Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

October, 2011:

Pollution news

Reducing greenhouse gases from traffic
The European Commission wants your views on measures that can cut CO2 emissions from road vehicles. The results of the public consultation will feed into the Commission’s decision-making on EU regulations for cars, vans and heavy-duty vehicles. In “A Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050”, the commission estimates that the emissions from the transport sector will need to drop by 50-70 per cent by 2050. The consultation is open until 9 December 2011.

The Hong Kong EPD is offering a prize for anyone who can find a similar consultation on its website.

Road transport pollution control
In light of rapid developments in automotive technology, persistent air quality problems in urban areas, and the experience gained in implementing the existing legislation, the European Commission on 5 September launched a public consultation on measures to reduce emissions from the road transport sector. Among the measures considered are mandatory fuel consumption meters in all new cars and the mandatory installation of gear shift indicators (GSI) in light-duty vehicles. These and other measures related to emissions from motor vehicles are open for public consultation until 28 October 2011

Review of EU air quality
On 6 June, the European Commission officially launched its 2011-2013 review of air quality legislation. Updates of key legislation such as the National Emission Ceilings (NEC) Directive and the Ambient Air Quality Directive will be discussed, together with linkages to policies on climate, transport and agriculture. The Commission invites member states, industry, NGOs and the wider public to express their views on how to improve Europe’s air legislation.

Three written consultations were launched in June 2011: one for the members of a newly established expert group, one for the wider public, and a third one for air quality professionals. The consultation is open until 15 October 2011.

Particle pollution killing people
In many cities air pollution is reaching levels that threaten people’s health according to a new compilation of air quality data by the World Health Organization (WHO). The information includes data from nearly 1100 cities across 91 countries, including capital cities and cities with more than 100,000 residents.

WHO estimates that more than two million people die every year from breathing in tiny particles present in indoor and outdoor air pollution. These tiny particles can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections. The WHO air quality guideline for PM10 is 20 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) as an annual average, but the data released today shows that the average PM10 level in some cities has reached up to 300 µg/m3.

Average PM10 levels in European cities range between 29 and 42 µg/m3, the data show. This compares with a world average of 71 µg/m3. The highest average PM10 levels are in the eastern Mediterranean region with a range of 137-142 µg/m3, followed by Southeast Asia.

For 2008, the estimated mortality attributable to outdoor air pollution in cities amounts to 1.34 million premature deaths. If the WHO guidelines had been universally met, an estimated 1.09 million deaths could have been prevented in 2008.

“Local actions, national policies and international agreements are all needed to curb pollution and reduce its widespread health effects,” said Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, Head of the WHO European Centre for Environment and Health. “Data from air quality monitoring that is released today, identify regions where action is most needed and allows us to assess the effectiveness of implemented policies and actions.”

Sources: WHO press release 26 September 2011, and ENDS Europe Daily, 27 September 2011

Air pollution from US power plants to be cut
The new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) replaces and strengthens the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR). By 2014, this rule and other state and EPA actions are expected to reduce SO2 emissions by 73 per cent from 2005 levels, and NOx emissions by 54 per cent.

According to the EPA, the new rule, which affects 27 states in the eastern half of the country, will reduce smog and soot pollution in communities that are home to 240 million Americans, preventing up to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks, 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis, 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million sick days a year beginning in 2014, thus achieving up to US$280 billion in annual health benefits. The benefits far outweigh the US$800 million projected to be spent annually on this rule in 2014 and the roughly US$1.6 billion per year in capital investments already underway as a result of CAIR.

The rule will level the playing field for power plants that are already controlling air pollutant emissions, by requiring more facilities to do the same.

Source: US EPA, 7 July 2011

Tougher US car fuel efficiency standard
The Obama administration and 13 automakers agreed in July to boost the fuel economy of cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The new agreement more than doubles the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, Standard of 24.1 miles per gallon. Achieving the fuel efficiency goals is expected to save American drivers US$1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel saving of over US$8,000 per vehicle. The new standards are expected to result in savings of 12 billion barrels of oil in total.

The standards also curb carbon pollution, requiring performance equivalent to 163 grams per mile of CO2. The administration says the standards will cut more than six billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the programme.

Source: Environmental News Service, 2 August 2011
Web link:

Fuel efficiency rule for US heavy duty trucks
The first national fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses in the United States were announced on 9 August, covering vehicles made between 2014 and 2018. Heavy-duty vehicles account for 17 per cent of transportation oil use and 12 per cent of all US oil consumption. Nearly six per cent of all US greenhouse gas emissions and 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector in 2007 were produced by heavy-duty vehicles.
The businesses that operate and own these commercial vehicles are expected to save some US$50 billion in fuel costs and more than 500 million barrels of oil over the life of the programme. Greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be cut by 270 million metric tons.

