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May, 2010:

Outdoor Air Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease

airpollutionFor all of you who are interested in the growing evidence on the link between CVD and outdoor air pollution, which is an extremely important issue in developing and middle income countries, the AHA has just updated its policy statement reviewing the evidence.

There is a summary on the WHF news section which gives links to the press release and the paper in Circulation.

This is a subject that will become more and more important as urbanization continues to skyrocket.  It is also closely linked with the issue of indoor pollution from secondhand smoke, two problems which compound each other to add to the other CVD risks linked with urbanization.  The AHA policy position paper on clean indoor air laws came out last year.

Thanks to the AHA for focusing on this area where policy plays such a big role in heart health: we would be pleased at WHF to learn about the activities of other heart organizations working on the topics of either indoor or outdoor air pollution.

Want to get in touch with members of Legco?

rotaryWould you like to voice your opinion to Legco’s committee members about thet topical issues that concern you and Hong Kong?

Please download this PDF. It contains the contact information of all Legco members.

Legco Members

12 May 2010

World Health Statistics 2010

whoLast updated: May 10, 2010

Source: World Health Organization

“……World Health Statistics 2010 contains WHO’s annual compilation of data from its 193 Member States, and includes a summary of progress towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals and targets.

As with previous versions, World Health Statistics 2010 has been compiled using publications and databases produced and maintained by the technical programmes and regional offices of WHO. Indicators have been included on the basis of their relevance to global public health; the availability and quality of the data; and the reliability and comparability of the resulting estimates.

Taken together, these indicators provide a comprehensive summary of the current status of national health and health systems in the following nine areas:
– mortality and burden of disease;
– cause-specific mortality and morbidity;
– selected infectious diseases;
– health service coverage;
– risk factors;
– health workforce, infrastructure and essential medicines;
– health expenditure;
– health inequities; and
– demographic and socioeconomic statistics.

The estimates in this book are derived from multiple sources, depending on each indicator and the availability and quality of data. In many countries, statistical and health information systems are weak and the underlying empirical data may not be available or may be of limited quality. Every effort has been made to ensure the best use of country-reported data – adjusted where necessary to deal with missing values, to correct for known biases, and to maximize the comparability of the statistics across countries and over time. In addition, statistical techniques and modelling have been used to fill data gaps.

Because of the weakness of the underlying empirical data in many countries, a number of the indicators are associated with significant uncertainty. It is WHO policy on statistical transparency to make available to users the methods of estimation and the margins of uncertainty for relevant indicators. However, because of space restrictions, printed versions of the World Health Statistics series include uncertainty ranges for only a few indicators. Further information on the margins of uncertainty for additional indicators will be made available at the Global Health Observatory web site.[ ]….”

:: Progress on the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Fact sheet N°290


Available in 6 languages

Arabic [pdf 6.40Mb] | Chinese [pdf 5.58Mb] | English [pdf 4.84Mb] | French [pdf 4.98Mb] | Russian [pdf 5.11Mb] | Spanish [pdf 4.95Mb]


Table of contents and introduction [pdf 231kb]
Part I. Health-related Millennium Development Goals [pdf 669kb]
Part II. Global health indicator tables and footnotes [pdf 3.82Mb]

Clear the Air says: Idling vehicle engines

engine-idling2For those who still believe the Government of Hong Kong has done a good job with our environmental problems, this letter from the deputy director of the EPD , published some 11 years ago, demonstrates the apathy of the Hong Kong Government to act. Now, 11 years later the Government wants to allow a 3 minute ‘legal to pollute’ idling engine exemption and to issue a ticket to the driver, not the vehicle owner (as in parking contraventions ) for the offence – only large diesel vehicles need an idling period to fill their airbrake reservoirs to allow the brakes to be released and if two licence holders in the vehicle swap the driver’s seat position every 170 seconds they can run their idling engines all day without getting a ticket. Taking a leaf out of the Government book for the anti smoking legislation (implement  new legislation but deliberately allocate meagre insufficient enforcement manpower resources thus rendering the law ineffective) the Government has decided to add a whopping 18 additional traffic wardens to help enforce the ‘new’ idling engine legislation throughout Hong Kong.

Idling engines not significant air polluters

Updated on Nov 20, 1999

Your correspondent Ted Thomas (South China Morning Post, November 6) retells the tale of the London smog which killed many thousands up until the early 1950s, when legislation was introduced to control it.

