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November, 2007:

Mr. Know-It-All: Breathing in China

WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.12 published on the 27th of November 2007:

I’m about to travel to Shenzhen on business, and I’m concerned about the city’s atrocious pollution. Will I offend my Chinese hosts if I wear a dust mask?

Not at all, since many natives have adopted this practice, too — though it’s generally more popular among bicyclists than pedestrians. Sure, a few folks might think you have some horrendous disease and thus refuse to sit next to you on the bus. But most Shenzhen residents will realize that you’re only trying to protect your health. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking a skimpy mask of the sort favored by many Chinese urbanites will do much good. “Cheap surgical masks give a false sense of security,” says Christian Masset, chair of the antipollution organization Clear the Air Hong Kong, who contends that those filters catch few harmful particles. He recommends a higher-quality mask; many travelers opt for ones with replaceable charcoal filters. A little bulky and unsightly perhaps, but your lungs will thank you.

World must fix climate within 10 years: UN

Unless the international community agrees to cut carbon emissions by half over the next generation, climate change is likely to cause large-scale human and economic setbacks and irreversible ecological catastrophes, a United Nations report says on Tuesday.

The UN Human Development Report issues one of the strongest warnings yet of the lasting impact of climate change on living standards and a strong call for urgent collective action.

“We could be on the verge of seeing human development reverse for the first time in 30 years,” Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, told reporters.

The report, to be presented in Brasilia on Tuesday, sets targets and a road map to reduce carbon emissions before a UN climate summit next month in Bali, Indonesia.

Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere help trap heat and lead to global warming.

“The message for Bali is the world cannot afford to wait, it has less than a decade to change course,” said Mr Watkins, a senior research fellow at Britain’s Oxford University.

Dangerous climate change will be unavoidable if in the next 15 years emissions follow the same trend as the past 15 years, the report says.

To avoid catastrophic impact, the rise in global temperature must be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). But carbon emissions from cars, power plants and deforestation in Brazil, Indonesia and elsewhere, are twice the level needed to meet that target, the UN authors say.

Climate change threatens to condemn millions of people to poverty, the UNDP says. Climate disasters between 2000 and 2004 affected 262 million people, 98 per cent of them in the developing world. The poor are often forced to sell productive assets or save on food, health, and education, creating “life-long cycles of disadvantage.”

A temperature rise of between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (3 and 4 degrees Celsius) would displace 340 million people through flooding, droughts would diminish farm output, and retreating glaciers would cut off drinking water from as many as 1.8 billion people, the report says.

In Kenya, children 5 or younger are 50 per cent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought year, affecting their life-long health and productivity.

Countries have the technical ability and financial resources but lack the political will to act, the report says. It singles out the United States and Australia as the only major western economies not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement signed by 172 countries to reduce emissions. It expires in 2012.

Ethiopia emits 0.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita, compared to 20 tonnes in Canada. US per capita emissions are over 15 times those of India’s.

The world needs to spend 1.6 per cent of global economic output annually through 2030 to stabilise the carbon stock and meet the 3.6-degree Fahrenheit temperature target. Rich countries, the biggest carbon emitters, should lead the way and cut emissions at least 30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Developing nations should cut emissions 20 per cent by 2050, the UNDP says.

“When people in an American city turn on their air-conditioning or people in Europe drive their cars, their actions have consequences … linking them to rural communities in Bangladesh, farmers in Ethiopia and slum dwellers in Haiti,” the report says.

The UNDP recommends a series of measures including improved energy efficiency for appliances and cars, taxes or caps on emissions, and the ability to trade allowances to emit more. It said an experimental technology to store carbon emissions underground was promising for the coal industry, and suggested technology transfer to coal-dependent developing countries like China.

An international fund should invest between US$25 billion and US$50 billion (HK$195-390 billion) annually in low-carbon energy in developing countries.

Asked whether the report was alarmist, Mr Watkins said it was based on science and evidence: “I defy anybody to speak to the victims of droughts and floods, like we did, and challenge our conclusions on the long-term impact of climate disasters.”

China’s Air Quality and the Olympics

Mara Hvistendahl – November 26, 2007 12:44 PM – Worldchanging

As an amateur runner in Shanghai’s half-marathon on Sunday, I wasn’t overly concerned with my time. But what was I doing to my lungs?

