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December 2nd, 2011:

The EU-permitted number of high-pollution days for 2011 was exceeded in April

The government’s failure to meet EU standards on air pollution is “putting the health of UK residents at risk”, says the Environmental Audit Committee.

Bad air quality costs the nation £8.5-20bn per year via poor health, it says, and can cut life expectancy by years.

Continued failure to meet EU standards could result in swingeing fines.

The committee says ministers’ “apparent tactic” to avoid fines is to ask the European Commission for repeated extensions rather than curb pollution.

“The government needs to act now, as government did in the 1950s, to save the health of the nation”

Environmental Audit Committee report

The government’s latest request to the commission – to delay having to meet standards on nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until 2015 – is being taken to judicial review by environmental lawyers ClientEarth.

By some measures, the UK has been in breach of EU rules since 2005, the committee’s report notes.

It last reported on air pollution 18 months ago, and says that since then, there is “no meaningful evidence” to suggest progress towards meeting standards.

Yet evidence on the health impacts, it says, has become clearer.

Nationally, the government accepts that air pollution takes seven or eight months off Britons’ life expectancy. But for the 200,000 people most directly affected, the shortfall is two years.

“It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 – and the government is taking no responsibility for this,” said committee chair Joan Walley MP.

It is often the poorest people in our cities who live near the busiest roads and breathe in diesel fumes, dangerous chemicals and bits of tyre every day.”

Recent UK research indicated that tyres and brakes are a significant source of airborne particles, in addition to vehicle exhausts.

‘Not taken seriously’

On particulates, the UK is improving. Six years ago, eight places in the country exceeded EU standards.

Now, only London does; but the London picture is startling. EU regulations allow legal limits to be exceeded for 35 days per year. This year, the quota was reached in April.

The committee urges policies that would change transport methods in UK cities

A more problematic area is nitrogen dioxide. Currently, 40 out of 43 “assessment zones” across the country exceed the EU standard.

The government’s own projections, released in June, indicate that 17 will still be in breach in 2015, with Greater London taking even longer to clean up, despite the avowed intention of everyone connected with the Olympics to make them the “greenest games ever”.

Government plans for curbing NO2 pollution include financial incentives for switching haulage from road to rail, research on how retailers could deliver goods outside peak times, and differential pricing for vehicles emitting lower levels of pollutants.

And the London administration of Mayor Boris Johnson has set age limits for black cabs, invested in cycling, and implemented the London Low Emission Zone.

The Environmental Audit Committee says that even so, the air pollution issue is just not taken seriously in government.

“There are no air quality actions for Defra or the Department for Transport in their departmental business plans,” it says, and few government departments “appear to understand the importance of the issue”.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the government was working towards full compliance with EU standards, and that significant progress had been made.

“We are investing significant sums of money to facilitate further reductions in pollution around transport, including over £1bn to promote the uptake of ultra low emission vehicle technologies and to support local transport authorities to deliver sustainable transport measures,” she said.

“We welcome the committee’s continued interest in this work, and we will fully consider their recommendations before providing a written response in due course.”

Local zero

The government’s response to the committee’ previous report was rooted in the localism principle, with responsibility being devolved downwards to local authorities.

The committee warns that this could mean EU fines being passed down to local authorities as well.

“Under the banner of its localism agenda, the government is dumping the problem on local authorities who simply do not have the resources to tackle what is a national problem,” said Alan Andrews, air quality lawyer at ClientEarth.

“It is simply putting off taking action while behind the scenes it lobbies the EU to weaken limits.”

The committee says government should urgently implement incentives to retrofit old vehicles with equipment to reduce pollution and set up a network of Low Emission Zones in the worst-affected areas.

And it warns that meeting the NO2 standard would be impossible in the event of a third runway being constructed at Heathrow – an option that is currently ruled out by Coalition policy.

The committee’s call to action is partly couched in historical terms; air pollution in London causes as many deaths now as in the bad old days of the “pea-souper” smogs, it calculates.

“It is estimated that around 4,000 people died as a result of the Great Smog of London in 1952. That led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956.

“In 2008, 4,000 people died in London from air pollution and 30,000 died across the whole of the UK.

“The government needs to act now, as government did in the 1950s, to save the health of the nation.”

