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January 2nd, 2009:

Proposals To Ban Drivers Idling Engines

Government revises proposals to ban drivers idling engines

Regina Leung – SCMP – Updated on Jan 02, 2009

The government has revised a legislative proposal to ban drivers from running the engines of their vehicles when they were idle, Acting-Secretary for the Environment Kitty Poon Kit on Friday.

The government launched a five-month public consultation on the proposal in November 2007.

To reduce the air pollution problem, a consultation document on the issue proposed that if drivers did not switch off a vehicle’s engine when it was idle, they would be given a fixed-penalty ticket.

However, Ms Poon said restrictions on drivers of taxis, minibuses and coaches would be eased.

Sources said the original proposal suggested giving exemptions to the first two taxis at a taxi stand. This has now has been revised to the first five taxis.

The first two minibuses at the same public light bus (PLB) stand, with different routes, will also have exemptions.

The exemption will be given to taxis and PLBs in a moving queue at their designated stops and stands, local media reported

“The revised proposal was due for consideration of the industry’s practical needs and we have proposed appropriate exemptions to meet operators’ demands,” she said.

“We have tried to strike a balance between the needs of the public and the transport trade,” added Ms Poon.

She said Environmental Protection Department officials would meet transport industry representatives to discuss the details about the revised proposal in the coming two days.

“The proposal would be submitted to Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel later this month. We hope that the new law will be enacted some time this year,” she said.

Eastern Hong Kong Island Enjoys Best Air

Pollution worst in western areas that are close to container terminals

Daniel Sin – SCMP – Updated on Jan 02, 2009

While many districts suffer rising levels of health-threatening pollution, residents in the east of Hong Kong Island have the cleanest air, and it has been improving over the years.

Eastern district has not recorded a reading of more than 100 on the Air Pollution Index since 2005 and, with the two other cleanest districts, Tai Po and Sha Tin, has recorded consistently improved readings.

In contrast, ambient readings at general stations in Yuen Long, Kwai Chung, Sham Shui Po, Central and Western, and Tung Chung are consistently worse than the rest of the city. In particular, in Kwai Chung last year, the number of hours when the API exceeded 100 – an alarm threshold of poor air quality – increased by 166.6 per cent from 2007.

Visibility has improved, with more blue skies creating an illusion of cleaner air. A visibility level of below 8km is defined as “reduced visibility”.

In the first 11 months of last year there were 1,654 hours of reduced visibility at the airport – an improvement of 10.4 per cent from the same period in 2007.

During the same period, there were about 1,000 hours of reduced visibility at the Observatory, the same level as last year. But experts said more clear days did not necessarily mean the air was cleaner.

“Improved visibility has little to do with the reduction of pollutant concentration, especially in areas at close range to people,” said Angus Wong Chun-yin of Friends of the Earth.

Simon Ng Ka-wing of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, explaining why western areas usually suffered poorer air quality, said: “These districts are close to the container terminals. The emissions from vessels are high in sulfur dioxide concentration that could explain the high readings of the API from general stations in these districts.

“Besides, the air quality in these areas is more affected by the emissions from factories in the Pearl River Delta than the rest of the city.”

One exception was the isolated Sai Kung island of Tap Mun, which suffered high pollution despite having no traffic.

“This is because Tap Mun is close to a sea route to [the Shenzhen container port of] Yantian .”

Dr Ng said the impact of high pollutant concentration could be reduced with better town planning, building designs, and energy conservation measures.

Air quality objectives adopted in 1987 define the highest concentration of pollutants that can be tolerated within a given time without causing immediate health risks.

These include sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, ozone and breathable respirable suspended particles. For example, sulfur dioxide should not be allowed to exceed 800 micrograms per cubic metre of air in one hour.

Samples are collected at three roadside monitoring stations and 11 general monitoring stations that check ambient air quality in urban areas, new towns and rural areas.

The Environmental Protection Department compares the concentration of each of the pollutants against the respective air quality objective and picks the highest sub-index as the API.

Hong Kong Air Pollution

Air pollution danger days rise in 2008

API shows street-level air worsens

Daniel Sin – SCMP – Updated on Jan 02, 2009

Despite clearer skies and government efforts to switch vehicles to cleaner fuel, the air was dirtier than ever across much of the city last year, according to air pollution index data.

The number of hours in which street-level pollution exceeded danger levels at three of the most crowded areas rose by 14 per cent – and by more than 40 per cent in one area.

Meanwhile, in the western parts of the city, which have the worst air quality, the number of hours in which the ambient air pollution exceeded danger levels also rose, although cleaner areas of the city saw an improvement in air quality.

The figures prompted a warning from a university expert of the long-term health effects on residents.

