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June 18th, 2012:

UAE Ban Opens Market to Oxo-Biodegradable Plastics Firm

Concerned by the prospect of plastic pollution accumulating in the deserts and the sea, the United Arab Emirates has brought forward its policy to ban all disposable plastic products except those made from oxo-biodegradable plastic.

Decree 77/5, which bans plastic bags and other plastic products has been moved forward from next year to this year.

The ban covers not just plastic bags, but all packaging and disposable articles made from plastic polymers derived from fossil-fuels. These include flexible shopping bags and semi-rigid plastic packaging for food, magazines, consumer-durables, garbage bags, bin-liners for household use, shrink wrap, pallet wrap and cling film – among other items.

From now on, all plastic products will need an ECAS Registration Certificate issued by ESMA (Emirates Authority for Standardisation & Metrology).

However, these will be issued only for products made from oxo-bio plastic. These products must be made with pro-degradant additive from suppliers which have been audited by ESMA and they have to comply with UAE Standard 5009 of 2009.

ESMA said that it intends to inspect plastic bags and other plastic products at port-of-entry and impound consignments without an ECAS Registration Certificate.

The authority is also planning to conduct factory inspections to ensure full compliance of products being manufactured within the UAE.

Hertfordshire, UK based oxo-biodegradable plastic specialist, Symphony Environmental explained that the ban presents the company with a huge opportunity to supply a market estimated at 500,000 tonnes, and where it is an authorised supplier.

According to the company, with its controlled lifespan and its ability to biodegrade completely either on land or water, oxo-biodegradable plastic has proved popular across the Middle East and particularly in the UAE.

Symphony said that it is also making its d2detector available in the UAE – a portable device which can tell instantly whether a plastic product is oxo-biodegradable.

CUHK to start 10-year plan on Ka Ho residents’ health

Home | Macau | CUHK to start 10-year plan on Ka Ho residents’ health

CUHK to start 10-year plan on Ka Ho residents’ health

18/06/2012 10:05:00

The government has commissioned the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a 10-year study of health conditions of the residents in Ka Ho,where local people complained of illness due to the air pollution from ashes from the nearby incinerator. The Health Bureau said they had agreed with the university on the detailed procedures of the study to monitor the health conditions of residents in the area near Hac Sa. The University was quoted as saying details of the monitoring mechanism and study methodologies would be disclosed to the public next month. Preliminary arrangements require an annual report to be published, but the final conclusion will be ten years away. The Health Bureau said the study will be conducted scientifically, impartially and independently in a professional manner. The health issues were discovered early last year when hundreds of residents, many of them students and teachers in the schools there, complained of lung and respiratory problems after the contractor working the incinerator was found to have broken safety regulations by disposing of the ashes into open areas, and a large amount of them carried to residential districts by wind

Dying from Particulate Air Pollution on Hot and Cold Days in Shanghai, China

Cheng, Y. and Kan, H. 2012. Effect of the interaction between outdoor air pollution and extreme temperature on daily mortality in Shanghai, China. Journal of Epidemiology 22: 28-36.

Noxious air pollution is bad enough under temperature regimes to which people are accustomed; but when the stress of extreme heat or extreme cold is added to the mix, it could logically be expected that the negative effects of air pollution on peoples’ health may be amplified. And the question thus arises: which is the more deadly in this regard, extreme heat or extreme cold?

What was done
In a study designed to answer this question for the inhabitants of Shanghai, China (the country’s largest city), the authors employed a generalized additive model with penalized splines to analyze mortality, air pollution, temperature and covariate data over the period 1 January 2001 through 31 December 2004, focusing on particulate matter of diameter 10 m or less (which is commonly referred to as PM10) and ozone (O3).

What was learned
Cheng and Kan report that they “did not find a significant interaction between air pollution and higher temperature [>85th percentile days],” but they say that “the interaction between PM10 and extreme low temperature [<15th percentile days] was statistically significant for both total and cause-specific mortality.” More specifically, they found that compared to normal temperature (15th-85th percentile days), a 10-�g/m3 increase in PM10 on extreme low temperature days led to all-cause mortality rising from 0.17% to 0.40%. And they add that “the interaction pattern of O3 with low temperature was similar,” noting that their finding of “a stronger association between air pollution and daily mortality on extremely cold days confirms those of three earlier seasonal analyses in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Athens,” citing the studies of Touloumi et al. (1996), Wong et al. (1999, 2001) and Zhang et al. (2006).

What it means
Not only is extreme coldness in and of itself a greater killer of people than extreme warmness – see Health Effects (Temperature – Hot vs. Cold Weather) [“] in our Subject Index – but it would appear from this study and the others it sites that extreme cold also enhances the killing power of the noxious air pollutants PM10 and ozone.