English councils get £1m to improve air quality


02 Dec 2011, BusinessGreen staff , BusinessGreen

Councils in England have been promised an extra £1m to battle air pollution after the government’s initial £2m fund was heavily oversubscribed.

Environment Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach confirmed the additional funding at the Environment Protection Conference in London yesterday, when he also unveiled a revised version of the Air Quality Index, a measure of air pollution levels.

“Although the quality of the air that we breathe has improved considerably, reducing air pollution is still one of our greatest challenges,” Taylor said. “That is why I am pleased to announce today that we are providing just over £1m of further funding to support these projects and to improve the local framework for delivering air quality improvements.”

Defra was forced to stump up the additional £1.186m some of the 51 projects approved under the initial Air Quality Grants had to be cut back and others could not be funded.

The department said it would work with councils to identify which projects could benefit from the extra funding to help reduce Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) emissions.

Local authorities with one or more Air Quality Management Areas for NO2 or those where the Government’s 2009 national air quality assessment identified a high level of NO2 emissions in their area will be eligible.

Councils that are successful will have to provide Defra with a progress report by September 2012 monitoring the success of each project and prove the money is being spent effectively.

© Incisive Media Investments Limited 2011, Published by Incisive Financial Publishing Limited, Haymarket House, 28-29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4RX, are companies registered in England and Wales with company registration numbers 04252091 & 04252093

Pollution plays a role in autism and dyslexia, say Israeli and foreign scientists

Conclusions emerge from presentations by Israeli and foreign scientists at a conference on the relationship between pollution and children’s health problems.

Growing evidence suggests pollution plays a significant role in developmental problems among children, including autism, attention deficit disorder and even dyslexia, it was revealed at a conference on the subject in Israel Wednesday.

These conclusions emerged from presentations by Israeli and foreign scientists at a conference on the relationship between pollution and children’s health problems. The conference, sponsored by the Environment and Health Fund, was part of the annual convention of the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association.

One of the principal speakers at the conference was Prof. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, who noted that many countries worldwide have reported a sharp rise in recent years in the prevalence of development disorders such as autism and ADD. This rise cannot be attributed solely to genetic factors or to higher rates of diagnosis, he said, and today, even researchers who once thought environmental factors could explain only a small fraction of the increased incidence of autism, for instance, have been convinced that it accounts for at least 25 percent of the rise.

Exposure to substances such as lead, mercury and pesticides is particularly dangerous for children, because they are more sensitive to these materials – in part because their brains are still developing, Landrigan said. A child’s body also breaks down poisonous materials less efficiently than the adult body does, and any given quantity of chemical has more of an impact on a child because it constitutes a larger proportion of his body mass. Additionally, most children will spend more years being exposed to poisonous substances than adults will, he said.

Today, blood tests find hundreds of types of chemicals in children’s blood, Landrigan noted. But little is known about the effects of most of these substances because they have never been studied. And while hundreds of other substances have been identified as harmful to human health, their impact on children in particular has generally not been investigated. Nor has research been done on the cumulative effect of exposure to multiple poisonous substances – though modern humanity makes use of some 80,000 different chemicals, he said.

Some Western countries have tried to contend with the problem by requiring chemical manufacturers to do more testing of and reporting on their products’ health impact, but so far success has been partial.

Dr. Orna Metzner of the Environmental Protection Ministry said that Israel, too, is now working on creating a database for chemical safety data, as one of the commitments it undertook when it joined the OECD.

One of the successes of recent years has been in reducing children’s exposure to lead. Dr. Tamar Berman, the Health Ministry’s toxicologist, said the level of lead found in drinking water now exceeds the permitted maximum in only two percent of samples – though she stressed that, given the risks of lead exposure, this is still too much.

Lack of political will responsible for the polluted air we breathe in HK

South China Morning Post – Dec. 2, 2011

I refer to the letter by Pang Sik-wing of the Environmental Protection Department (“Defending cleaner air measures”, November 24) in response to a number of articles in Lai See.

It was a further masterpiece in the Environment Bureau’s long series of deceptions on air quality management. The full array of short-term and annual pollutant concentrations show that the population is exposed to dangerously high levels of health-damaging particulates and gases, up to several hundred per cent above World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum limits.

Present-day medical evidence shows that harmful effects in children occur even below these limits, and it is likely they will be revised downwards long before Hong Kong is compliant with present international advisories.

