Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

March 25th, 2012:

Minister Questioned Over Delhi’s Controversial Incinerator

On four occasions out of ten, levels of Particulate Matter (PM) at Delhi’s controversial Okhla waste to energy facility have exceeded the standard of 150 mg/Nm3, according to India’s Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Speaking in the Rajya Sabha or Council of States – the upper house of the Parliament of India, the Minister of State for Environment & Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan said that complaints have been received against the incineration of municipal waste and its possible harmful effects on air quality and human health.

According to Natarajan, as per the information provided by Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), un to March 6 this year a total of 27,469 tonnes of municipal solid waste has been incinerated at the facility.

A further 3250 tonnes of solid waste was said to be lying in the collection pit at the plant.

Natarajan further informed the House that DPCC is regularly monitoring the emissions from the stack attached to the plant.

Levels of oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Hydrochloric acid mist (HCl) are found to be within the standards, as prescribed in the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.

However, on four occasions out of ten, levels of Particulate Matter (PM) exceeded the standard of 150 mg/Nm3.

The Minister said that as per the Central pollution Control Board, the technology being used by the Waste to Energy plant at Okhla is as specified in the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000.

Dr Martin Williams. Writing. Photography. Multimedia.
Recognised as an Outstanding Earth Champion by the Earth Champions Foundation
Cheung Chau, Hong Kong; tel 96201824

DocMartin – Passion for the Wild, PR for the Planet
Hong Kong Outdoors – Wild About Hong Kong
Cheung Chau HK – South China Sea Island in Hong Kong

Ramky plant comes under scanner again; Incineration facility causing diseases among families residing in Tarapur

Ramky plant comes under scanner again; Incineration facility causing
diseases among families residing in Tarapur

Vivek Trivedi
March 23, 2012

Dissent from locals against Ramky Enviro Engineering Pvt Ltd has once
again put the plant under scanner. The utility had faced considerable
opposition after a portion of Union Carbide waste was incinerated in
Pithampur in 2010. Villagers in Tarapur during a visit of volunteers from
NGO Lok Maitri complained their crops were getting damaged due to
incineration of waste. The findings are a study carried out by 15
students of Kothari College of Social Studies. They surveyed 88 families
residing in Tarapur. The report has claimed the incineration facility is
causing diseases like stomach ailments and skin problems among villagers
and potable water is also getting contaminated. Gautam Kothari from Lok
Maitri said, “We are planning to send the report to both state and
central governments.” MPPCB regional office Dhar Hemant Sharma said the
charges are true as the incinerator is not running. “The incineration has
just taken place from November 21 to February 13 and it was discontinued
as no directive was witnessed from the CPCB,” said Sharma. He said around
four tonnes of Union Carbide waste was destroyed by the plant in the
past, and pollutions levels were found to be okay during incineration
trials. In the past too the unit has invited wrath of both MP Pollution
Control Board (MPPCB) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
regarding the unit s failure to abide by rules. At that time reports of
ground water samples collected by MPPCB Bhopal suggested that all bore
wells situated inside the plant and open testing well registered an
alarming growth in quantities of total solids, total dissolved solids,
hardness of water, chlorine, alkalinity, sodium and potassium within a
period of one year. The trend also continued in the subsequent sample
testing reports. The analysis report released by the MPPCB on December
31, 2011 also indicated higher presence of suspended particulate matter
(SPM) more than the permissible limit. The SPM quantity was found to be
67.91, 159.16 and 176.45 g/cubic metre against the permissible limit of
100 g/cubic metre. General manager, Ramky Enviro Engineers Amit Chaudhary
did not comment on the issue. He confirmed trial runs of the incinerator
had stopped.