Source: Environmental News Service, 9 August 2011
Web link:

The Press Association: Filter-like trees improve city air

Filter-like trees improve city air
(UKPA) – 3 days ago
Trees in London improve air quality by filtering out pollution particulates
which cause problems like asthma.

New research found that the urban trees of the Greater London Authority
(GLA) area remove somewhere between 850 and 2,000 tonnes of particulate
pollution (PM10), which can be inhaled by humans, from the air every year.

The University of Southampton research found that the targeting of tree
planting in the most polluted areas of the GLA area and particularly the use
of a mixture of trees, including evergreens such as pines and evergreen oak,
would have the greatest benefit to future air quality in terms of PM10

One of the paper’s authors, Professor Gail Taylor, said: “Trees have evolved
to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, so it’s not surprising that they are also
good at removing pollutants.

“Trees which have leaves the whole year are exposed to more pollution and so
they take up more. Using a number of different tree species and modelling
approaches, the effectiveness of the tree canopy for clean air can be

The study also looked at predictions of particulate volumes in future
climate and for five tree planting scenarios in London.

Using seasonal rather than hourly data was shown to have little impact on
modelled annual deposition of pollution (PM10) to urban canopies, suggesting
that pollution uptake can be estimated in other cities and for the future
where hourly data are not available.

Co-author Peter Freer-Smith, chief scientist for Forest Research (Forestry
Commission), said: “We know that particulates can damage human health, for
example exacerbating asthma, and this reduction in exposure could have real
benefits in some places, such as around the edge of school playgrounds.

“Urban green space and trees give a wide range of benefits and this study
confirms that improving air quality is one of them and will also help us to
get the most out of this benefit in future.”

The findings were published this month in the journal Landscape And Urban

Copyright C 2011 The Press Association. All rights reserved.

Car-free Sunday for smog-struck Milan

Milan's cathedral

The northern Italian city of Milan banned all traffic from its streets for 10 hours on Sunday in an attempt to reduce smog.

The measure, first imposed on a trial basis in 2007, is triggered whenever pollution exceeds the statutory limit for 12 consecutive days.

Satellite imagery shows Milan to be one of the most polluted cities in Europe.

An estimated 120,000 vehicles will be affected by the move, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

The most polluting vehicles have been banned from driving through the city centre since Thursday.

But on Sunday, there was no traffic between 0800 and 1800 local time (06:00-16:00 GMT).

The ban is imposed when pollution exceeds 50 micrograms of particulates per cubic metre of air over 12 days. The last time the full ban was in force was in February.

The move is not popular with all environmentalists, who argue that the city’s public transport system should be improved to discourage people from using their cars.

Local Green Party councillor Enrico Fedrighini said cars with three or four people inside should be offered free parking, for example.

“One or two car-free Sundays each month won’t do anything to tackle the smog crisis,” he told Corriere della Sera.

Public transport was to be bolstered during the day, with an extra metro trains and buses operating.

Locator map

Air pollution from traffic impairs brain


Air pollution in cities and beside roads can impair the way the brain functions, two new studies have revealed.

Air pollution from traffic impairs brain

The study examined the average lifetime exposure to traffic-related pollution Photo: REX

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent

8:00AM BST 09 Oct 2011

Scientists have found living in areas with high levels of traffic pollution can reduce people’s performance in cognitive tests.

They found that people older than 51 who had lived in polluted areas had lower cognitive scores than those who had been exposed to lower levels of pollution during their life time even after their results had been adjusted for social and educative status.

A second study in animals has also revealed that fine airborne particulates that are typically emitted by diesel engines can lead to learning and memory problems by reducing the growth of neurons in the brain.

Dr Melinda Power, from the department of epidemiology and environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, said that long term exposure to air pollution related to traffic seemed to affect the way the brain functions.

She said: “Cognitive decline and impairment in the elderly is a huge public health issue. Our study suggests that traffic-related air pollution, particularly diesel exhaust, may play a role.

Related Articles

03 Jun 2010

11 May 2010

01 Sep 2009

“Our results suggest an adverse effect of traffic related air pollution on global cognitive function in older men.

“When we explored the potential for effect modification, our results suggest the effect of traffic-related air pollution on cognition may be greater in smokers or overweight and obese individuals.

“Although we looked at the effect in men, I believe the findings are applicable to women as well.”

The study examined the average lifetime exposure to traffic-related pollution and the cognitive test scores of 680 men aged between 51-years-old and 97-years-old.