The London smog was caused by the burning of fuels that were high in sulphur and a very similar situation existed in Hong Kong throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Our problem was caused by emissions from industrial buildings and power stations, but in some areas was so acute that the steel fittings on residential buildings adjacent to industrial areas were dissolving in the acid rain produced by these emissions.

The Air Pollution Control Ordinance, passed in 1983, was intended to prevent these hazardous emissions, but by the late 1980s many establishments had found loopholes in that legislation. In 1990, the Environmental Protection Department developed the Fuel Restriction Regulations, which when implemented in June of that year transformed many districts of Hong Kong, much as, decades earlier, the Clean Air Act had cleared the air in British cities.

We have photos, taken only a week apart in 1990, which demonstrate the dramatic improvement that was brought about by the introduction of the new controls.

Mr Thomas also referred to the issue of idling vehicle engines. Whilst the emissions from idling engines are not a significant contributor to our overall air pollution problems, in some locations they can be not just a nuisance, but an unacceptable impact on the health of nearby pedestrians.

Typical problematic locations are enclosed public transport terminuses and narrow streets where lines of taxis or buses wait with engines idling, such as Jardine’s Bazaar in Causeway Bay and Beach Road in Repulse Bay. No doubt readers will recall many similar locations.

In many communities, it is socially unacceptable to let your engine idle, just as it is to leave your taps running or your lights on when no one is at home. In some communities, legislation has been introduced to prohibit the idling of engines.

However, in almost all that legislation there is an exemption for hot or cold weather conditions and a threshold time period specified, below which it would not be illegal to let your engine idle.

The combined effect of these two provisions on such similar legislation in Hong Kong might be to allow vehicles to be exempted altogether in the summer months and to allow more unscrupulous drivers to circumvent the legislation by the simple expedient of switching off the engine before the statutory time threshold is reached.

I have raised these difficulties simply to demonstrate that the legislative control of idling engines is rather more complex and contentious than your correspondent seems to appreciate.

Nevertheless, we have developed proposals for legislation to control idling engines and will publish them in the near future for public consultation. We believe that at the very least, such legislation will establish a benchmark for society as to what is the unacceptable use of an engine in a stationary vehicle.

M. J. STOKOE Deputy Director of Environmental Protection

Cap on fuel sulphur lowered to reduce emissions (SCMP 8th May 2010)

An amendment was introduced to the Air Pollution Control (Motor Vehicle Fuel) ordinance yesterday to tighten specifications of motor vehicle diesel and unleaded petrol to Euro V standards from Euro IV. The amendment tightened the cap on sulphur content in fuel to a fifth of previous levels, in a bid to reduce vehicular emission of sulphur dioxide by 80 per cent, other major gaseous emissions by 10 per cent and respirable suspended particulates by 5 per cent. Petrol stations, which have since 2007 offered Euro V diesel and Euro V petrol, sold half the petrol imported into Hong Kong last year.

Fuel standards to be tightened

dirty_fuelLast updated: May 7, 2010

Source: Hong Kong Government News

One of New York’s biggest cigarette dealers was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison in a case involving the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of untaxed tobacco from the state’s Indian reservations.

Rodney Morrison, 43, was originally accused in 2004 of running a violent criminal enterprise that was one of the leading sources for New York’s huge trade in black market cigarettes.

But after being acquitted of murder, robbery and arson, and having a racketeering conviction stemming from the tax case tossed out because of legal flaws, Morrison faced sentencing only on a single gun possession count. In addition to the 10-year term, Morrison was fined $75,000 and will be placed on three years supervised release when he leaves prison.

He could have been released on time served, but U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley gave him the maximum, saying “he has failed to lead any kind of law abiding life.”

Despite Morrison’s acquittal, the judge said he still believes Morrison orchestrated the crimes that were committed by others, including the 2003 shooting death of a rival cigarette dealer on a Brooklyn rooftop.

“I think he is fully capable of doing those types of things again,” the judge said. He also noted Morrison’s prior convictions for robbery, drug possession and criminally negligent homicide in the 1980s shooting of a 6-year-old.

Before being sentenced, Morrison told the judge the child’s killing was unintentional; he said he and a friend were firing a shotgun for target practice. “We were young and being foolish, it was totally a freak accident.”

He also appealed to the judge that he is a changed man. “I have learned from the experience,” he said. “I have respect for the law.”

Morrison’s lawyers said they will consider appealing the sentence. “Although we all disagree with the sentence, we have enormous respect for Judge Hurley,” lead attorney William Murphy said.