MACAU DAILY TIMES – Analysis Hong Kong as dirtiest global financial center is Tsang’s legacy


Harboring an unlicensed duck in Hong Kong can land a fine of HK$50,000 after the world’s first human deaths from bird flu were recorded in the city 15 years ago. That’s 50 times the penalty for driving a vehicle belching smoky fumes.
Failure to force aging buses and trucks off Hong Kong’s streets is a key cause of air pollution that results in more than 3,000 premature deaths a year, according to Civic Exchange, a think tank. In contrast, the H5N1 virus has killed 350 people worldwide since 1997, World Health Organization data show.
“People normally don’t realize that air pollution can cause cancer, heart and respiratory diseases,” said Carlos Dora, coordinator at the Geneva-based health agency’s Department of Public Health and Environment, who puts the global annual death toll from filthy urban air at 1.3 million. “Those are the diseases that really are the big, big plague.”
As Chief Executive Donald Tsang steps down after seven years in office, he leaves a city that boasts the world’s most valuable stock exchange, hosted three of the five biggest initial share sales in history, and is the best place on the globe for business, a new gauge by Bloomberg Rankings shows. Blotting the record is another superlative: the most polluted international financial center.
New York, London, Tokyo and Singapore all have cleaner air and more ambitious improvement targets, according to WHO data and the city governments’ websites. As China opens its economy, removing the capital controls that led investors to use Hong Kong as a proxy for Chinese growth, pollution risks undermining Tsang’s economic successes.

Singapore bound

“I am leaving Hong Kong explicitly because of the air,” said Alex Turnbull, an Australian banker at a Wall Street firm, who plans a move to Singapore in May. “When capital controls leave, how on earth will this city stay competitive? Hong Kong is at risk of being irrelevant in the long run.”
The government will continue to strive for better air quality, “both for our citizens’ health and to attract overseas talents and enhance Hong Kong’s competitiveness as a financial hub and tourist destination,” Tsang’s office said in an e- mailed response to questions yesterday.
Sandwiched between the Asian headquarters of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and a Tiffany & Co. outlet, the air-quality meter in the Central business district has registered an average roadside pollution level of “high” or “very high” every day bar one this year. In 1999, 66 percent of days were at those levels. By 2010 and 2011, it was more than 90 percent.

Lung cancer

Airborne particles from vehicle exhausts and power stations have the greatest impact on human health, linked to 9 percent of lung cancer deaths globally, WHO estimates.
Hong Kong’s average reading of particulate matter with a diameter of 10 micrometers — about 1/7th the width of a human hair — or less in 2009 was 50 micrograms per cubic meter, according to a WHO survey of 1,100 cities. While that was less than half Beijing’s, it compares with 29 in Singapore and London, 23 in Tokyo and 21 in New York. The WHO guideline is 20.
Average annual roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide, which inflames lungs, increased 27 percent in Hong Kong last year from 2007, Environmental Protection Department data show. The 2011 levels were more than triple WHO safety limits.
Hong Kong also adopted the lowest or second-lowest interim targets WHO offers. The agency has a number of objectives aimed at poorer countries just “getting onto the curve,” said Anthony Hedley, honorary professor of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public of Health. “It’s not intended for a modern developed city like Hong Kong.”

Trends down

The government says pollution trends are down, with a one- third drop in particulates since 1999. Nitrous oxide is 28 percent lower and sulphur dioxide has fallen 56 percent, government data show. Still, Nitrogen dioxide is up 24 percent, ozone 21 percent, and those pollutants that had dropped are either up or little changed since 2009.
The city’s observatory recorded 750 hours of reduced visibility that wasn’t caused by fog, cloud or rain in 1999; that rose to 1,399 hours last year.
“It is such a shame as Hong Kong is an incredibly beautiful place the 10 days a year when you actually realize that the tree-lined hills are dark green and not a washed out gray-green color,” said Alexander West, founder of Blue Pool Capital, a hedge fund.
Tens of thousands of finance professionals and other visitors to this week’s Credit Suisse Group AG Asian investment conference and the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, the premier tournament in the truncated form of the game, were greeted by smoggy skies this week. The March 25 final of the Rugby pageant coincides with the election of Tsang’s replacement.

Peak lookout

At Victoria Peak yesterday, tourists seeking the iconic view across Hong Kong’s skyscrapers to the mountains over the harbor were disappointed.
“I’ve been to the Peak six times and I’ve never seen the Kowloon mountains,” said Nadia Sturzengegger, from Lucern, Switzerland, who first flew into Hong Kong in 2007 when working for Swiss International Air Lines AG. “Maybe I was just unlucky.”
At the nearby Laurence Lai Gallery, Maurice Szeto, 48, mans the shop selling photographs of Hong Kong scenes. Tourists often complain about the visibility, he said.
“Some even take photos of our photos to show the skyline to their friends back home,” he said. “I used to come up here as a teenager and you could see everything.”
Tsang repeatedly pledged to tackle the problem, including a vow in May to introduce air quality objectives before leaving office June 30. That timeline has slipped to 2014.

