates. Under the supervision of the Directors of Bureaux, the two departments have endeavoured to investigate comprehensively the drinking water situation, implement measures for affected residents and follow up on the various recommendations of the Commission. Hence, I do not agree with the suggestion that “the accountability system for principal officials has existed in name only and has been reduced to a buck-passing system for high ranking officials”.

(2) Under the political appointment system, the Chief Secretary for Administration plays an important role in terms of policy coordination. For the lead in drinking water incident at PRH estates, I convened the first high-level inter-departmental meeting in the morning of July 11 last year (i.e. the next day after HD confirmed and made public the first sample with excess lead) to co-ordinate the follow-up actions of relevant bureaux and departments. So far 20 meetings have been held and a number of measures have been taken promptly. Following the release of the Commission’s Report, I will continue to provide steer for the work of relevant bureaux and departments to ensure that the formulation and implementation of policies will be coordinated properly.

(3) As regards the Commission’s recommendation that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again, WSD must first deal with the water sampling protocols. As the experts of the Commission also agreed, there was no universally accepted practice at the moment. The action levels for lead concentration in water tested also vary from place to place. Moreover, water testing is just a means to achieve our objective of ensuring the quality and safety of drinking water. As such, the issue and the follow-up work must be considered in a holistic manner in order to allay public concerns and minimise unnecessary nuisance caused to them.

The Commission also supported our proposal to set up an international expert panel on water safety to provide expert advice to Hong Kong on matters related to water quality standards, regulatory and monitoring regime for water quality, water sampling protocols, etc. The international expert panel as set up by the Development Bureau will convene the first video conferencing meeting today, with a view to putting forward a proposal as soon as possible which is suitable for the actual situation in Hong Kong, and covers the water sampling protocols, appropriate lead content level, and the action levels for lead concentration in water tested. Based on the views of the international expert panel, WSD will follow up as appropriate, including the recommendation of the Commission that the Government should undertake to test the drinking water of all PRH estates again.

As regards making public the results for water tests and blood tests, the Housing Authority (HA) and WSD conducted water sampling tests for all PRH estates concerned between July and November 2015. HA has disseminated to the public the test results for drinking water samples taken from the PRH estates through various channels, including press conferences, press releases and papers issued to LegCo and HA. The Government has also published the overall test results of the blood lead levels of residents in the affected PRH estates as well as the students/staff of the affected schools. The Department of Health and the Hospital Authority have also provided blood test reports and blood lead level data to individuals receiving these tests. As blood lead levels of individuals are personal data, it would not be appropriate to disclose them to the public.

Thank you, Acting President.

Hidden danger: keeping your house clean can harm your kids’ health, Hong Kong study finds

Researchers suggest limiting frequent exposure to chemicals to avoid rhinitis

Blocked noses, headaches, sneezing and other allergic symptoms among children in Hong Kong could be caused by household cleaning products, an alarming news study
has found.

Research by Chinese University of Hong Kong – the first to examine such products’ health effects on children in Asia – found that frequent use of the chemicals at home could increase the risk of children having rhinitis, or inflammation of the lining of the nose, by between 29 and 97 per cent.

The condition affecting up to 50 per cent of local primary school students could impair their quality of life as well as their scholastic performance, the researchers warned.

How living near a landfill can be harmful to health, especially for children ( Dr Xiangqian Lao, an assistant professor at Chinese University’s school of public health and primary care, said the findings suggested it was “necessary to develop healthier cleaning products”.

“Parents are also recommended to prevent triggering rhinitis in children by reducing their exposure to chemical cleaning products at home,” he said.

The three-year study surveyed over 2,299 students from 21 local primary schools on the use of 14 cleaning products at home.

It found the youngsters were most often exposed to kitchencleaning products, followed by floor-cleaning and bathroomcleaning products.

Children with the highest level of exposure to cleaning products – tallying more than 3.2 hours per week – had a 29 per cent higher risk of experiencing occasional rhinitis, a 97 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 67 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

Every additional hour of exposure was associated with a 2.1 per cent higher risk of occasional rhinitis, a 3.6 per cent higher risk of frequent rhinitis, and a 1.2 per cent higher risk of persistent rhinitis.

The results suggested the ensuing health effect could be due to one’s total exposure to an array of cleaning products rather than to just a single type of product.