There’s reason to worry: In August, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge warned that endurance events at next summer’s Beijing Olympics might have to be postponed because of air pollution. And in October, a United Nations Environment Program report cast more doubt on the prospects for cleaning up the city in time for the Games. In some cases, the report found, Beijing pollution levels are more than three times the safe limits set by the World Health Organization.

In 2000, Beijing launched its ambitious Olympic bid, promising to go green in exchange for the right to host the Games. That same year, I spent my mornings as a foreign student jogging along a Beijing canal — and passed most of the summer with a chest cold. I often wondered whether the pollution canceled out the health benefits of a run.

If I had looked into it at the time, I would have learned that it did, and then some. Competing in endurance sports in polluted cities is, most experts agree, a bad idea. The short-term health effects are well-documented. Here’s Germany’s Der Spiegel, from a good article on pollution in Beijing:

Endurance athletes spend hours performing at peak levels in the open air, inhaling up to 150 liters of air a minute — more than 10 times as much as a sedentary office worker. Ozone and fine dust can cause inflammation that requires treatment with asthma and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Exposure to pollution during exercise may also cause long-term health damage, heightening, for example, the risk of heart attack.

In 2001, after I left Beijing, the city won the Olympic bid, and embarked on a pollution control program. Over the next five years, the UNEP report found, levels of major pollutants like sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide dropped. The report was positive about other efforts to green the Olympics in areas such as waste management, green space, and clean transport. But it singled out air pollution as an ongoing problem, pointing out that in 2006 pollutant levels started to increase again. And pollution from neighboring cities and provinces is still a big problem, according to findings published earlier this year in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

Shanghai is only around two-thirds as polluted as Beijing. But to put that into perspective, Shanghainese go to Hong Kong to enjoy clean air — and Hong Kong air contains around 30 percent more particulates than air in Los Angeles, America’s most polluted city. At the Hong Kong marathon last February, one man died and 20 people were hospitalized. The event was held when the air pollution index was at 150 — a number the city classifies as a “very high” level, at which healthy, sedentary people are warned to take care when breathing the air. In Shanghai, the average API hovers in the “severe” 200s.

For Sunday’s race, the weather in Shanghai was, thankfully, clear (although blue skies aren’t an indication that air in China is safe to breathe). But because of the route organizers chose, the race was more unbearable than it needed to be. We wound through industrial areas and alongside highways thick with mid-morning traffic. For a quarter mile, I trailed a slow-moving bus, breathing in exhaust as workers watched from the windows (check out a similar scene here). Runners of the full marathon had it even worse – for the final 13 miles, they snaked back and forth through dirty Minhang district.

China routinely closes major roads and restricts traffics during international conferences and visits by foreign dignitaries. For the marathon, organizers took over a major stadium, hired fleets of buses to transport runners’ possessions to the finish line, and mobilized 26 miles’ worth of elderly neighborhood committee members, who performed choreographed routines in matching sweatsuits on the sidelines. Central Shanghai also encompasses the new-build, relatively clean island of Pudong, where many runners train. So it’s unclear why Shanghai officials would sign off on such a route. It’s possible they don’t know what they’re doing. But more likely — and more alarmingly — they know and don’t care.

This sort of planning is earning Chinese marathons a bad reputation. After last year’s Shanghai race, one runner posted on an athletes’ bulletin board: “There were vehicles running in the opposite direction, and since all the intersections were closed for the runners, the vehicles piled up on the opposite side of the road, emitting exhaust, making you feel like running in the middle of a downtown congestion…. After all being said and done, I won’t run Shanghai again due to the pollution.”

This year’s race went off with few major incidents. I finished in 1:53. But I worry about the long-term effects of running distance events in China. My bus encounter certainly diminished the fun of the race. It is this impression that China most needs to change — to show that it genuinely cares about athletes’ health, not just about keeping its Olympic bid.

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Clear The Air 10th Anniversary Party

The charity volunteer organization, Clear the Air, now boosting a membership of 500, drew a large turn out for the occasion, including new members and representatives of other environmental organizations, such as Clean Air Action Group, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green-Sense and the Environment Protection Department.

The purpose of the gathering went beyond the anniversary celebration;  it was also an opportunity to present the evolution of the group from its inception until the present,  and define directions for the years ahead.  In addition, the aim was to attract new people who would be interested in getting involved in committees that require more hands, such as communication, campaigning, energy, town-planning and diesel engines.

Mr Tony Lee of the EPD presented the consultation paper on the proposal to ban idling engines and asked for support to have this bill passed.