Economic impact

The government has to “carefully assess the economic and social impacts” of tightening air-quality rules, Tsang said last year.
The laissez faire ideology of “big market, small government” that underpins policy in the city has enabled industries such as financial services and real estate development to flourish, generating taxes that endowed the government with a HK$595 billion pot of savings. It has also created the most unequal society in Asia, where the poorest 10 percent earned a median wage of HK$3,500 a month in the third quarter of last year, down from HK$4,400 in the comparable period of 1997, government figures show.
Forcing bus operators to modernize their fleets would mean higher fares that many already struggle to meet. The government last year allocated HK$5.17 billion to help low-income workers with travel costs.

Tourism, infrastructure

Policies to spur economic growth and create jobs — such as more tourism and infrastructure spending — add to pollution. Tour buses ferrying some of the 28 million mainland Chinese visitors last year choke roads; the planned third runway at Chek Lap Kok would only be able to operate at 40 percent capacity to meet the proposed air-quality guidelines, a study found. The two-year delay in introducing the objectives may allow the project to go ahead using current standards.
Outside of environmental impact assessments for specific projects, the EPD has few legal powers to force change where it has no jurisdiction, such as transport.
For issues like bird flu that affect “all stakeholders — businesspersons, government officials and the general public” the government will be “highly motivated,” said Ming Sing, an associate professor of social sciences at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “If interests are divided, such as for tackling air pollution, that’s another story.”

New York, Tokyo

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought together 25 city agencies in 2007 to target climate change, green buildings, air quality and solid waste. The city legislated emissions cuts from school buses and heating oil, and reduced pollution from ferries, private trucks and construction vehicles. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
The Tokyo 2008 environmental plan seeks to “realize the cleanest air among the world’s largest cities.”
In Hong Kong, a ban on idling engines that came into effect on Dec. 15 took four years to pass from public consultation to law, and with so many exemptions that critics said it was meaningless. No drivers have been fined to date, the EPD said in an e-mailed response to questions this week.
The government also spent HK$90 million to fund a study on electronic road pricing in 1997, which was never implemented. Singapore’s ERP project, started in 1998, decreased traffic volumes up to 25 percent, according to a 2010 report sponsored by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration.

Bus fleet

Hong Kong has lagged behind rivals in upgrading its bus fleet. More than half of the 5,798 buses plying franchised routes in the city at the end of last year were Euro II standard or earlier, according to a Feb. 22 statement from the EPD. London has about 1,000 Euro II buses in its fleet of about 8,500 vehicles, according to Transport for London. Singapore phased out its Euro I buses last year, leaving fewer than 600 Euro II vehicles out of more than 4,000, according to a document from Hong Kong’s legislature.
Euro II models emit 2 1/2 times as much particulate matter as Euro III standard buses, and 12 1/2 times as much as Euro V, according to Hong Kong-based Civic Exchange.
The Hong Kong government plans to retrofit buses with catalytic converters that scrub out noxious fumes, as well as trialing hybrid and electric vehicles.
To date, six buses have been fitted with the filters in a year-long test that started in September. The trial of hybrids is due to begin at the end of next year, while no funding has yet been provided to buy six electric buses, the EPD said in a Feb. 22 response to a question from a lawmaker.

Policy delays

“These delays in policy are accountable in terms of illnesses, damage to quality of life, Hedley said. ‘‘We’ve got cohorts of children that have been exposed to the most intensive levels of exposure to very toxic air pollutants for quite a long time.’’
Meantime, construction of roads, including an expressway beneath an existing highway through Central, Causeway Bay and Wanchai, as well as a 19-mile (30-kilometer) bridge linking Zhuhai and Macau to Hong Kong, may spur demand for cars that offset their impact on current congestion. In the decade to the end of last year, the number of private cars jumped 21 percent, Transport Department data show.
‘‘The trend for many cities is to take care of the quality of urban life because they are competing for the same kinds of industries: finance, services, tourism,’’ WHO’s Dora said. ‘‘Cities are striving to be better, and those which don’t will suffer.”
With assistance from Ben Richardson and Richard Frost in Hong Kong.