But no such associations were observed regarding the use of clean water for daily household cleaning.

Hong Kong children wait more than a year for mental health treatment as list increases to 27,000 (The researchers suggested that common household cleaning products contained harmful chemicals, including propylene glycol, ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid or EDTA, and volatile organic compounds.

They said their study was in line with others noting the adverse effect of cleaning products, especially relating to various respiratory health outcomes like infections and

The study was published this month in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

According to the World Health Organisation, allergies affect up to 40 per cent of the world’s population, and the rate is rising, with allergic rhinitis being the most common.

The global air pollution ‘blindspot’ affecting 1 billion people

More than 100 of the world’s poorest and most poorly governed countries have no or limited monitoring of the polluted air their citizens are breathing

More than 1 billion people live in countries that do not monitor the air they breathe, according to data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Guardian analysis has revealed a great air pollution blindspot stretching the length of Africa, across large parts of the former Soviet Union, south-east Asia and the Caribbean. In 92 countries the monitoring equipment and staff needed to measure one of the world’s most deadly pollutants – particulate matter (PM) – are simply not available.

A further 33 countries, including Indonesia, Egypt and Russia monitor just one or two cities.

Outdoor air pollution kills 3.3 million people each year and it is getting worse. Globally, pollution levels have risen by 8% in five years. But there are signs that it can be brought under control. According to the WHO, pollution is falling in many places where monitoring occurs, including a third of cities in low- and middle-income countries.

Setting up stations to record pollution was the first step, said a WHO spokeswoman: “The cities which have invested in the capacity to regularly monitor and report the local air quality measurements have already demonstrated a commitment to starting to address air quality issues and public health.”


In those countries with no checks, citizens’ lungs remain the only place where pollution is recorded. People may be acutely aware of the corrupted air, but without the evidence that global or national standards have been breached, there is little imperative for governments to act.

The WHO data, made public last week, showed air pollution was a hallmark of global inequality. Where it is monitored, denizens of poor cities are almost twice as likely as the rich to be breathing bad air.

Poverty is also a common theme. Of the world’s poorest 50 countries by GDP per capita, 35 are not monitoring air in any of their cities. Because they are predominantly poor- to middle-income, unmonitored countries are very likely to have high air pollution in their cities, meaning the majority of city-dwellers in those places will be be unknowingly exposed to pollution that breaches WHO standards.

The cost of setting up a single monitoring station is currently around $150,000-200,000, according to the UN Environment Programme. This does not include the ongoing staffing and maintenance costs. Although new technology may be significantly cheaper.

In Africa, the world’s poorest continent, just 10 out of 54 countries are doing any monitoring at all. Africa has just 1.3% of the cities where the WHO records air quality, despite having 16% of global population and cities set to set to triple in size in the next 50 years.

But it is not only the poor who lack information – the poorly governed also live in the dark. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) democracy index labels 51 countries as “authoritarian”. Of these, 36 do not monitor their air. Just five non-monitoring countries appear in the democratic top 50.

In post-Soviet states, most of which rank as middle-income countries, barely any investment has been made in keeping tabs on the air. Across the vast expanse of Russia, with its thousand towns and cities, only Moscow records air quality.

Tiny Latvia boasts more monitoring stations than its former imperial master. Only the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – have managed to implement thorough surveillance. Each of these rates above 7 out of 10 on the EIU index – Russia scores 3.31.

Even in countries where democratic freedom is limited, public information about air pollution can force great change. In China, the public outcry that followed the release of air quality data by the US embassy at Beijing’s forced the Communist party to make air a national priority. The consequent control measures, including a mass shutdown of coal power stations and steelworks, has lead to falling pollution in some of the worst-affected Chinese cities.

The pressure has also encouraged more monitoring. In China, 210 cities are now monitored, compared to 111 just two years before. This fits with an improving trend across the world. In 2014, 1,622 cities were monitored. Now it’s 2,974.

With high costs associated with monitoring, it is necessary to target high-risk areas first. One satellite study found that 96% of west Africans live above the WHO guidelines. However satellite observations are notoriously inexact. Professor Randall Martin is head of the Spartan project, which operates a network of on-ground sites at which satellite measurements can be calibrated.

“Satellite remote sensing offers a global observation source to fill that monitoring gap,” he said.