Ms Catherine Touzard talked about her book, “Going Green in Hong Kong,” a comprehensive guide to everyday life and how we can all actively participate in affecting the environment.

The Lucky Draw was a stunning light-weight, foldable, urban bicycle that was graciously sponsored by GUM Ltd and happily won by Cathy Carroll.

The Chair, Christian Masset, in a short talk, highlighted the evolution of the group, the constant need to tackle pollution at the source while promoting renewable energies and emission-less vehicles.

In regard to the latter, a short video was shown on the air car, a zero-emission vehicle designed by MDI and soon to be produced in India.

Diesel Air Pollution Linked To Heart Attack And Stroke

Diesel Air Pollution Linked To Heart Attack And Stroke In Healthy Men

UK and Swedish researchers found that diesel fumes from road vehicles increased blood clots and platelets in healthy volunteers. These are symptoms closely linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

The researchers reported the results of a small study to a meeting of the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2007 held in Orlando, Florida, earlier this week.

Previous observational and epidemiological studies have also shown a close link between exposure to traffic pollution and heart attack, said study lead author Dr Andrew Lucking, who is a cardiology fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, UK.

“This study shows that when a person is exposed to relatively high levels of diesel exhaust for a short time, the blood is more likely to clot. This could lead to a blocked vessel resulting in heart attack or stroke,” said Lucking.

Lucking and colleague carried out a double blind, randomized cross-over study on 20 healthy male participatns aged from 21 to 44. Using a specially designed exposure chamber, the men were separately exposed to filtered air (this was the control) and then to 300 mg per cubic metre (mcg/m3) of diesel exhaust fumes, which is roughly the concentration you breathe in while standing by a busy street.

The researchers measured clot formation, blood coagulation, platelet activity and markers of inflammation by attaching each participant to a perfusion chamber and allowing a small amount of blood to pass through it. This was done 2 hours after exposure and then again 6 hours after exposure.

Clot formation was assessed by passing the blood through a special shear chamber that simulates the types of pressure the blood would be under in blood vessels. The researchers tested the blood at high shear and low shear.

Platelet activation was assessed by measuring the number of platelets associated with white blood cells. When platelets are activated they stick to white blood cells like neutrophils and monocytes and form clumps, thereby playing a key role in the formation of blood clots.

The results showed that:

  • Breathing diesel fumes increased clot formation in the low shear chamber by 24.2 per cent compared to breathing filtered air.
  • In the high shear chamber the increase in clot formation from diesel fumes was 19.1 per cent.
  • These effects were observed at both 2 and 6 hours after exposure to diesel fumes.
  • Breathing diesel fumes increased platelet-neutrophil aggregates from 6.5 to 9.2 per cent 2 hours after exposure.
  • It also increased platelet-monocyte aggregates from 21 per cent to 25 per cent 2 hours after exposure.
  • But at 6 hours after exposure the platelet activation increases due to diesel fumes were not statistically significant.

Lucking said: “High levels of traffic pollution are known to increase the risk of heart attack in the immediate hours or days after exposure.”

He said this study showed a “potential mechanism that could link exposure to traffic-derived air pollution with acute heart attack.”

Although these results apply to diesel engine fumes, it’s not clear whether gasoline powered engines would have the same effect, said the researchers. Diesel fumes contain a much higher concentration of very fine particles, they said.

Diesel engines are on the rise because they offer superior fuel economy, but, as Lucking explained:

While diesel engines burn more efficiently, they also put more fine particulate matter into the air.

The researchers said while exercise was good for people with cardiovascular disease, they would not recommend they exercise near traffic congestion.

The UK and Swedish team will be working together on the next step, which is to test the effectiveness of the particle traps fitted to diesel engines to reduce exhaust particles.

“Exposure to air pollution clearly is detrimental and we must look at ways to reduce pollution in the environment,” said Lucking.

An earlier study published in the 13th September issue of the NEJM , also by UK and Swedish researchers, showed that men with coronary heart disease who inhaled diesel fumes experienced a three fold increase in stress on the heart.

Click here for the American Heart Association.

Click here for our report of the September NEJM article on the effect of diesel fumes on men with coronary heart disease.

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Source: Medical News Today

Hong Kong Should Take Lead Against Global Warming

Greenpeace Survey reveals business demand for Government leadership against global warming

“A Greenpeace survey indicates that almost all local and overseas chambers of commerce interviewed agree that the HKSAR Administration should take the lead against global warming. The photo (not available) shows Wolfgang Ehmann, Executive Director of German Industry and Commerce Hong Kong and Vice Chairwoman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Eva Iding joining Greenpeace’s survey release.”