Because Morrison has been held without bail since his arrest in August 2004, that time will be applied to the 10-year sentence, officials said. Hurley also granted a defense request that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons place Morrison at a facility close to the New York metropolitan area so he can be close to his family.

Hurley, who previously described Morrison as “a cunning individual with dangerous proclivities,” vacated his racketeering conviction for trafficking contraband cigarettes on April 16. Hurley said too many elements of state laws regarding reservation tobacco sales were unsettled to prosecute someone.

Federal prosecutors appealed that ruling on Friday. Neither assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case commented after the sentencing.

Reservation stores sold more than 24 million cartons of cigarettes in 2009, about 1 out of every 3 packs sold in the state. That booming business exists entirely because of the tribes refusal to collect taxes on the sales, allowing them to sell at a huge discount.

Morrison is a non-Indian from Brooklyn who gained control of a reservation smoke shop on the Poospatuck Indian Reservation in Mastic after marrying into the tribe. The reservation is about 60 miles east of New York City.

State law requires taxes to be paid on any packs not sold to tribe members, but New York suspended attempts to enforce that rule after it prompted unrest on the reservations in the 1990s. The tribes have fiercely resisted attempts to tax cigarettes as an attack on their sovereignty.

That lack of enforcement has left the courts conflicted about whether merchants are still obligated to collect the tax, and whether they can be prosecuted if they don’t.

Written by Frank Eltman

LCQ2: Offering petrol of lower octane numbers

lcq-2Last updated: May 6, 2010

Source: 7th Space

Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee Wai-king and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (May 5): Question: It has been reported that a survey conducted by the Consumer Council (“CC”) has found that more than 60% of the car models on sale in Hong Kong may still attain optimal efficiency even if they use 95-octane petrol, which is lower in price. The survey outcome is more or less the same as those of a similar survey conducted by CC 10 years ago. Yet, at present oil companies do not follow the practice in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Singapore of offering petrol of different octane numbers for vehicle owners to choose. Instead, they only sell the more costly 98-octane petrol, leaving some 200,000 vehicle owners in Hong Kong with no choice but to use it. It is estimated that the extra expenses on petrol paid by vehicle owners exceeded $2 billion in the past 10 years. There have been comments that the cause for the aforesaid existing situation is oligopoly in the motor vehicle fuel business. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) what measures the Government had adopted in the past 10 years to encourage oil companies to introduce petrol of lower octane numbers to Hong Kong; whether it had assessed the impact of oil companies not introducing petrol of lower octane numbers on vehicle owners in Hong Kong; if an assessment had been conducted, of the outcome; (b) whether the authorities had, in the past five years, studied the experience in other places to explore how the technical difficulties in supplying petrol of different octane numbers at the same time could be solved; if they had not, whether such studies will be conducted; whether the authorities will consider setting the supply of petrol of lower octane numbers as one of the lease conditions when inviting tenders for petrol filling station sites; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and (c) of the Government’s measures to increase the supply channels of fuel products and enhance competition in the industry, so as to safeguard the rights and interests of consumers? Reply: President, (a) & (b) The Air Pollution Control (Motor Vehicle Fuel) Regulation (Cap. 311L) specifies that the octane level of petrol for motor vehicles should not be lower than 95. According to the survey published by the Consumer Council in April 2010, among 550 models of petrol vehicles available in the Hong Kong market, 337 models (61.3%) could use 95-octane petrol and 213 models (38.7%) could use 98-octane petrol, as recommended by vehicle manufacturers.

Motorists should generally be mindful of the recommended octane level of petrol for their vehicles as advised by the manufacturers. A vehicle using petrol with an octane level lower than that recommended by its manufacturer may consume more fuel, lower engine performance and, as a result of premature ignition of petrol, reduce fuel efficiency, and render engine operation less than optimal. More pollutants, such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, may be emitted, affecting air quality. Simply speaking, from the perspective of environmental protection, using petrol with an octane level that fits the engine performance of vehicles can help reduce air pollution.

The unleaded petrol first introduced into Hong Kong in April 1991 was of an octane level of 95.According to the petrol suppliers, some motorists were of the opinion that the power of vehicles run on unleaded petrol was slightly smaller than that run on leaded petrol.In response to consumers’ demand, suppliers introduced 98-octane unleaded petrol in October of the same year. Between October 1991 and March 1992, consumers could choose petrol with octane levels of 95 or 98 available in the market at the same time.Subsequently, 95-octane petrol was not as popular among motorists, and was withdrawn from the market. The consultancy report on the Auto-fuel Retail Market issued in 2006 had explored the suggestion of supplying petrol with different octane levels.Having considered the size of petrol fillings stations (PFS) as well as the scale of the Hong Kong market, the report did not recommend requiring retailers to simultaneously provide petrol of two different octane levels.