With these improvements, the blindspot is growing smaller. The number of cities monitored in Africa has doubled, with the notable addition of Nigeria. Africa’s most populous country had no cities being recorded in 2014. Now it has 12, with the city of Onitsha named as the worst city in the world for PM10 (particles under 10 but above 2.5 microns in width) pollution.

Similarly, because of an expansion of monitoring in Iran, the city of Zabol has superseded Delhi as the city with the worst fine particle (PM2.5) pollution.

With hundreds, perhaps thousands, more cities (including Lagos, Nigeria’s largest conurbation) waiting for the fog to be lifted on their own air quality, it is unlikely these two will remain at the top for long.

Air pollution levels rising in many of the world’s poorest cities

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO limits. While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted.

According to the latest urban air quality database, 98% of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100 000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. However, in high-income countries, that percentage decreases to 56%.

In the past two years, the database – now covering 3000 cities in 103 countries – has nearly doubled, with more cities measuring air pollution levels and recognizing the associated health impacts.

As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in them.

“Air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. It is good news that more cities are stepping up to monitor air quality, so when they take actions to improve it they have a benchmark,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant-Director General, Family, Women and Children’s Health. “When dirty air blankets our cities the most vulnerable urban populations—the youngest, oldest and poorest—are the most impacted.”

Global urban air pollution trends

WHO was able to compare a total of 795 cities in 67 countries for levels of small and fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) during the five-year period, 2008-2013. PM10 and PM2.5 include pollutants such as sulfate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and into the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health. Data was then analysed to develop regional trends.

Key trends from 2008-2013:

  • Global urban air pollution levels increased by 8%, despite improvements in some regions.
  • In general, urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific Region.
  • The highest urban air pollution levels were experienced in low-and middle-income countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions, with annual mean levels often exceeding 5-10 times WHO limits, followed by low-income cities in the Western Pacific Region.
  • In the Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions and low-income countries in the Western Pacific Region, levels of urban air pollution has increased by more than 5% in more than two-thirds of the cities.
  • In the African Region urban air pollution data remains very sparse, however available data revealed particulate matter (PM) levels above the median. The database now contains PM measurements for more than twice as many cities than previous versions.

Reducing the toll on human health

Ambient air pollution, made of high concentrations of small and fine particulate matter, is the greatest environmental risk to health—causing more than 3 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

“Urban air pollution continues to rise at an alarming rate, wreaking havoc on human health,” says Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “At the same time, awareness is rising and more cities are monitoring their air quality. When air quality improves, global respiratory and cardiovascular-related illnesses decrease.”

Most sources of urban outdoor air pollution are well beyond the control of individuals and demand action by cities, as well as national and international policymakers to promote cleaner transport, more efficient energy production and waste management.

More than half of the monitored cities in high-income countries and more than one-third in low- and middle-income countries reduced their air pollution levels by more than 5% in five years.

Reducing industrial smokestack emissions, increasing use of renewable power sources, like solar and wind, and prioritizing rapid transit, walking and cycling networks in cities are among the suite of available and affordable strategies.

“It is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority,” says WHO’s Dr Carlos Dora. “When air quality improves, health costs from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows. Reducing air pollution also brings an added climate bonus, which can become a part of countries’ commitments to the climate treaty.”

During the World Health Assembly, 23-28 May, Member States will discuss a road map for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of air pollution.

WHO’s Air quality guidelines offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. The Guidelines indicate that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m), air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by roughly 15%.

Notes to editors:

The WHO urban air quality database builds on well-established, public air quality monitoring systems as a source of reliable data in different parts of the world. National efforts to create operational and representative air quality monitoring systems should be strongly encouraged and supported.

The primary source of data include official reporting from countries to WHO, and official national and sub-national reports and web sites containing measurements of PM10 or PM2.5. Measurements reported by the following regional networks were used: the Clean Air Asia for Asia and the European Environment Agency for Europe’s Air Quality e-Reporting database. In the absence of data from the previous sources, data from UN and development agencies, peer-reviewed journal articles and ground measurements compiled in the framework of the Global Burden of Disease project were used.

Annual mean concentrations of particulate matter (PM10 and/or PM2.5) based on daily measurements, or data which could be aggregated into annual means, were included in the database. In the absence of annual means measurements covering a more limited period of the year were exceptionally used.