It found that those living in areas that were exposed to twice as much black carbon as low pollution areas were 1.3 times more likely to have lower cognitive scores.

The researchers also found that if black carbon levels doubled in one area compared to another, the effect on the cognitive functions of people from that area were equivalent to ageing by nearly two years.

Dr Power added: “Traffic-related air pollution is a complex mixture of gases and particles.

“Traffic-related air pollution appears to cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. There is also evidence that ultrafine particulates can get into the brain and cause dysfunction.”

In the second, separate study in mice, researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus found that exposure to fine particles of pollution known as PM2.5s caused increases in the levels of inflammatory molecules in the animals’ brains.

They found that mice exposed to air polluted with the particles for ten months showed signs of impairment of their learning and memory abilities compared to those that been given filtered air.

The researchers found that a part of the animals’ brains known as the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning, had also suffered decreased neuron growth in the mice exposed to the pollution.

Laura Fonken, from the behavioural neuroscience program at the university, said: “These data suggest that long-term exposure to particulate air pollution levels typical of exposure in major cities around the globe an alter the affective responses and impair cognition.”

Particulate air pollution has already been linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and scientists have found pollution from diesel engines can harden the arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.

It is estimated that more than 20 towns and cities in Britain are emitting pollution at twice the levels specified by the World Health Organisation.

An official report by the Committee on the Medial Effects of Air Pollutants said that air pollution in the UK takes around two years off the lives of 200,000 people.

The UK has one of the worst rates of air pollution in Europe and last year the Government was warned it may face a £300 million fine for failing to meet European air quality standards.

Clear opportunity to improve the air

South China Morning Post — Oct. 9, 2011

Sniff the air and scan the skies and you’ll easily get an idea of how severe the air pollution is at any given time. But the best gauge of the effectiveness over time of a government’s policies is data collected scientifically. The more specific the information, the better understanding there will be of the efforts under way and what more needs doing to make improvements. Mainland authorities, realising the shortcomings of current environmental standards, are considering including fine particulate matter in air quality readings. They should promptly embrace the idea, as should Hong Kong, so the skies can more often be clear and the health of citizens more assured.

China is among the countries that does not yet include fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less (known as PM2.5) in air quality objectives. There is every reason why they should be included; health studies have shown a close association between exposure to the pollutant particles from vehicle exhausts, power stations and factories, and premature death from heart and lung disease. In high concentrations, they can lead to heart problems, asthma attacks and bronchitis, especially in the elderly and children and those with pre-existing conditions.

A recent World Health organisation study of air quality in 1,100 cities shows why this issue is so pressing. Beijing was the tenth-dirtiest capital city in the world and ranked 26th among the 30 mainland cities surveyed. The least polluted, Haikou on Hainan island , ranked 814th in the world. Hong Kong was not included, but the data used by the WHO came from the China Statistical Yearbook 2010. Using the same criteria, Hong Kong would be 870th in the world alongside Manila and Turin in Italy.

Being ranked so low is not only cause for shame, but should also be a wake-up call. Beijing residents certainly got that jolt during the Olympic Games in 2008, when authorities imposed strict controls on industry and kept drivers off roads to clear the air. For a month, the city’s skies were transformed, giving residents a chance to see what was possible. The games have long ended, but the aspirations born of the chance to once again breathe unpolluted air are pushing the government to adopt higher environmental standards.

Few countries meet the WHO’s recommended standards. They are challenging to attain, particularly the standard for PM2.5, but adopting them as part of an effort to make the air cleaner is the worthiest of policies. The Hong Kong and mainland authorities should promptly take that step as part of a strategy of greater environmental responsibility, openness and transparency. Striving for what is accepted internationally is good for our health, the city and the world. Continuing to lag behind is damaging at every level.

Air Quality in Hong Kong 2010

Download PDF : aqr10e_pre (3)

Air quality

We cannot keep running to Beijing

South China Morning Post

The court ruling regarding right of abode and [foreign] domestic helpers is apparently very clear. It has been arrived at by a judge in a city that advertises the fact that it has the rule of law operated by an independent judiciary.

Asking Beijing for a ruling on a ruling is only to be expected from Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee (“HK must seek Beijing ruling on right of abode for maids, Ip says”, October 3). She does not seem to understand the consequences of running to Beijing whenever something happens that she does not like.

If every decision, however minor, has to be taken by Beijing, surely it will decide that it is not even worth bothering with the pretence of electing a chief executive or a legislature, and just appoint a mainland official to do the job and impose the mainland legal system.

Beijing could argue what is the point of having independent judges. If Hongkongers want to be ruled in the same way as the mainland, then let it be so. What Mrs Ip and others like her should be doing is making sure that they address the problem, if there is one, in a mature manner.

