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October 16th, 2011:

Fight for the right for everybody in Hong Kong to breathe easier

South China Morning Post

Updated on Oct 16, 2011

In April, Tung Chung resident Chu Yee-wah successfully challenged the government for allowing the environmental assessment of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. That court decision was later overturned; the Court of Appeal found that the Highways Department was only required to conduct an assessment of the cumulative impact of the project.

Commentary from the Liberal Party and Albert Cheng in the South China Morning Post blamed the Civic Party for engineering this judicial review. In our opinion any person, organisation or party in Hong Kong that defends the right to breathe clean air deserves a medal.

The World Health Organisation recently released a study of the levels of pathogenic airborne particulate matter in more than 1,000 cities. Fine particles (PM2.5) are less than 2.5 microns in size and result from the combustion of fossil fuels. PM2.5 is the most lethal form of pollution, capable of carrying heavy metals into the lungs and remaining suspended in the air for weeks.

In 2006, our chief executive stated: “In fact, the air is not all that bad. The air quality today is not inferior to Washington DC. We have now cleaned up our old vehicular fleet.”

The truth: in 2005, when Donald Tsang Yam-kuen took office, the annual level of PM2.5 at the roadside in Central was 48 micrograms per cubic metre of air (ug/m3). The WHO figure for Washington was 10.7, that for Vancouver 4.7, that for Sydney 7, that for London 13.5 and that for Singapore 19. Many cities already meet the WHO’s air quality guidelines, which suggest an annual standard of 10ug/m3 for PM2.5.

The learned judges left our air quality and health in the hands of the Hong Kong government, so how does it compare?

In 2010, the PM2.5 level at the roadside in Central was 36 ug/m3; in Tung Chung it was 29, in Tsuen Wan 30, and in Yuen Long 32. (The Environmental Protection Department had no PM2.5 sensors in our two most polluted roadside areas: Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.) Tung Chung already exceeds all international air quality standards before construction starts on any bridge connecting Zhuhai’s domestic airport to Hong Kong airport with its third runway, supposedly needed to handle the (dwindling) exports from the Pearl River Delta.

We need more Chu Yee-wah’s in Hong Kong for the sake of everyone’s health for as long as the Hong Kong government prevaricates on air quality.

Edwin Town, vice-chairman, Clear the Air