Hong Kong SAR, China — A Greenpeace survey indicates concern from both local and overseas chambers of commerce that natural disasters triggered by global warming would be detrimental to investment in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. Almost all respondents agree that the SAR Administration should take the lead against global warming. Greenpeace urges the SAR Administration for greenhouse gas emissions targets as well as a comprehensive strategy to tackle the warming crisis.

Thirteen local and overseas chambers of commerce answered a Greenpeace questionnaire in October, including the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the Singapore Chamber of Commerce (Hong Kong), the Swedish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, on business sector’s view towards global warming. All respondents, representing over 9,000 enterprises in Hong Kong, agree that businesses in Hong Kong should concern the crisis as climate change impacts (e.g. extreme weathers, sea level rise) may threaten business operation and production facilities in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta.

12 respondents said government leadership is crucial in resolving the warming problem. 6 out of all said the government is not doing sufficient in combating climate change. Most believe the SAR Administration should assess the economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change to Hong Kong and establish thorough policy and targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Most chambers of commerce gave positive response to taking actions against climate change. 10 of them said the Hong Kong business sector should be responsible for helping to alleviate the problem by promoting environmentally-friendly products, improving energy efficiency and educating customers through awareness campaign. A number of them indicated educational programs were held to equip members with relevant knowledge of the issue.

“The survey reveals concerns of the business sector to the warming crisis and agrees that the SAR Administration should lead the battle”, said Frances Yeung, Greenpeace Climate and Energy Campaigner. “Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive, should never pursue an ‘ostrich’ policy but to lead Hong Kong to fight global warming.”

Wolfgang Ehmann, Executive Director of German Industry and Commerce Hong Kong, said the Hong Kong government must legislate in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and voluntary measures alone were not sufficient enough.

Vice Chairwoman of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce Eva Iding echoed that government leadership was necessary in fighting climate change. She also advised that businesses should pay attention to risk management as a result of climate change.

Donald Tsang proposed only 3 measures in his policy address to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which are too trivial to make an impact and reflects his lack of sincerity to deal with the problem. Greenpeace urges the SAR Administration together with the Guangdong provincial government, to assess impacts of global warming to economies of Hong Kong and the PRD region. The government should also formulate mitigation measures accordingly to answer worries of the business sector. What’s more important, the government should set emissions reduction targets, and to devise a comprehensive climate strategy. It is also necessary for the administration to regulate emissions from the power plants, the largest contributor of CO2 pollution.

Los Angeles Harbor Commission Adopts Proposal to Ban Older Trucks from Port; 80% Reduction in Truck Pollution Projected, 4 November 2007

At their 1 Nov meeting, The Los Angeles Harbor Commissioners adopted a proposed measure that will implement a progressive ban of older trucks from operation at the port of Los Angeles beginning in October 2008. The ban will reduce port-related truck pollution by approximately 80% over a period of just over five years.

The proposed tariff will also require mayoral and city council approval by adoption as a city ordinance. Port of Long Beach Harbor Commissioners will deliberate a similar ban at the Oct. 29, 2007, meeting of the Long Beach Harbor Commission.

This proposed tariff moves our air quality goals forward next year with a progressive truck ban schedule that is not only consistent with the anticipated requirements proposed by the California Air Resources Board, but actually achieves even more emissions reductions in an accelerated timeframe. While we are still working on the broader Clean Trucks Program components, this tariff shows our commitment to advancing the air quality goals we set forth in the Clean Air Action Plan approved by both port boards last November.

—Geraldine Knatz, Ph.D., executive director of the Port of Los Angeles

Under this tariff, trucks will only be granted access to Port terminals if they are registered with the Ports and have a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) tag that will provide information about each truck to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Port marine terminal operators will be required to equip their terminals with RFID tag readers to manage access of drayage trucks and ensure that they are compliant with the emissions standards that the ports are establishing through the progressive ban schedule.

The tariff language specifies that, beginning 10 October 2008, the Ports would reduce harmful emissions at the Port terminals by denying access to older trucks according to a progressive ban by model year scheduled over the five-year Clean Trucks Program schedule. The schedule for the progressive ban is as follows:

· Ban pre-1989 trucks from Port service by October 1, 2008

· Ban 1989-1993 trucks from Port service by January 1, 2010

· Ban unretrofitted 1994-2003 trucks from Port service by January 1, 2010

· Ban pre-2007 trucks from Port service by January 1, 2012

The tariff would not apply to “Dedicated Use Vehicles,” defined in the tariff as On-Road Vehicles that do not have separate tractors and trailers, including auto transports, fuel delivery vehicles, concrete mixers; mobile cranes and construction equipment.