They should address the implications of a minimum wage and hourly working week for the women who become permanent residents. I think the opposition to the ruling is driven by racism and money – people may have to pay more for their domestic help.

It may make people consider that the cost [of hiring a foreign helper] is too great and actually start to look after their own children. Surely no bad thing.

Michael Jenkins, Central

Designation of US Caribbean Emission Control Area under MARPOL ANNEX VI

Oct. 7, 2011


ClassNK issues Technical Information TEC- 0866 regarding Designation of US Caribbean Emission Control Area under MARPOL ANNEX VI (Regulations for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships) as follows:

Information on Emission Control Areas (hereinafter referred to as ECA) specified in MARPOL ANNEX VI (hereinafter referred to as ANNEX VI) has already been provided in ClassNK Technical Information No.TEC-0654 issued on 13 April 2006, No.TEC-0771 issued on 13 May 2009 and No.TEC-0832 issued on 11 November 2010.

In this connection, the United States Caribbean Sea area has been designated as a new ECA in accordance with the amendments to ANNEX VI adopted at the 62nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 62) held in July 2011.

The relevant information has been circulated by the IMO as the attached Resolution MEPC.202(62). This ClassNK Technical Information provides information relating to the above matter.

1. Sea area newly designated as ECA

The United States Caribbean Sea area (the sea area located off the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands) is designated as ECA for NOx, SOx and Particulate Matter (PM) emissions. Please refer to IMO Resolution MEPC.202(62) for the detailed definition of the sea area.

2. Application

The amendments will enter into force on 1 January 2013. However, the requirements regarding SOx and Particulate Matter (PM) emissions (Regulation 14 of ANNEX VI) in the United States Caribbean Sea area will commence on 1 January 2014, because an exemption clause for the first 12 months is specified in ANNEX VI. On the other hand, the requirements for NOx emissions in the United States Caribbean Sea area will commence after 1 January 2016*, because NOx Tier III requirements specified in Regulation 13 of ANNEX VI will be applied in the ECA at that time.

For more information, click here.

Carbon tax on airlines upheld

South China Morning Post – Oct. 7, 2011

World airlines vow to continue their fight against emissions charge plan after court adviser finds in favour of European Union’s cap-and-trade system

The world’s aviation industry yesterday suffered a setback in its fight against a European Union plan to make foreign airlines pay hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon tax for flights to and from the EU.

The blow came when an adviser to the European Union Court of Justice told judges that the decision to impose the EU’s carbon cap-and-trade system on airlines beyond the region’s borders would be lawful, advice the court is likely to follow.

“The inclusion of international aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme is compatible with the provisions and principles of international law invoked,” advocate general Juliane Kokott wrote in a legal opinion for the Luxembourg-based court, rejecting arguments filed by the international aviation industry.

Several carriers and airline associations have challenged the 2008 decision by the 27 EU states to force airlines flying in and out of Europe to buy the permits under the bloc’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), fearing that it will cost their industry US$1.2 billion a year.

“Foreign governments are unlikely to accept this interpretation of the validity of the ETS being imposed unilaterally on foreign airlines,” said Andrew Herdman, director general of the Kuala Lumpur-based Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines. “This is certainly not the end of the matter.”

Tony Tyler, the head of the International Air Transport Association, said: “We are disappointed with the opinion but it is only part of a complex set of developments concerning” the carbon-trading system.

Tyler said that “many governments were rightly concerned about the infringements on sovereignty” and warned that 20 states had signed a declaration “vowing to challenge the plan’s extra-territoriality” at the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a United Nations agency.

Last month, the China Air Transport Association warned that dozens of airlines would be involved in another lawsuit it aimed to lodge by the end of the year.

China has said it fears its aviation sector will have to pay an additional 800 million yuan (HK$974.6 million) a year on flights originating or landing in Europe, and that the cost could be almost four times higher by 2020.

“If they charge us, we will charge back,” Wei Zhenzhong, the secretary general of the China Air Transport Association, told an industry conference in Hong Kong last week.

Cathay Pacific (SEHK: 0293) said: “This decision represents a green light towards an emerging patchwork of complex, bureaucratic and punitive regional schemes which will ultimately have no impact on improving the environment and will hit passengers.”

The ETS, started in 2005, is the cornerstone of the EU’s plan to fight global warming and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that while the EU doesn’t want to “dictate the world”, aviation could not be excluded from such measures forever.

“I am glad to see that the advocate general’s opinion concludes that the EU directive is fully compatible with international law,” she said. “The EU reaffirms its wish to engage constructively with third countries during the implementation of this legislation.”

Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse