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January, 2009:

Roadside Air Pollution in Hong Kong

Updated on Jan 30, 2009 – SCMP

I agree with your correspondent P.A. Crush (Talkback, January 24) that diesel buses and trucks are not the only sources of poisonous gases and particulate matter in roadside air pollution in Hong Kong.

Just look at the high-sulfur fuel being burned by the ocean-going vessels and other ships in our “fragrant” harbour.

The problem of air pollution will only go away with increased public support and increased pressure on the government to make a decision and act.

World Health Organisation air quality standards must be put in place. A polluter-pays policy can then be applied and we will see the results immediately.

A road-pricing scheme has been considered but this means the rich will drive faster to the next traffic jam caused by the remainder blocking the narrow side roads while avoiding the toll roads, and delivery costs will increase to offset the road tolls.

First, government officials should have their cars and drivers taken away from them, and be made to use public transport, to set an example.

A re-evaluation of bus routes could reduce the high number of diesel buses on our streets with shuttle buses operating between major terminuses.

These shuttle buses could serve the most common routes of these buses and it would reduce congestion in most central city areas.

On the subject of increased fares, I believe this is not necessary as buses do not need passengers to make money.

The advertisements covering these buses are more than enough to make them profitable as, empty or not, they are a major source of revenue.

Michael Pieper, Discovery Bay

Obama Is Welcome In A Warming World

Updated on Jan 28, 2009 – SCMP

International efforts to tackle climate change have been greatly boosted with US President Barack Obama’s vow that his nation will take a leadership role on energy and the environment. With the stroke of a pen, he has started turning the rhetoric that was a centrepiece of his election campaign into practice, ordering stricter emissions standards for vehicles. The step is small and fraught with opposition, but it reverses the damaging approach followed by the previous administration that put ideology ahead of science. Global warming is a scientifically proven threat that cannot be ignored; the world should back the new US president with such initiatives so that it can come to grips with the pollutants causing temperatures to rise.

The US is the world’s biggest per capita producer of the greenhouse gases causing global warming. Former president George W. Bush’s refusal to join other industrialised countries in working for reductions doomed chances of progress. Mr Obama has brought hope where there was none. His kick-starting the process by telling American automakers to produce cars and trucks that are fuel efficient signals a U-turn from which there must be no reversing.

Mr Obama faces significant opposition. His climate change tactics are being driven by policymakers from the US east and west coasts, where environmentalism is strong. They are at odds with lawmakers from the states in between, even those from the president’s Democratic Party; petrol and coal are essential to power the industries that provide the region’s employment. There is no doubt that the timetable for cleaner energy is ambitious, but every effort has to be made to keep to targets.

Global warming affects us all. For some, the impact is life-changing; arable land is becoming desert, unpredictable storms and droughts are increasingly severe and seas are rising.

International efforts to combat climate change must continue. The process must involve developing nations as well as the developed world but the US has a key role. It is encouraging to see that Mr Obama has set his country on the necessary path.

Building Code To Resolve Green Issues

Architects banking on building code to resolve green issues

Building Design and Construction – 25th Jan 2009

Office workers and visitors taking the lifts and escalators to work each day at the ICC are part of a towering commitment to ensure buildings become more environmentally friendly.

Buildings account for a massive chunk of heating, cooling costs and harmful carbon emissions, but architects are continually striving to enhance energy-saving features and reduce their carbon footprint.

Mega-skyscrapers such as the ICC can propel these aims further while improving the quality of the surrounding environment – particularly in densely populated Hong Kong. Cass Gilbert, one of the architects who pioneered the New York skyscraper boom in the 1920s, described such towers as machines for making the land pay. Today, leading local architects such as Rocco Yim point out that tall buildings take the corporate world up where it belongs to allow more ground space to be used for recreation or leisure. Or that is the theory. What Hong Kong has seen in certain areas is the “wall effect” whereby tower blocks have been built in a row, often upon a four- to five-storey podium housing car parks or shops. This has been blamed by environmentalists for causing overheating on the ground below.

Architects and planners hope these issues will be resolved when Hong Kong’s first Green Building Council is established. The council will implement a new building code designed to give a more accurate labelling to a development’s environmental features, which will take into account density and the heating effect a building has on the surrounding area.

By its completion next year, the ICC’s environmental standards will have been benchmarked against the best US and European buildings. It has an estimated 100 advanced green features, even as construction continues on the upper floors.

