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January 20th, 2009:

Community Concern About Air Pollution

Sellout Conference Reflects Community Concern about Air Pollution

The Air We Breath – 20th Jan 2009

A sellout crowd of over 400 people attended Saturday’s conference highlighted the deep concern, and interesting finding solutions to Hong Kong’s air pollution.

The heavily oversubscribed event:

• delivered an up–to-date expert information on Hong Kong’s situation,
• introduced th Hedley Environmental Index
• introduced best practices in tackling pollution from overseas.

Most importantly, it provided an opportunity for delegates to discuss the issues with local and global experts and to propose solutions for Hong Kong to a panel of stakeholders that included Secretary for the Environment, Edward Yau and Legislators Audrey Eu (Chair of LegCo’s Environmental Affairs Panel), Tanya Chan, and Kam Nai Wai.

“Hong Kong has internationally-recognised experts on air pollution and public health. We are also able to tap overseas best practices to solve problems,” said Christine Loh, CEO Civic Exchange. “This tremendous gathering of knowledge – coupled with the community’s desire to participate – should send a very positive message to the Government that policies which improve public health by reducing air pollution will be strongly supported by the public and by experts”, she added.

“We are delighted to have such an enthusiastic response to this conference,” said William Yiu, Executive Director, Charities, Hong Kong Jockey Club. “The aim today is to transform our concerns about the health impacts of air pollution into positive energy to develop the solutions that will give us all cleaner, healthier air.” Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust generous funded the conference

Looking beyond the conference we hope that delegates will make use of what they have learned to participate in the government’s ongoing review of Hong Kong’s air quality objectives. These are the standards set by the Environmental Protection Department to control air pollution. Anyone wishing to comment can email the review team on

Hong Kong’s Economic Growth Spluttering On Filthy Air

20th Jan 2009 – AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) — In recent years, a thick haze originating from factories in southern China has enveloped Hong Kong for large chunks of the year, blocking views of its famous harbour and raising health fears.

Combined with the city’s home-grown pollution, scientists and business leaders say [air pollution] presents a serious economic risk to the financial hub, both for its ability to attract and retain talent and the associated health costs.

When Teena Goulet moved to Hong Kong in 1995 she thought she would never leave but five years after moving here, the keen outdoorswoman developed a chronic cough.

For someone who spent all her spare time outside — hiking, dragon boating, rowing — health was a major concern and after being diagnosed with adult onset asthma, Goulet, 45, decided last year to leave.

“It is just so vibrant and so safe,” the US banker said of Hong Kong.

“There is an amazing quality to it. Doing business is so easy, the low tax is great, the food and restaurants are great.

“I would have retired there,” said Goulet, speaking by phone from her new home in California. “But when you cannot breath, it kind of tells you what to do.”

Within a week of moving to California last March, her cough stopped.

US investment guru Jim Rogers, who moved to Asia in 2007 with his family because of his conviction that China would be the major driver of the world economy, chose to live in Singapore.

“I don’t want to breathe Hong Kong air,” he said.

A report for the City of London last October about the potential challenges from Asian financial centres, said the “only consistently negative issue” cited by professionals about Hong Kong related to environmental pollution.

The Hedley Environmental Index, a new website set up by a group of academics that 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.

[Air pollution in Hong Kong] caused 6,108 premature deaths.

Anthony Hedley, the public health professor at Hong Kong University after whom the index is named, said the website’s figures were conservative, as they excluded the long-term health effects of breathing toxic air.

“We are building up an enormous debt of trouble, which will manifest itself in one, two, three decades and could rear a huge toll on our children,” said Hedley.

‘Hong Kong is choking on its own greed’ —

A recent study commissioned by think tank Civic Exchange said one in five residents were considering leaving Hong Kong because of its dire air. Of the more than 1,000 people surveyed, 97 percent were local Chinese.

Michael DeGolyer, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who did the study, said the mood was such that one “tipping point” could provoke an exodus, particularly among managers and administrators.

“And Singapore wants them,” said DeGolyer.

The American Chamber of Commerce found in a recent member survey that 70 percent knew of professionals who had either left or were considering leaving because of the pollution.

“Hong Kong needs to lead the way (to improve air quality). That is what being a world city stands for,” said chamber chairman David Cunningham.

While the filth from thousands of toy, clothing and electronics factories in neighbouring Guangdong province dominates headlines, Alexis Lau, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said home-grown emissions from coal-fired power stations and dirty trucks were a more serious problem.