Air pollution is a major cause of serious morbidity and mortality and will continue to be for decades, especially for children, the deprived and those with other health problems, even if pollution is reduced dramatically in the near future. This will not happen because the government procrastinates and adopts minimalist measures which do not match the size and severity of the problem. That is why, in public health protection terms, there has been little meaningful change in our exposures from ambient and roadside pollutants for more than a decade.

In 2009 the environment minister claimed that the government had adopted WHO guidelines for the new air quality objectives (AQO). Nothing could be further from reality.

The department and its consultants mostly selected much less stringent “interim targets”. They also engaged in blind tinkering with short-term limits, allowing additional exceedances to accommodate the present high levels of pollution, instead of implementing the full guidelines and enforcing them to drive down pollution on the shortest possible timescales. This constitutes a major health hazard for everyone.

We need to at least start the process of rational air quality management but it is now clear that, whatever else may be introduced by way of pollutant mitigation, these totally inadequate AQOs will not deliver safer air and protect child health. Once these contrived proposals are enshrined in law, it will, as Mr Pang emphasises, be possible to approve highly polluting projects because they will not violate extremely lax standards.

Unless there is a radical change in political will, our bad air epidemic is set to continue for a very long time.

Anthony Hedley, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

Air pollution clouds view of new businesses in Hong Kong


Dec. 2, 2011

Chinese University of Hong Kong (MA course)

Genre: Special Report

View of the city from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

View of the city from Victoria Peak, Hong Kong / Photo by Emily Liang

HONG KONG, Dec. 2 — A recent survey by the office space management provider Regus revealed a majority of businesses in Hong Kong believe air pollution may be directly to blame for the loss of its competitive edge as the top Asian financial center.

The survey, which included more than 200 international and local companies currently operating in Hong Kong, found 75 percent of Hong Kong business owners and employees feel low air quality is stifling current businesses practices and keeping new foreign companies from transplanting to the area.

“I have been working in Hong Kong for seven years,” said Claudio Gastiglia, an Italian architect working in Hong Kong. “Compared with the time when I first arrived in Hong Kong, I can really feel that the air quality has been reduced a lot.”

Although Gastiglia feels some action is being taken by the government, he said it is not enough.

“I think for the health of the people who live here, either citizen or foreign workers, still a lot could be done,” he said.

The survey indicated that potential companies take environmental issues into strong consideration when choosing locations, and they are more apt to look for friendly and stable conditions in which to conduct their business.

As a result, more enterprises are moving to Singapore, where their employees can breathe easier because of their higher air quality standards.

Gastiglia said it is well-known for being “one of the cleanest cities in the world.”

“If only talking about environment, (Singapore) could be a better choice at least for now,” he said.

England resident Jane Chan, a financial Analyst at Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in Hong Kong, said the poor air quality in Hong Kong needs to be reduced in the short term and solved in the long run if it wants to attract foreigners and well-qualified workers to the area.

“Nowadays, people not only long for money but also a healthy life,” she said.

Christian Masset, a French businessman who moved to Hong Kong more than two decades ago, the co-director of Motorwave, a specialized sustainable energy technology, and a chair member of the environmental non-governmental organization, “Clear the Air in Hong Kong,” agreed that Singapore is a better place to move in comparison to Hong Kong.

According to a recent ranking from the World Bank Report, “Doing Business 2012,” Singapore is currently ranked as the number one top Asian location for doing business, with Hong Kong trailing in second place.

Masset said the two regions share their tax friendly policies, easy company incorporation procedures and excellent infrastructure to lure foreign investors and expatriates to live there.

And, when everything seems to be similar regarding the ease of doing business, he said the issue of poor air quality in one of the locations might be a significant factor when it comes to making the final decision.

“We know what a healthy environment means,” Masset said. “We all have families living in the countryside, where the air is better than cities.”

Some professionals have already felt suffocated by Hong Kong’s pollution and moved away.

European expatriate, Simon Morliere, worked in Hong Kong for nearly five years before moving to Singapore, a decision he has not regretted.

Morliere said the benefits of living and working in Singapore include comfort, stability, safety, and most importantly, cleaner air quality.

Emily Liang and Stephanie Xu also contributed to this story.

Tags: business, expatriates, Hong Kong, pollution