WHO Ambient Air Quality Guidelines

10 μg/m3 annual mean
25 μg/m3 24-hour mean

20 μg/m3 annual mean
50 μg/m3 24-hour mean

For more information, please contact:

Nada Osseiran
WHO Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health
Telephone: +41 22 791 4475
Mobile: +41 79 445 1624

Kimberly Chriscaden
WHO Department of Communications
Telephone: +41 22 791 2885
Mobile : +41 79 603 1891



2016年5月12日 | 日内瓦 – 全球80%以上生活在监测空气质量的城市的人,呼吸着质量超出世卫组织限值的空气。虽然全世界所有区域都受到影响,但是低收入国家的人口受影响最大。




世卫组织家庭、妇女和儿童卫生事务助理总干事Flavia Bustreo博士说:“空气污染是造成疾病和死亡的一个主要原因。好消息是更多城市正在加紧监测空气质量,这样在采取行动改善空气质量的时候,它们就有了可以参照的标准。当肮脏的空气像毯子一样裹住我们的城市,最弱势的城市人群受影响最大,也就是最年轻、最年老和最贫困的人。”






世卫组织公共卫生、环境和健康问题社会决定因素司司长Maria Neira博士说:“城市空气污染继续以惊人的速度增加,严重破坏人类健康。同时,人们的意识也在提示,更多城市正在监测空气质量。空气质量改善,全球呼吸道和心血管相关疾病就相应减少。”




世卫组织的Carlos Dora博士说:“城市和国家政府使空气质量成为卫生和发展重点至关重要。空气质量改进时,与空气污染有关的疾病导致的卫生费用就会减少,工人的劳动生产率提高,预期寿命延长。减少空气污染还会带来额外的气候红利,这可以是各国对气候条约承诺的一部分。”












Nada Osseiran
电话:+41 22 791 4475
手机:+41 79 445 1624

Kimberly Chriscaden
电话:+41 22 791 2885
手机:+41 79 603 1891

Tougher air pollution targets needed

Revision of EU’s key legal instrument for improving air quality – the NEC directive – is currently the subject of intense negotiations.

Starting in late February, representatives of the EU’s three legislative bodies (the Council, Parliament and Commission) have held a series of trialogue meetings over spring and early summer to negotiate a revised National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) directive with the aim of reaching a final compromise by June 2016.

While the Commission and the Parliament aim for an ambition level that would result in a 52 per cent reduction in premature deaths from air pollution between 2005 and 2030, the Council (i.e. the member states) argues for a significantly less ambitious target of 48 per cent. The latter would in effect result in an additional 16,000 annual premature deaths in 2030, on top of the more than a quarter of a million annual premature deaths that are expected to remain if the Commission’s proposal was to be implemented.

According to the environmental group European Environmental Bureau (EEB), approximately 130,000 EU citizens could die prematurely between 2016 and 2030 if the emission reduction targets for air pollutants are weakened in line with the Council’s position.

The Council’s 48-per-cent target was the outcome of mismanaged negotiations under the Luxembourg Presidency last year, when many member states got away with very unambitious emission reduction commitments (ERC). For example, Denmark, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania got away with weakening their ERCs for all five pollutants, and Italy and the UK managed to lower their national targets for four of the pollutants. (See table in AN 1/16, page 9.)

Now it is up to the Parliament and the Commission, hopefully with support from the Dutch Presidency, to push member states to accept more ambitious ERCs, especially for particulate matter (PM) and ammonia (NH₃) – pollutants that have particularly high adverse effects on human health. Ammonia is also the main culprit for ecosystem damage through eutrophication.

A possible compromise that would achieve a 50 per cent reduction in premature deaths has ben put forward by the Dutch Presidency to the member states. This would among other things simply that big member countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, which are also responsible for large shares of the emissions, would need to accept slightly stricter ERCs, especially for PM and ammonia.

Another issue of debate is that the Parliament is also pushing for binding targets for 2025, compared to the Commission’s proposed indicative targets, while the Council only wants some sort of vague guiding figures for 2025. Having binding intermediary targets would obviously better ensure that countries really are on track to meet their 2030 ERCs.