Engine idlers may get warnings

Published in Environment on on November 3rd 2007:

Engine idlers may get warnings

Along with issuing fixed-penalty tickets to drivers who do not switch off their idling vehicle’s engine, the Government is considering issuing warning letters to these drivers upon receiving public complaints, Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Carlson Chan says.

Speaking on a radio talk show today Mr Chan said complaints are often received from the public about pollution caused by drivers that leave their engines running while their vehicle is stopped, and is studying ways to curb the problem.

He agreed that certain old turbo engine models require an idling time before being switched off or their lifespan will be shortened. The Government is consulting local vehicle importers to investigate which models should be granted exemption.

The Government has launched a five-month public consultation on its proposal to ban idling vehicle engines. It is aimed for a mid-2009 implementation.

Mr Chan said a total ban is necessary because air and noise pollution caused by idling vehicles are a nuisance regardless of place and time.

Drivers in Toronto can still switch on engines when their car is stopped if the temperature is below five degrees Celsius or over 27. Mr Chan said the Government open to similar suggestions.

The Government will consult District Councils in the coming five-months, but he said it does not want to add too many exemptions on top of those in the consultation document, as they may pose many difficulties for enforcement.

Mr Chan said the ban will greatly improve pollution on the roads and the rationale is to raise public concern and involvement in environmental protection.

Benefits Of Idling Ban Unclear

Saturday November 3 2007

Chester Yung SCMP

Tell us what good forcing engine switch-off will do, say experts

Scientists and engineers said the proposal to ban idling vehicle engines left unanswered key questions about the extent to which it would reduce air pollution. They urged the government to provide more data to justify the initiative.

‘What is the reduction in emissions after the ban? What is the improvement to air quality? These are the most essential questions and the government still owes us the answers in the consultation paper,’ said Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Science and Technology.

Professor Lau said the government should be able to release precise calculations of the expected reductions in emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and respirable suspended particulates. ‘I can’t judge whether it is a feel-good policy or an effective tool when these questions are still unanswered,’ he said.

Lo Kok-keung, of Polytechnic University’s mechanical engineering department, said the ban could improve roadside air quality but the information released lacked details.

‘Perhaps the government is still unable to come up with a rough estimate and that’s why it hasn’t put it in the consultation paper,’ Mr Lo said.

He estimated the pollutant emissions in busy districts such as Causeway Bay and Mong Kok could drop by 10 per cent if a ban was implemented.

In the consultation paper, the government compares the emissions of vehicles while running and when stationary with engines idling.

An idling diesel-engined public light bus emits about half the pollutants of one in motion. Cars running on petrol emit almost as much carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons when their engines are idling as when they are in motion.

The government admits emissions from idling engines are ‘small in quantity as compared to emissions from the entire vehicle fleet’, but says they cause air pollution and noise nuisance to nearby pedestrian and shops.

There are 550,000 vehicles on Hong Kong’s roads.

Fung Man-keung, lecturer in automotive engineering at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, said engines must be switched off for at least three minutes for there to be any effective reduction in the pollutants emitted.

‘According to overseas studies, if a driver keeps turning an engine on and off every two minutes, the time the engine is turned off has no significant impact on pollution and the action merely speeds up the deterioration of engine components,’ Mr Fung said.

Au-yeung Ming, a spokesman for the Motor Transport Workers General Union, which opposes a ban, said vehicle starter motors would wear out much more quickly if the proposal became law.

He estimates the lifespan of a starter motor would be shortened by two years, to five years.

‘If we keep switching the engine on and off while waiting in a long queue, we will only emit more pollutants,’ Mr Au-Yeung said.

Pollution hazard

Vehicles are the second-largest source of air pollution in Hong Kong, contributing to 25% of respirable suspended particulates, 25% of nitrogen oxides and 15% of carbon dioxide

While idling engines do not contribute as much as those in motion, the white paper recognises the problems they cause at ground level in congested areas, and the growing number of complaints

Exemptions from the ban include:

Vehicles which stop at the roadside to let passengers board or alight; the first two taxis or public light buses at a stand; vehicles remaining motionless because of traffic conditions such as traffic congestion, security vehicles