“We still believe the local pollution is more important for health,” Lau told a recent conference.

Hedley, who is leaving Hong Kong after 21 years here partly over worries about the air — he was diagnosed with adult onset asthma in his 60s — said the government must wake up to the time bomb.

“(The question for the government is) how many premature deaths are you prepared to accept?” said Hedley.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang said in 2007 improving air quality was “a matter of life and death,” and the government is currently reviewing its air quality guidelines, 20 years after they were last revised.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department said tough measures had already helped reduce levels of several roadside pollutants and it was working with Guangdong authorities to reduce the haze.

New technology was being introduced to reduce emissions from power plants.

The department said the number of overseas companies with regional headquarters, offices or local operations in Hong Kong had increased to 6,612 in 2008 from 5,414 in 2003.

Any tougher regulations are likely to face opposition from sections of the local business community, which operates around 55,000 factories in Guangdong.

Goulet, who is now planning a move to Japan, said such intransigence was short-sighted: “Hong Kong is choking on its own greed.”

Don’t Hold Your Breath

As you get older, your skin will get duller. But you don’t have to sit back and accept it as a forgone conclusion. The aging of the skin is accelerated by pollution, which also creates lots of other skin problems.

Ivy Ong-Wood -Tuesday, January 20, 2009 – The Standard

As you get older, your skin will get duller. But you don’t have to sit back and accept it as a forgone conclusion. The aging of the skin is accelerated by pollution, which also creates lots of other skin problems.

Said dermatologist John Yu Ho-tak: “Pollution causes infection, in the form of acne and folliculities, which affects hair follicles. It also sparks off inflammation, which presents itself in skin allergies like eczema.”

Other long-term effects of pollution are wrinkles and irregular pigmentation.

Hong Kong is one of the worst places to be in if you want to escape that. Official figures released early this month showed that air pollution in many parts of the city last year reached its highest level since records began.

According to the Environmental Protection Department, the number of hours for which street-level pollution exceeded the danger level in some districts rose by 14 percent last year.

Pollution levels in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok reached dangerous levels for more than 2,000 hours last year – the highest figure since the department began taking roadside recordings in 2000.

A quick check in the department’s website shows that biggest culprits are respirable suspended particulates (dust to us laymen), nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.

Dust is the most visible of the three but, believe it or not, the ones that pose the most danger to our skin are the two gases that we cannot see.

Said Yu: “Suspended particles like dirt and tar are irritants which can be removed by simple washing. But airborne gas pollution are oxidizers, which can cause long-term damage as they cause free radical activity to occur on your skin.”

He added: “Our skin has a natural antioxidant defence, which is a cell membrane containing vitamin E. When the vitamin E in the membrane meets a free radical, it will neutralize it by binding the free radical. However, if there are too many free radicals attacking it, the vitamin E will lose its binding power, like a bee losing its sting.

“One way to reactivate this vitamin is to give it a dose of antioxidants. This is important because if a cell has been attacked too many times, it will die. Cell death causes skin pigmentation. Free radicals can also damage the skin’s collagen fiber cells, resulting in wrinkles.”

As the most exposed areas on our bodies, the face and forearms are the first places to show the effects of pollution.

Simple ways to counteract this effect, said Yu, are to stay indoors when the pollution index is high, wash your face after being outdoors and keeping skin moisturized to create an additional barrier.

“Some people think eating more fruits and vegetables will help,” he added.

“Eating more of that stuff is good for the body in general but it is unrelated to pollution. Once in the gut, the antioxidants are digested and broken down. The body takes in only as much as it needs and doesn’t store up a reserve.”

The best way is to apply antioxidant directly on the skin. But Yu cautioned: “You can’t just put tomato slices on your face or buy just any product to slap on your skin. To be effective, the antioxidants need to be absorbed by the skin.”

The strongest antioxidants are evident in L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and plant essence – ferulic acid from most plants and phlorectin from apples.

“But you have to pay attention to the delivery system,” said Yu. “Does it get into the cellular level? It’s no use if it just sits on the skin.”

He advises buying a product that has a low pH or is more acidic. “L-ascorbic acid, for example, is stable at a pH of about two to three. Any higher or lower and it won’t work. But you have to balance that against the fact that the higher the acidity, the higher the likelihood of skin irritations.”