When the Council agreed its position in December 2015, member states removed the ozone precursor methane completely from the directive. However, both the Commission and the Parliament want to keep it in, although a majority in the Parliament supported exclusion of the main source of methane emissions from agriculture, i.e. from livestock’s enteric fermentation, which in 2005 contributed more than a third of the EU’s total methane emissions. A compromise has been tabled that would reduce the EU’s overall methane ERC from 33 to 20 per cent, which equals the result of excluding enteric methane.

Other issues of contention include among others the five additional flexibilities introduced by the Council in order to make it easier for member states to comply; to what extent emission abatement measures listed in Annex III should be binding or just voluntary; the timing and extent of reporting and review; and public access to information and justice.

A fourth, possibly final, trialogue meeting on the revision of the NEC directive is due in early June.

Christer Ågren

Exposure to Particulate Air Pollutants Associated With Numerous Types of Cancer

Long-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter, a mixture of environmental pollutants, was associated with increased risk of mortality for many types of cancer in an elderly Hong Kong population, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Long-term exposure to particulate matter has been associated with mortality mainly from cardiopulmonary causes and lung cancer, but there have been few studies showing an association with mortality from other cancers,” said the study’s co-lead author, Thuan Quoc Thach, PhD, a scientific officer at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong. “Co-lead author Neil Thomas and I suspected that these particulates could have an equivalent effect on cancers elsewhere in the body.” Thomas, MPhil, PhD, is a reader in epidemiology in the Department of Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Institute of Applied Health of the College of Medical and Dental Sciences at The University of Birmingham.

Particulate matter is the term for particles found in the air, including hydrocarbons and heavy metals produced by transportation and power generation, among other sources, Thach explained. This study focused on ambient fine particulate matter, or matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5).

For this study, Thach, Thomas, and colleagues enrolled 66,280 people who were age 65 or older when initially recruited between 1998 and 2001. The researchers did not have data on whether they had cancer before they were enrolled. Researchers followed the study subjects until 2011, ascertaining causes of death from Hong Kong registrations. Annual concentrations of PM2.5 at their homes were estimated using data from satellite data and fixed-site monitors.

After adjusting for smoking status and excluding deaths that had occurred within three years of the baseline to control for competing diseases, the study showed that for every 10 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m3) of increased exposure to PM2.5, the risk of dying from any cancer rose by 22 percent. Increases of 10 µg/m3 of PM2.5 were associated with a 42 percent increased risk of mortality from cancer in the upper digestive tract and a 35 percent increased risk of mortality from accessory digestive organs, which include the liver, bile ducts, gall bladder, and pancreas.

For women, every 10 µg/m3 increase in exposure to PM2.5 was associated with an 80 percent increased risk of mortality from breast cancer, and men experienced a 36 percent increased risk of dying of lung cancer for every 10 µg/m3 increased exposure to PM2.5.

Thach and Thomas indicated possible explanations for the association between PM2.5 and cancer could include defects in DNA repair function, alterations in the body’s immune response, or inflammation that triggers angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels that allows tumors to spread. In the case of the digestive organs, heavy metal pollution could affect gut microbiota and influence the development of cancer, the authors added.

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a series of monographs on the evaluation of various carcinogenic risks. In a monograph on air pollution, the organization pointed out the difficulty of assessing the effects of pollution on multiple types of cancers, given their different etiologies, risk factors, and variability in the composition of air pollutants in space and time. The IARC also identified certain key components of air pollution, including particulates. The large scale of Thach and Thomas’s study, as well as its documentation of cancer-specific mortality, enables the detailed investigation of the contribution of particulate matter to these cancers, the authors said.

Thomas added that further research would be required to determine whether other countries experience similar associations between PM2.5 and cancer deaths, but this study combined with existing research suggests that other urban populations may carry the same risks.

“The implications for other similar cities around the world are that PM2.5 must be reduced as much and as fast as possible,” he said. “Air pollution remains a clear, modifiable public health concern.”

Thach said a limitation of the study is that it focused solely on PM2.5. He said emerging research is beginning to study the effects of exposure to multiple pollutants on human health. He also cautioned that pollution is just one risk factor for cancer, and others, such as diet and exercise, may be more significant and more modifiable risk factors.

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust. Thach and Thomas declare no conflicts of interest.

Parents unconvinced as Chinese authorities pledge investigations into soil blamed for students’ health problems, including cancer

Parents of students suffering health problems blamed on polluted soil near a school in Jiangsu are sceptical of investigations by state environmental and education authorities.