Sun Hung Kai’s project management department set a target of achieving the platinum standard set by the Hong Kong Building Environmental Assessment Method Society. Studies were made using computational fluid dynamic models into the effects that a new microclimate would have on the neighbourhood. Hazards ranged from downdrafts and the reflection of sunlight to noise pollution, heat build-up and the discharge from cooling towers.

Exhaustive tests were carried out to decide where to locate wind deflectors to combat the effects of downdraft. The likely flow and impact of cooling tower emissions were also analysed to minimise the effect of any pollutants and to avoid creating a heat island, particularly in the “dragon’s tail” area of the site leading towards the Elements shopping mall. Each aspect of design, construction, operations, maintenance and property management had been studied, including the illumination of the building façade to mitigate the intensity of light facing residential buildings.

Inside, condensed water from the ICC’s air-conditioning system is reused twice: first recycled through the main cooling towers and then used to flush toilets.

Double-glazed curtain walls with low-emittance coating ensure good thermal insulation while major mechanical and electrical systems are equipped with power analysers. This would enable energy audits to detect which parts of the building consumed the most power and identify where energy saving could be made.

Should The Smoking Ban Be Delayed?

Recent Talkback articles posted in the SCMP related to Air Pollution and Tobacco smoke have strayed off course to also include PM2.5 and PM10 emissions from diesel vehicles in Hong Kong. See these artciles in our Tobacco blog under Smoking Ban.

Kwun Tong Tower Needs 20-Metre Cut

Joyce Ng – Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

The Town Planning Board decided yesterday that a 68-storey building proposed for a revamped Kwun Tong town centre would have to be lowered by 20 metres to avoid becoming an eyesore.

Board members said they were not satisfied with the Urban Renewal Authority’s justifications for the 280-metre height of the office-and-hotel tower, which would stand 80 metres above surrounding buildings.

The URA says the proposed tower will meet residents’ requests for a landmark in the centre of Kwun Tong.

The board last month delayed approval of the plan pending assurances that it would not create air flow problems or become an eyesore.

The URA argued that a taller, slimmer tower would allow for more ventilation corridors between the tower and any surrounding blocks.

But the Planning Department, in advising board members, said the argument could “hardly be convincing” because the authority’s assessment showed the 280-metre tower would only marginally increase air flow when compared with a 220metre structure. The authority checked only the air flow impact of two scenarios: for buildings that were 220 metres and 280 metres tall.

The board approved the master layout plan for the Kwun Tong project, though, as a condition, it required the authority to lower the centrepiece’s height by about five storeys, to 260 metres.

Board member and Kwun Tong district councillor Nelson Chan Wah-yu, who had advocated a tall landmark, said he understood the concerns of his fellow members.

“A height reduction will be acceptable to residents as long as the building design is attractive,” he said.

The authority has also proposed adding a public observation deck on the 61st-storey to allow for 360- degree panoramic views over the future Kai Tak cruise terminal, Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui and Quarry Bay. The deck will include food and drink facilities, and souvenir shops.

Members approved the idea but asked the URA to make sure it would be freely accessible by the public and not incorporated into the hotel area.

Sore Throats Thanks To Air

Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

I live in Kowloon East near the sea and on Thursday and Friday the air was filthy.

There was an obvious burning smell like a barbecue.

My children started coughing at night and we all needed to limit our time outdoors to avoid sore throats and general discomfort.

Based on this very crude performance indicator of the air smelling like London in the 1800s, the government’s performance is poor.

Even the “ban” on idling engines is too much for officials to handle properly.

It is very hard to take the Environmental Protection Department seriously.

The economic downturn will finally do more to help air quality than the department can organise itself.

P. Gilbert, Lam Tin

Follow WHO Guidelines

Updated on Jan 24, 2009 – SCMP

Perhaps now is a good time to draw the chief executive’s attention to research recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This suggests that reducing the current level of air pollution to that of the World Health Organisation guidelines would extend his life (and that of the rest of us) by nearly three years.

David Chappell, Lamma

Air Quality Standards Review

The following letter was sent to the Director of Environmental Protection by Clear The Air:

Director of Environmental Protection – ENB

24th January 2009

Air Quality Standards Review

Dear Sir,

We are writing to express our NGO’s concern that Hong Kong’s air pollution is damaging local residents’ and visitors’ health and that the Administration’s belated current measures to address the problems remain ineffective whilst simply reporting platitudes.

