Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

October 8th, 2008:

Guangzhou: Toxins Levels In 70% Apartments Excessive

China Daily – Oct. 8

BEIJING — Researchers have discovered about 70 percent of apartments in Guangdong’s provincial capital contained formaldehyde levels exceeding national standards, the Guangzhou Daily reported. On average, levels were 64.3 percent higher than the standard, it said.

Experts have urged local residents to avoid undertaking extensive home improvements, the newspaper reported. They also urged home-buyers to wait until their new residences pass environmental inspections before moving in. If toxicity levels exceed the standard, remedial measures should be undertaken before owners take up residence in the homes. In addition to installing ventilators and air filters, residents can grow Spider Plants, aloes and kumquats, which absorb toxins in the air. Researchers made the remarks in Guangzhou during the 4th Seminar of Sustainable Development of Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions on Monday.

Guangzhou municipal environmental monitoring center official Li Yingwen said most dwellings with indoor air pollution were constructed with substandard artificial panels and fiber boards, and poisonous paints. Some leather furniture also emitted formaldehyde.

The chemical can irritate the eyes and lungs, and even trigger asthma attacks. Long-term exposure has also been linked to leukemia. “The more luxurious the apartments are, the more likely they are to be seriously contaminated,” Li said.

The formaldehyde levels in some recently completed luxury apartments are as high as 0.6 mg per sq m – 5 times the national standard. Li urged local residents to use high-quality materials for home improvements.

In addition to formaldehyde, researchers found levels of many other toxins in Guangzhou apartments often exceeded national standards.

Local white-collar worker Liang Xiangqiong said she waited for months to move in after her apartment was completed last year to allow the airborne toxins to disperse. “But I have no idea what else to do, because it is hard to find quality interior decorating materials,” she said.

Bold Steps Needed In Air Pollution Battle

SCMP – Updated on Oct 08, 2008

It is two years since the World Health Organisation toughened its air-quality guidelines for a minimum level of health protection against pollution. The government responded by launching a review of our current air-quality objectives and strategies. Details have emerged of ideas the review panel has been discussing to clear the air. Some will be controversial – for example, measures to discourage the use of cars. Such measures are needed. But people must be persuaded they are necessary for the sake of their health.

The review required a sense of urgency, especially with regard to the guidelines. Not only are the present pollution benchmarks low compared with the new WHO standards, but we often fail to meet them. The WHO suggests governments set interim targets on the way to its more stringent standards. This has not yet been done in Hong Kong. As a result, the panel has been discussing ways to combat pollution without any clear targets to aim for. As we report today, this has aroused concerns among some experts that officials will lean towards more politically acceptable options, rather than ones which aim to meet scientifically based air-quality targets.

Hopefully, the panel’s report will lay these fears to rest, either by adopting the WHO’s guidelines or setting a timetable for phasing them in. We should not prejudge the work of the review panel as it still has three months before it submits its report. Worryingly, though, without a timetable for tougher air-quality objectives, the panel has put short-, medium- or long-term time frames on suggested measures – from before 2015 to later than 2020. That does not convey a sense of urgency. In health and lifestyle terms there is no question that a developed society like Hong Kong should adopt the WHO guidelines and strive to meet them. But the government may well feel that it is politically unwise to adopt standards it considers to be unattainable in the foreseeable future.

But the setting of new, more stringent standards, based on health concerns is necessary. It is good that the review panel is looking at various options. But it must not shy away from recommending the bold steps required to win the battle against air pollution.

Time Running Out For Smog Review

Time running out for smog review
Government fails to make progress in its examination of air pollution standards

Cheung Chi-fai – SCMP – Updated on Oct 08, 2008

A year after the government began reviewing Hong Kong’s outdated air-pollution standards, officials have made no firm commitments to new air-quality objectives – and the exercise is due to end in less than three months.

The lack of progress has prompted suspicions among people involved in the review that the government plans to take a politically expedient shortcut instead of proposing tough, far-reaching objectives that will genuinely protect public health.

The review was launched in response to calls to replace the city’s 20-year-old air-quality objectives with the latest World Health Organisation guidelines, which are up to three times as tough as Hong Kong’s current standards. No country has yet adopted the WHO’s standards.

Sources close to the review say there are signs officials on the advisory panel want to roll out more politically acceptable options.

“You can’t only look at things you believe are workable since the issue in question now is public health, which offers little room for compromise,” said one of the sources, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Unless you have set the targets based on scientific evidence of health protection, there is no way to tell if the control measures at different stages are enough and timely.”

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department would not directly answer that contention but said: “Consultants are still examining and evaluating the practicability and effectiveness of additional control measures available for ensuring the earliest possible improvement of our air quality.”

The department said it planned to hold a public forum to gather views on the review’s findings, with a public consultation next year.

Hong Kong’s 24-hour average standard for respirable suspended particles – one of the main health-threatening pollutants – is 180 micrograms per cubic metre, compared with the WHO’s guideline of 50.

The sources said the panel – comprising industry stakeholders, experts and officials – had spent too little time in the past year discussing targets and too much time gauging views on proposed control strategies.

Recommendations included increasing the use of natural gas in electricity generation to at least 50 per cent, more use of nuclear energy, electronic road pricing, phasing out polluting trucks and introducing low-emission zones – projected to reduce pollutants by tens of thousands of tonnes in the long term.

The sources said a commonly adopted review approach was to lay down targets adequate enough to protect health before considering measures – no matter what they were or how tough they were to achieve – to reach those targets in phases.

Citing the example of electronic road pricing, one of the sources said he saw no reason why 2015 had been earmarked for its implementation, given the direct health risks posed by polluting vehicles.

“When it comes to buying out chicken vendor licences for avian flu prevention, the government did it in two months,” the source said. “So I can’t see why it takes seven years for it to do road pricing.”

Earlier studies on the health effects of air pollution estimated it caused about 550 deaths a year and the use of 19,700 hospital bed days. Hongkongers’ life expectancy was estimated to be shortened by 16 months, on average, due to bad air.

The source said the current exercise should focus on laying down a clear institutional and legal framework in which to review air-quality standards based on scientific evidence. The principle of health protection should also be stated in the Air Pollution Control Ordinance.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, Friends of the Earth’s environmental affairs manager, said the public’s health would be at risk if the government turned a blind eye to scientific fact.

“How can the government pacify the souls of those who have died of air pollution if it seeks to politicise health issues arising from air pollution, hoping to delay what it can do by evading fundamental issues?” he asked.