(c) Hong Kong currently imports oil products from different countries or regions. In 2009, over 40% of our oil products were imported from Singapore, while those from Mainland China and South Korea accounted for 25% and 16% respectively. Oil companies will consider their sources of import taking into account cost, price and other market factors. In a free market economy, retail price of petrol is determined by the market.Suppliers will take a view on the types of products to be provided having regard to customers’ demand and other market factors.

To enhance competition in the auto-fuel market, the Government has taken a series of measures, including – (i) removing the requirement for bidders of PFS sites to hold import licence and supply contract; (ii) re-tendering all existing PFS sites upon expiry of their leases, instead of renewing the leases to the existing operators; and (iii) since June 2003, the Government has tendered PFS sites in batches consisting of 2 to 5 sites per batch, depending on the land supply situation. The new tendering arrangement facilitates new entrants in acquiring a critical mass of PFS to achieve economy of scale for effective competition in the auto-fuel market. Since introduction of the new tendering arrangements, two new operators have obtained 24 out of the 37 PFS sites put up for tender and successfully entered the market.

The share of the three biggest operators in terms of the number of PFS has dropped from over 93% to 74%. These statistics show that the new tendering arrangements have effectively enhanced competition in the auto-fuel market.

Hong Kong roadside pollution soars to record highs

aleqm5hlh_oukx2sllp9krjz44oxl73ndgLast updated: May 4, 2010

Source: AFP via Google

Hong Kong’s roadside pollution soared to record highs in last two quarters, official data showed Tuesday.

Roadside pollution was “very high” or “severe” for 14 percent of the time between January and March, and 24 percent of the time in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to statistics from the Environmental Protection Department.

The six-month period was the most polluted in the city since the department started releasing quarterly findings in 1999.

A survey of people in more than 150 countries last month found Hong Kong residents were the most dissatisfied with their air quality.

The poll, by the consultancy Gallup, revealed that 70 percent of the financial hub’s inhabitants were unhappy with the city’s air.

In March, Hong Kong recorded its first “severe” roadside pollution warning in a decade, when a toxic soup of particulates fuelled by a massive sandstorm in Beijing shrouded the city’s famed skyline for several days.

“Severe” pollution means the concentration of pollutants exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre of air. The warning advises the public to stay away from areas with heavy traffic.

Air pollution has become an increasing public health and economic headache for the authorities in the city of seven million, as green groups warned that the problem would force talented professionals to leave.

Last month, Hong Kong’s leading authority on air pollution, Anthony Hedley, announced that he was leaving the city for the Isle of Man in Britain to find clean air to try to keep his respiratory problems under control.

Clean Air Network, an environmental campaign group, said it was “a sad irony that one of those most committed to alleviating Hong Kong’s air pollution now has to leave the city primarily for that reason.”

Emissions from the factory belt in southern China over Hong Kong’s northern border combined with local emissions from power plants and transport have generated a thick blanket of haze over the city in recent years.

The government said it has stepped up efforts to cut vehicle emissions, including tax breaks for users of environmentally-friendly hybrid cars.

Clean air, not hot air, is what we need – now

3038290487_86889e7bc1Last updated: May 3, 2010

Source : South China Morning Post

Good and bad news about pollution can confuse efforts to clean up the air we breathe. Positive news encourages complacency. But there is no excuse for that in Hong Kong. Conflicting reports last week have, in fact, cleared the air about an insidious health hazard. Hong Kong’s roadside pollution is serious and worsening. The reasons are obvious. Officials have long used any excuse for dragging their feet over effective measures to deal with it.

The good news came in the joint release by Hong Kong and Guangdong of results of regional air quality monitoring at 16 stations in the Pearl River Delta, including Hong Kong. They showed that sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in the ambient atmosphere – well above ground level – fell 26 and 7 per cent respectively last year. The number of days with better air quality also rose, in line with a local improvement in ambient air quality.

From the health point of view, it is the explanation that was interesting. Environmental officials were quick to dismiss suggestions that the improvement could be attributed to a drop in pollution from industrial production caused by the 2008-09 financial crisis. They put it down to emission control programmes in Guangdong, such as power plant desulphurisation, and to the use of cleaner vehicle and industrial fuel.