But the government insisted air quality was in fact improving, saying the API as now calculated did not give the full picture – a response that raised questions from an environmental group about why it is still being used.

The number of hours last year when roadside pollution, measured by monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, exceeded an API of 100 totalled 2,007, up 14 per cent from 1,760 hours in 2007, and a six-year high.

An API of over 100 indicates the pollutants in the air pose immediate health risks, especially to people with respiratory or heart illnesses.

The API figures, published by the Environmental Protection Department, show that roadside air quality was the poorest in Central, where 1,013 hours of API readings over 100 were recorded, up 34.2 per cent from 2007. This was followed by Mong Kok, which had slightly fewer than 600 hours above the threshold, a drop of 18.1 per cent. In Causeway Bay, there were 402 hours of poor air quality, up 42.6 per cent from 2007.

An Environmental Protection Department spokeswoman said that as the API was based on just one of a list of pollutants that recorded the highest concentration on a given day, the readings did not represent the trend of air pollution concentrations.

“A more scientific, robust and commonly adopted approach by professionals to assess long-term air quality trends is to examine the annual trends of air pollutant concentrations,” she said.

Friends of the Earth environmental affairs officer Angus Wong Chung-yin found the explanation confusing.

“[It] shows the API is not sufficient to give the public an accurate picture of the air pollution if people are not able to draw a conclusion from the trend figures,” he said. “In this case, the government should review the approach and develop better indicators to help people understand the changing situation in air quality.”

On the department’s claim that roadside concentrations of some pollutants had fallen, Mr Wong admitted there had been an improvement, but it appeared to have levelled off since 2004.

Professor Wong Tze-wai, of Chinese University’s department of community and family medicine, said the health impact could be long-lasting. “Our research shows that an increase in 10 micrograms of a pollutant in every cubic metre of air will increase the rate of death, hospitalisation or treatment in a clinic by 1 to 1.5 per cent, depending on the type of the pollutant,” he said.

Roadside Air Pollution Levels Cannot Be Ignored

Jan 02, 2009 – Leader

More frequent clear skies over our city have helped boost the government’s claim that its efforts against air pollution are succeeding. To an extent, the claim is merited. The levels of some major pollutants have indeed fallen sharply. Their roadside concentrations have been reduced by about 20 per cent in the past decade. Among these are respirable suspended particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, all of which pose a major health risk.

Improved visibility also means better safety for vessels and planes; and clear blue skies are good for Hong Kong’s international image, which has been tarnished by high air pollution. No one wants to remember the Pearl of the Orient as being engulfed in choking gray smog. But picture-perfect skies do not tell the whole story. What we see is not a good indicator of what we actually breathe into our lungs.

As we report today, the number of hours that roadside monitors have clocked up above the alarm level of 100 on the air pollution index has soared in the past year. The three monitoring stations in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok recorded a total of 2,007 hours, up 14 per cent from 1,760 hours in 2007. Central alone recorded 1,013 hours, a jump of 34 per cent from the year before. Causeway Bay had 402 hours, up 42.6 per cent, but Mong Kok dropped about 18 per cent with 592 hours.

The Environmental Protection Department has argued that air pollution trends are best measured by the concentrations of pollutants rather than the number of hours the API goes above 100. To be sure, unfavourable weather patterns often contribute to high API levels, but they are not necessarily the cause of a long-term trend. Admittedly, the overall decade-long trends of major pollutants have seen their concentrations either falling or levelling off. Positive contributing factors include the conversion of taxis and minibuses to LPG, the introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel and tighter vehicle emission standards for buses. Tougher control measures imposed by Guangdong authorities are also a significant contribution.

However, the department’s arguments are not entirely convincing. Weather patterns work both ways. Just as unfavourable conditions can push up the API, favourable ones can help bring about clear skies. More misleading is the department’s claim that frequently high API readings at roadside levels are not a good indicator of air quality trends. The department itself sets up the index as a simple way to inform the public about air quality. Surely the amount of time the index measuring roadside pollution as being above alarm levels is a highly relevant factor to consider. Otherwise, the index has no use for the public.

Many air-quality objectives the department has achieved deserve recognition. But contrary indicators may also be a warning signal. During the recent economic boom years, the number of private cars has shot up. People should be discouraged from driving in congested districts, such as by pedestrianising more roads.

More importantly, a government review panel is close to finalising a study of stronger World Health Organisation standards on air quality introduced two years ago. Despite the tougher standards, the WHO does not impose them, but encourages individual cities to adopt a realistic plan to introduce them in phases. The panel should make adopting the WHO standards a matter of urgency. A world city needs clean air and world-class standards to maintain it.