Some do not even trust local hospitals to carry out health checks on their children, suspecting they may have been pressured by the city authorities.

Many are questioning whether to continue sending their children to the school, which charges 8,500 yuan (HK$10,170) per ¬semester and is among the best in Changzhou.

The ministries of environmental protection and education ordered investigations into the problems at Changzhou Foreign Language School, prompted by an expose by state broadcaster CCTV.

The broadcaster said 493 pupils had developed health problems, including bronchitis, blood and thyroid abnormalities, and even lymphoma and leukaemia, after the school moved last September to a new campus adjacent to a site that had been contaminated by three chemical plants.

The plants left in 2010 and when the school moved to the campus, a project to remedy the polluted soil was launched. However, the project was thought to have released some of the site’s toxins into the atmosphere.

The city’s environmental authorities say the air and soil are now safe, after the project was suspended and the site covered with a layer of clay in February.

But CCTV said the soil and groundwater still contained toxic compounds. It said the level of cancer-causing chlorobenzene in the groundwater was nearly 100,000 times the safety limit.

“We are very scared and don’t know which side we should believe,” the mother of a 14-year-old boy said.“It’s horrific… the chemical pollution poses long-term [health] risks.”

She took her son to a hospital in nearby Wuxi for a checkup, as parents suspect hospitals in Changzhou have been told by the government to give “special treatment” to pupils from the school.

“I was told that all students from the school received the same result: that there is no problem with their health,” she said.

The doctor in Wuxi found the boy to have a slight thyroid problem, but did not directly link the illness to the environment.

A father surnamed Kang whose daughter is in grade eight hoped the school would relocate.

“My daughter took a week off at the start of this semester [over pollution concerns]. But she wanted to go back to school so dearly. Every day I am in a dilemma over whether I should let her go to this school or not,” he said.

He told his daughter not to drink the water at the school, and hired a maid to prepare and deliver lunch to her every day.

On January 15, nearly 1,000 parents joined an overnight protest demanding the school relocate. Hundreds of police were deployed to scatter the crowds. They later visited protesters’ homes and said those who worked at government agencies or state-owned companies were risking their jobs.

The mother said some students were reluctant to leave the school as they had grown emotionally attached to teachers and schoolmates.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the scandal revealed “loopholes in almost every link of environmental supervision”. “The fact the [plants] were able to pump so many pollutants underground reflects a chronic lack of supervision,” he said.

The soil remedy project had obviously failed to identify potential health concerns – and China still did not have a law to regulate such practices, Ma said.

A lack of transparency over soil pollution and chemical pollutants in general made public supervision near impossible, he added.

Simply covering the soil with a layer of clay would not solve the problem, as the health implications of polluted soil and groundwater could take decades to emerge, Ma said.
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Finland: 1,600 early deaths every year due to air pollution

Air pollution is estimated to cause some 1,600 premature deaths in Finland every year, says a new report from the Environment Ministry. Deaths caused by air pollution shorten the lifetime of the individuals by an average of 16 years.

Taken across the entire population, this means that the life expectancy of Finns is shortened by an average of over five months due to air pollution.

Most of the health damage is caused by tiny particles (PM) or by nitrogen oxides.

About half of the PM concentrations in Finland emanates from emissions from outside the country, while the other half comes from domestic emission sources, primarily from small-scale wood burning (46%), other energy production (16%), traffic exhaust gases (12%), street dust (10%), peat production (9%), and industry (7%).

Source: Environment ministry press release, 13 April 2016

Hong Kong indoor air pollution so bad it could be making you chronically ill, tests show

Pollutant levels up to 1,250 per cent higher indoors than outdoors, and PM2.5 fine-particle pollution worse than beside some of the city’s busiest roads, shock research by Baptist University finds

The air pollution inside some Hong Kong homes is worse than beside some of the city’s busiest roads, tests show. And it could be making the homes’ occupants chronically ill, worried scientists say.

Levels of small-particle pollution, known as PM2.5, that can lodge deep in people’s lungs were on average nearly 10 per cent higher indoors than the highest level found outdoors.

Levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature – were, on average, over 1,250 per cent higher in kitchens than outdoors. And the median level of VOCs in 27 of 32 homes tested exceeded the recommended maximum level for Hong Kong offices.