Hong Kong is an extremely wealthy and developed first world city with ample resources to reduce air pollution , given the will to do so, and yet we know from the Hedley Environmental Index that last year alone 1,155 people died prematurely, there were over 83,000 avoidable hospital bed days, and 7.25 million doctors’ visits which were directly attributable to the toxic effects of local air pollution; this was at a minimum conservative cost of over HK$2.3 billion to society. We also know that for the major part of the year, the major pollution sources were locally generated. Our local power stations in 2007 burned 3 times more coal than they did in 1997 and 40% less gas than in 1999. Their greed is killing people. Perhaps you should suggest Exxon executives come and live here with their children ?

Given this evidence, we call on the Administration to demonstrate its commitment to imminent improvement of public health and reduction of resultant health costs by setting the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines as the new Air Quality Standards for Hong Kong, and to set out a strategy on how it intends to achieve these Standards. Without gazetted Standards the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle cannot be effective.

In this strategy please address all the major sources of pollution, but please apply particular urgency to reducing emissions from marine vessels and non Euro V diesel on road / off road vehicles. We encourage you to enact large increases in road tax for non Euro V diesel trucks, vans and buses (thereby making these vehicle owners trade up to Euro V) and to insist forthwith on low sulphur bunker fuel use within Hong Kong waters. We appreciate that the emissions from local power stations might soon be reduced following your Department’s belated requirement that flue gas desulphurization equipment is installed as well as Nox burners. In addition the level of the Standards you set MUST therefore require the power companies apply Best Available Current Technology and fuel mix and that includes agglomerators which can catch the lethal PM0.1 ultrafine and PM2.5 heavy metal emissions which the Electrostatic Precipitators cannot currently catch.

We would stress that Air Quality Standards and a clean air strategy that do not lead to rapid improvements in public health cannot be considered an acceptable outcome of the Review and action is required, not further consultation of a public that has already grown tired of this Government’s lack of decisive action.
Yours faithfully,

James Middleton
Chairman Energy Committee

Health Fears Mount As Smog Throws Pall Over City

(01-23 14:00) – The Standard

Thick smog enveloped Hong Kong again today, as scientists and campaigners said recent pollution reached levels 10 times above World Health Organization guidelines for clean air.

The Hedley Environmental Index, a website created by Hong Kong University professors and the Civic Exchange think-tank, said levels of breathable particles in some areas were 10 times recommended annual WHO levels.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide were five times WHO annual guidelines, the index found, making Thursday Hong Kong’s most polluted day in more than 12 months.

”This is smog, not fog,” said Alexis Lau, a professor at Hong Kong University for Science and Technology.

”The worst part is that most of these are fine particulates which are the most detrimental to our health.”

Health Concerns As Hong Kong Pollution Levels Rise

23rd Jan 2008 – AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) — Thick smog enveloped Hong Kong again on Friday, as scientists and campaigners said recent pollution had reached levels ten times above annual World Health Organisation guidelines for clean air.

The heavy haze descended on the city, blocking views across the financial hub’s famous Victoria Harbour and raising serious health concerns.

The Hedley Environmental Index, a website created by professors at Hong Kong University and think tank Civic Exchange, said levels of breathable particles in some areas were 10 times recommended annual WHO levels on Friday.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were five times WHO annual guidelines, the index found, making Thursday Hong Kong’s most polluted day in more than 12 months.

“This is smog, not fog,” said Alexis Lau, a professor at Hong Kong University for Science and Technology.

“The worst part is that most of these are fine particulates which are the most detrimental to our health.”

According to the government’s own air pollution index, levels in the heavily populated areas of Hong Kong were still “very high” on Friday, or well over 100 on the official scale.

When the government index is above 100, people with existing heart or respiratory problems are advised to stay indoors.

Hong Kong’s government is currently in the process of renewing its air quality guidelines, which are now more than 20 years old. Scientists say they are woefully out of date.

Pollution has in recent years become an increasing health and economic headache for the financial hub.

Emissions from the southern Chinese factory belt over Hong Kong’s northern border have combined with local emissions from power plants and transport to park a thick haze over the city for large parts of the year.

The Hedley Environmental Index, which combines air quality and public health data, puts the associated costs of the city’s poor air at 12.5 billion Hong Kong dollars (1.6 billion US) since the start of 2004.

It has, it said, [Hong Kong air pollution] caused more than 6,100 premature deaths.