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April 28th, 2011:

How long can the government ignore the bad air evidence

South China Morning Post – 28th April 2011

As the government continues to twiddle its thumbs over the noxious fumes that are spewed out by mainly buses and trucks, other organisations are thankfully taking a less relaxed view. Hung Wing-tat, an associate professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, is overseeing a pilot project to examine the health effects of air pollution in children. It is part of “The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities”, which was established in a 2001 joint plan by the Asian Development Bank, World Bank, and the US – an Asia environmental partnership. It works with Primary Four pupils in seven schools. The first stage looks at where the children spend their time – at school, home, walking in the street, buses, MTR and so on. Their pulmonary activity is measured, and then project workers follow selected children with devices to measure the same air that the children are exposed to.

Professor Hung said preliminary results showed that children were being exposed to high levels of pollution. It also shows in some cases that the lungs of children are being harmfully affected.

These pollutants include the so-called BTEX volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, which are found in petroleum derivatives. Despite being highly carcinogenic, the government monitoring stations do not measure them regularly – just nitrous oxide, particulates, sulphur dioxide and ozone. High levels of BTEX compounds were found in some schools and even school buses, and there were also high levels of nitrous oxide on buses, a result of insufficient ventilation, Hung said. He said a full study would take three years, but he needed funding.

Practically all of the pollution we experience at street level in urban locations is generated in Hong Kong by traffic – 80 per cent by buses and trucks. The government can dramatically improve this problem probably for less than the HK$36 billion it mindlessly gave away to people in the budget.