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May 30th, 2012:

Experts reveal bigger pollution problem

HK Standard

Kenneth Foo

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coarse particulate pollutants, such as road dust and sea salt, send nearly 900 sufferers a year to emergency rooms.

That’s the claim of Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers who are calling for the particulates to be included in the latest reviews of air quality objectives.

In the largest single-city study of its kind, researchers examined a Hospital Authority database of more than 500,000 daily emergency hospital admissions from 1999 to 2005 and corresponding records of air pollution data.

Results showed that a slight increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter in coarse particles will more than likely result in an additional 830 emergency admissions to hospitals due to lung problems annually.

Of these, 482 are likely to be due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a common lung ailment during which air passages are narrowed and asthma exacerbated.

According to the head of the university’s Occupational and Environmental Health Division, Ignatius Yu Tak-sun, many scientific studies have linked particulate air pollution to emergency admission rates but most have focused on fine particles.

“Our findings show that the health effects of these medium-sized particles are significant and can no longer be ignored,” Yu said yesterday.

He added that the government needs to start official monitoring of coarse particulate levels as current methods are still rudimentary and highly likely to be inaccurate.

Assistant professor Tian Linwei said it will be difficult to regulate natural sources of coarse particulates, such as dust and sea salt, but urged authorities to take the matter seriously by enacting new guidelines in a review of air quality objectives.

The results of the study have been published in a top international journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

Clean Air Network campaign manager Erica Chan Fong-ying welcomed the findings but added: “Looking at the years the government took to set new standards and its unwillingness to set tougher ones, I don’t think we will see a guideline for a new pollutant any time soon.”

Just $1 more

Kelly Ip  HK Standard

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who set off public anger in 2010 by suggesting a minimum wage of HK$20 an hour, is making waves again as pay is reviewed.

He’s saying the lowest legal wage should be raised by just HK$1 from the HK$28 an hour set last year despite his opposition.

Employers cannot afford more than HK$29 an hour, Cheung argues. But grassroots groups want a raise to between HK$33 and HK$35 an hour and also seek an annual review of the minimum wage.

Cheung said he sent questionnaires to 60 catering firms with 1,000 outlets, and 36 replied. Of those, 22 percent were willing to pay an extra dollar but others wanted the HK$28 minimum to stay.

There is a ripple effect with any increase, Cheung said. “The government expected the minimum wage would add 3 percent to operating costs, but the actual cost was 15 to 16 percent.”

With juniors’ wages raised, he said, people higher up the ladder wanted increases too. And there are many job levels in catering, he added.

According to Cheung, small and medium-scale restaurants were hit hard at HK$28. Half the operators he checked with had complained of an average 4 percent drop in revenue.

Fuk Yuen Group chairman Lo Ho- wan, with six restaurants and 500 employees, said he felt the squeeze.

One restaurant in Causeway Bay had to be closed when the rent doubled from around HK$200,000 a month, and 20 employees had to be laid off.

Related to that, Chinese General Chamber of Commerce vice chairman

David Fong Man-hung told a Legislative Council manpower panel that more restaurants will close because of costs. He also said that, despite offering HK$33, an hour some catering firms were unable to hire capable dishwashers.

And he doubted the situation would improve even if the minimum wage went to HK$40 as other sectors paid much more than jobs in catering.

But the chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Mung Siu-tat, had another take on it.

“A company should improve the working environment and reduce working hours to attract job-seekers instead of blaming the minimum wage,” he said.

Based on current inflation, Mung said, the HK$28 of last year was comparable to HK$24 today.

Luk Kam-shing, 40, currently earning HK$28 an hour for taking charge of table linen at a clubhouse in Causeway Bay, earns HK$7,812 a month for working nine hours a day, six days a week.

Her husband, also in catering, makes HK$10,000 a month. “Everything is getting more expensive now,” Luk said. “The government always approves applications to raise transport fares. How about our wages?

“Imagine having to pay HK$40 for lunch in Causeway Bay when I only earn HK$28 an hour.”

The couple have sons aged 10 and five, and Luk said they can barely afford textbooks. “I also feel sorry for our older boy as I had to cut back on his ping- pong training.” She hopes a new minimum wage will be at least HK$33.

`Slip’ spins drama in the skies

Phila Siu  HK Standard

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A “slip of the tongue” placed two passenger planes carrying about 600 people on a collision course in Hong Kong airspace two weeks ago, an investigation by The Standard reveals.

Instead of instructing an aircraft to descend to 36,000 feet, the controller ordered the pilot to drop to 26,000 feet, according to the Civil Aviation Department. But the error was rectified in time, just as the collision avoidance system of one of the planes was also activated.

A CAD spokeswoman said the May 14 incident involved a Hong Kong Airlines B737 bound for the SAR from Denpasar, Bali, and a Jeju Air B737 flying through Hong Kong to Bangkok from South Korea.

The controller, understood to be a non-local, intended to instruct the Hong Kong Airlines plane to drop to 36,000 feet but, due to a “slip of the tongue,” said 26,000 feet. The Jeju Air plane was at 34,000 feet at that time.

After noticing the Hong Kong Airlines plane was passing through 36,000 feet on its descent, the controller immediately corrected the situation. The plane then ascended to the correct level.

During the process, the traffic collision avoidance system on the Jeju Air plane was activated, moving it to a lower level.

The distance between the two aircraft was 4.6 kilometers horizontally and 700 feet vertically – against the standard safe horizontal distance of 9.25km and a vertical distance of 1,000 feet.

But the CAD spokeswoman stressed there was “no risk of collision.” She also ruled out fatigue as a reaso

n for the incident.

“The controller had been off duty for 14 hours and had just commenced duty when the minor incident occurred,” she said, adding the controller has been serving in the CAD for more than 13 years.

Former CAD chief Peter Lok Kung-nam said the two aircraft should have been within visual contact of each other.

“The danger was higher than usual but there wasn’t any immediate risk of collision as they were not flying toward each other,” Lok said.

This latest near-crash incident happened eight months after The Standard revealed that a Cathay Pacific plane and a Dragonair plane came within six seconds of a head-on collision, prompting the CAD to review its operation system.

A senior Dragonair pilot said yesterday the situation in the air traffic control tower “is only getting worse” since August, and that some of his fellow pilots are expecting an accident to happen soon.

The pilot said it is due to poor CAD management and the fact that many local controllers, instead of experienced foreign controllers, are hired.

However, Hong Kong Air Traffic Control Association chairman Ivan Chan Pui-kit said the situation has improved since August to what he calls a “satisfactory” level.

He also agreed the latest incident was merely a “slip of tongue.”