Credit where credit is due. But the lesson here is that official action to reduce the sources of pollution produced improvements, however modest in terms of the scale of the problem. As a result, ambient air quality in the delta is at least headed in the right direction.

Contrast this with attempts to deal with roadside pollution in Hong Kong. Last week, we were treated to a slow-drive by taxi drivers featuring a mass, horn-tooting protest rally outside the Legislative Council. They are fighting a proposed law to ban polluting, idling engines, which has finally been introduced in Legco – 10 years after it was first proposed. Not satisfied with having won an exemption for the first five vehicles in a taxi-stand queue, they are threatening to go on strike if every taxi in the queue is not allowed to go on polluting the air. Concessions have also been made to the operators and drivers of our ubiquitous minibuses.

Why even bother with the law? Because of the bad news this week, to be found on the government website. It shows that annual average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide at the roadside in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok all rose by up to 13 per cent last year. They exceeded 100 micrograms per cubic metre of air – more than twice the World Health Organisation guideline of 40.

As environmental activists have pointed out, what matters to our health is the pollution to which we are exposed at street level.

The failure of the government to force power and transport operators to cut their emissions, or offer effective incentives for voluntary initiatives, lies at the heart of the problem. Most of our electricity is still produced by burning coal. Old diesel buses and trucks still account for about one third of the total fleet, and ships and ferries burn polluting bunker fuel

In the absence of a popular mandate, consultation and striving for government by consensus is a way of life in Hong Kong. But in this case it has resulted in more hot air from vested and sectional interests than clean air, which is a universal right. There comes a time when our unelected government must act decisively, as if it were elected, for the greater good.

HK’s pollution forces clean-air campaigner out

pic-anthony-j-hedleyLast updated: April 23, 2010

Source: South China Morning Post

Anthony Hedley leaves city to help his breathing problems

Hong Kong’s leading authority on air quality is leaving the city to escape its dirty air.

Professor Anthony Hedley, of the community medicine department at the University of Hong Kong, will be moving to the Isle of Man – a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea.

The 69-year-old professor, who is one of those most committed to the fight against air pollution in Hong Kong, said he needed to avoid the city’s dirty air to keep his respiratory symptoms under control.

He said: “I need to reduce my exposure to polluted air because I know from experience that my respiratory symptoms subside quickly when I am in cleaner air. Because of my medical history, I now want to avoid the biological stress which comes directly from breathing the polluted air in Hong Kong.”

Hedley said he suffered respiratory symptoms such as coughing and phlegm, which were aggravated by the poor air quality in Hong Kong. He said he planned to continue working with his colleagues at the university, but mainly electronically.

Prentice Koo Wai-muk, a Greenpeace campaigner, yesterday said: “It is certainly a great loss for Hong Kong. Professor Hedley is an authority on air pollution and public health, while many other experts like to focus on the sources of air pollution. He is also very active in expressing his views on air quality. Now we shall lose a voice.”

Koo said he appreciated Hedley’s commitment to study Hong Kong’s air quality while away from the city but feared he might lose touch.

“We can still tell him via e-mails that Hong Kong’s air pollution index is 100, or 140. But, a mere figure can be meaningless. You have to be here to know how bad it is and its impacts,” Koo said.

Friends of the Earth director Edwin Lau Che-feng said the air quality locally should have been greatly improved if the government had listened to Hedley’s advice.

Over the past two decades, the professor has campaigned for measures to control emissions of air pollutants from road traffic, shipping, and power plants.

But he said he was disheartened by the government’s inertia. “One of my biggest regrets is that we have not been able to move on the issue.”

In a statement yesterday, the Enviornmental Protection Department described Hedley as “our good comrade on combating air pollution” and said “we can assure him and all others who have concerns on our air quality that we would continue taking our best efforts to improve our air quality, both for our citizens’ health and for our competitiveness”.

Hedley has been chair professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong since 1988.

He and his university team launched the Hedley Environmental Index in 2008 to provide real-time measurements of the health and financial impacts of air pollution in Hong Kong.

The index showed that so far this year health care and lost productivity related to air pollution illnesses has cost the city about HK$572 million. The index also showed a total of 1.88 million doctor visits and 248 premature deaths because of air pollution over the same period.

A respected figure in the field, the professor was also appointed to the Advisory Council on Environment and the Environmental Impact Assessment subcommittee from 1996 to 2002. He was a member, and later chairman, of the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health from 1994 to 2002.

Widely regarded as his farewell lecture, Hedley will speak on Wednesday at a forum organised by Civic Exchange and Clean Air Network.