One of the researchers said indoor air pollution – from perfumes, cleaning products and cooking fumes – turned the average Hong Kong home into a “mini chemical warehouse”.

Studies in other countries have also found indoor air pollution is higher than that outdoors. The situation in Hong Kong could be aggravated by factors such as high-rise living, subdivided flats, a lack of windows and ventilation in some rooms, and restaurants occupying ground-floor premises in residential buildings, one of the researchers said.

The research was conducted by Baptist University’s biology department and household appliances manufacturer Dyson. Air quality was tested in 32 homes, with samples taken in their living rooms and kitchens, and directly outside these rooms.

The tests showed the median level of indoor VOCs in most of the homes tested was 345 parts per billion (ppb) compared with 95.5ppb outside the flats. Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department says VOCs should not exceed 200ppb in offices. Kitchen VOC levels were far higher.

“VOCs are consistently higher indoors than outdoors. Even so, the research found that the kitchen VOCs are on average 1,258 per cent higher than outdoors,” said Baptist University’s Dr Lai Ka-man, who led the research in March.

The researchers’ report, citing the US US Environmental Protection Agency, says: “Toxic fumes released from cleaning solvents, deodorants and scented candles are some of the most common indoor air pollutants. Other major indoor air pollutants include gases from cooking, mould, pet hair, pollen and allergens.”

The scientists tested for two classes of particulate matter (PM), fine particles resulting from combustion such as that by vehicle engines and power stations. In the home, particulate matter can be produced by cooking and by smoking tobacco. Exposure to excessive levels can lead to allergic reactions of the lower respiratory tract, such as asthma, and to strokes and heart attacks, according to health professionals.

Readings were also taken at seven outdoor locations around the city.

The tests found micro-particle pollution, or PM0.1, was on average 68.5 per cent higher inside homes than outside. (PM0.1 is one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair, and can penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream.)

“The highest outdoor PM0.1 was 94 million particles per litre (ppl), recorded at the junction near the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay. The highest indoor sample was a worrying 46.8 per cent higher, at 138 million ppl [recorded in a Tai Wo flat in the New Territories]”, Lai said.

Hong Kong has no guidelines on recommended levels of indoor particulate matter, but it is indicative that outdoor readings in busy roadside areas often reach dangerous levels on the air pollution index – levels that, ironically, trigger warnings to residents with respiratory problems to stay in their homes.

Surprisingly, Lai said, indoor levels of PM2.5 were higher than outdoors. Indoor readings were on average 9 per cent higher than the highest reading recorded outdoors, of 369 ppl, outside Sogo in Causeway Bay; the PM2.5 reading in Nathan Road, Mong Kok, one of the city’s busiest urban roads, was 363ppl.

Six million Americans have lead-tainted water in homes, schools: report

Some six million Americans have drinking water tainted with higher levels of lead than allowed by US federal guidelines, the USA Today reported on Thursday.

With the nation focused on a major crisis in Flint, Michigan, where lead from aging pipes leeched into the municipal water supply, the newspaper launched an investigation which found higher than acceptable lead levels in about 2,000 water systems across the United States.

Tainted water was supplied to hundreds of daycare centers and schools, the report said.

Children are the population most vulnerable to the pernicious effects of lead, a toxin which affects the neurological system and can lead to permanent learning delays and behavioral problems.

Higher than allowed lead levels were found in all 50 US states, USA Today reported.

A sample of water drawn from one elementary school in Maine found lead levels some 42 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency limit of 15 parts per billion, while a preschool in Pennsylvania recorded lead levels 14 times higher than allowed.

An elementary school in Ithaca, New York tested earlier this year showed 5,000 parts per billion of lead — a level so high it met the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s designation for “hazardous waste.”

More than 8,000 children in Flint, economically devastated by shutdowns and layoffs in the car industry, were exposed to lead for more than a year before the tap water contamination was uncovered by citizen activists.

The news report was published as Michigan Governor Rick Snyder prepared to appear Thursday before a congressional oversight committee probing the Flint crisis.

Critics are calling for the resignation of Snyder, who ordered water from the Flint River to be diverted to supply water to the city, in a cost-cutting measure.

Experts believe that the chemical-laced Flint River water corroded lead-bearing pipes, allowing large amounts of the chemical element to leech into the city’s water.