Exposure Evaluation of Dioxins in Municipal Waste Incinerator Workers

Download PDF : 41_167


Download PDF : Incinerationandhealth

App shows you how bad the air really is

Entrepreneur worried for his children’s health launches iPhone program to show what other nations and WHO advise about pollution level at spot you’re in in HK

Helene Franchineau 
Mar 25, 2012

A father who feared pollution was damaging the health of his two young children and mistrusted the official statistics has built a free iPhone application to monitor air quality.

Tech-savvy entrepreneur Andrew Leyden arrived in Hong Kong two years ago and like many, wondered how bad the pollution actually was.

The 45-year-old American, who has two sons Connor, five, and Parker, three, said: “I built this app out of curiosity. I wanted to know whether it was safe for my kids to go play outside.

“I looked at Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Index (API), but I did not really know what it meant. That’s when I decided to do a little maths.”

Leyden started looking seriously into Hong Kong’s API a year ago, but only started building the app over Christmas. He asked a friend for help when it came to the serious coding.

The Hong Kong Air Pollution app was submitted to Apple on February 19 and a week later it was ready to download from the online App store. Despite a quiet launch, it has already had about 1,000 downloads.

The application locates the user’s position and matches it with one of Hong Kong’s 14 monitoring stations.

The user then chooses which pollution standards to measure the readings by – those set by Hong Kong, France, Australia, the US, Britain or the World Health Organisation. Each monitoring station is shown with a coloured flag according to the overall seriousness of the pollution there (red for high, green for good etc).

If the user is located in Causeway Bay, for instance, there will be a small paragraph on the official recommendation from the Environmental Protection Department and the current reading of each pollutant that is part of the API (nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide and respiratory suspended particulate, known as PM10).

For instance, on Friday at 11am, Causeway Bay’s pollution level was considered “high” by local standards and the EPD’s message read: “Acute health effects are not expected but chronic effects may be observed if one is persistently exposed to such levels.”

Under the Australian readings, it read: “For people unusually sensitive to air pollution, plan strenuous outdoor activities when air quality is better.”

Pollution levels can be considered mediocre for Hong Kong but good in the US, or hazardous in Australia.

On Wednesday March 14, the Causeway Bay station was flagged red according to Hong Kong standards, with an overall reading of 91 (“high”). It was “above the maximum limit” for the World Health Organ-isation (with a reading of 161); in Australian terms the air quality rated “very poor” (again with a 161 reading).

“It was overall a very educational experience for me,” said Leyden. “It is eye-opening to see the differences between countries.”

For example, under Hong Kong’s current Air Quality Objectives, the standard for PM10 is 180 micrograms per cubic metre per day. For the World Health Organisation it is 50.

Leyden, who lives in Mid-Levels, made extensive use of social media, such as Twitter and Google Plus, to get help from Hongkongers when it came to fine-tuning the app.

“People were very responsive,” he said. “Some parents would come up and tell me that they had always wondered whether they should let their children go out and play,” he said.

“Sometimes, that answer is: no, they should not.”

Air quality groups, including the Clean Air Network (CAN), helped him on the pollution standards.

Yuling Jia, education and research manager for CAN, said the air pollution app was the first measuring the pollution level based on different countries’ readings.

She accused the government of withholding information on pollution levels. But the EPD said the API was updated on an hourly basis on its website and people could also access it by telephone at 2827 8541.

Leyden would like to see more people start monitoring their environment to get a broader picture, instead of only seeing what is going on in the busiest parts of the city.

The EPD said there was no plan to set up an air quality monitoring station on the south side of Hong Kong island, or in other areas where there is less development, as “the air quality should be better”.

An update of the app is to be released soon and Leyden is meanwhile preparing an Android version.

Leyden says he uses his application more often than the weather forecast. “In the end, pollution is the key thing we consider to decide how long we are going to stay in Hong Kong,” he said.

Andrew Leyden takes an air pollution reading using his iPhone application in Central - despite a quiet launch it's had 1,000 downloads.