Touloumi, G., Samoli, E. and Katsouyanni, K. 1996. Daily mortality and “winter type” air pollution in Athens, Greece – a time series analysis within the APHEA project. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 50, Supplement 1: 47-51.

Wong, C.M., Ma, S., Hedley, A.J. and Lam, T.H. 1999. Does ozone have any effect on daily hospital admissions for circulatory diseases?Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 53: 580-581.

Wong, C.M., Ma, S., Hedley, A.J. and Lam, T.H. 2001. Effect of air pollution on daily mortality in Hong Kong. Environmental Health Perspectives 109: 335-340.

Zhang, Y., Huang, W., London, S.J., Song, G., Chen, G., Jiang, L., Zhao, N., Chen, B. and Kan, H. 2006. Ozone and daily mortality in Shanghai, China. Environmental Health Perspectives 114: 1227-1232.

Reviewed 13 June 2012

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where did the political will go Donald ?

SCMP – 18 June 2012

Today’s SCMP Debate is the second in a weekly series as part of our buildup to the 15th anniversary, on July 1, of the establishment of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. In our second instalment, we ask six long-time residents how they view Hong Kong as a place to live and work compared with 15 years ago.


Is Hong Kong a better or worse place in which to live compared with 15 years ago in terms of our quality of life, social equity and environment?


Do you take pride in being a resident of Hong Kong and, if so, why? Is it still a city of hope and opportunity?


If you had the choice, would you prefer to live on the mainland or overseas?

Eric Bohm

Former chief executive of WWF Hong Kong

A1 I can answer the question of the quality of life only from the perspective of an expatriate who has enjoyed the opportunity of living in this city.

I feel Hong Kong is a better place because over the past 15 years the Chinese community is increasingly responsible for its own destiny. I believe the “one country two systems” works and we need to remember that historical adjustments such as the 1997 handover require longer than 15 years to settle.

It is my opinion that Hong Kong is also unique because it was being “returned” to a mother country. This creates a special dynamic as we align with China, but continue to view the world and our role in it differently.

For an expatriate, the quality of life remains one of privilege compared to most of Hong Kong’s citizens. The globalisation of business has reduced the income and benefit gap. This trend will continue as China takes its rightful place on the commercial and economic world stage.

As China expands Hong Kong will gain in self-confidence, which is not necessarily in short supply when facing the outside world. However, in our relationship with China we act differently.

We seem to be in a phase of self-censorship when we negotiate with our counterparts in South China. An example of this is reluctance on the part of our Environmental Protection Department to discuss with the mainland on the challenges we are facing about our air quality.

The EPD appears to hide behind the misinformation that the overwhelming majority of the pollutants come from the mainland, which allows them to avoid taking decisive action on such issues as cleaning up electric power generation and eliminating the older buses in Hong Kong.

Since 2004, if not earlier, Civic Exchange has established that 45 per cent of the air pollution in Hong Kong comes from Hong Kong. The solutions to our self-generated pollution are available; all that is lacking is the will to act.

Why? I suggest it is the functional constituency political system in which each constituency is primarily motivated by its own self-interest. The decision to renew the operating licences without insisting on a time line upgrade of the buses is a sad commentary on priorities.

In our environmental relations with the mainland we have opted for the “softly softly” approach out of a fear of offending the mainland authorities. Yet in WWF’s discussions with environmental officials from China they continually express disappointment that Hong Kong does not provide leadership in the issue.

This hesitancy reduces one important aspect of our quality of life in Hong Kong.

A2 I take considerable pride in residing in Hong Kong. It is a city where things get done. Where else in the world can a Canadian transport his native sport to a sub-tropical climate and create an ice-hockey league?

Like China, it has a “can do” mentality, which is disappearing in the West. Also we have created a tremendous talent pool with great intellectual capacity because of an outstanding tertiary school system that too often goes unrecognised by the Hong Kong government. In WWF’s work with government on fisheries they seem to accept foreign analysis as bona fide while ignoring Hong Kong-based academia.

It is a city of hope. It is a city of opportunity and it is my hope that the incoming government will see development beyond mega infrastructure projects and focus on the changing business model.

We need to adapt innovative and efficient technologies to properly manage our planet’s increasingly limited resources. Some may call it the “green” economy but I view it as a survival strategy for business.

If we do not start now we will lose to others, and that will be not only a wasted opportunity but also a waste of the available talent pool. The combination of decreasing natural resources, expanding populations and improved economic circumstances are making this restructuring of our business practices mandatory.

Please note: I am not saying we should move back to the cave.

A3 My first choice is Hong Kong. It is a dynamic city, efficient, beautiful when the air is clear. My wife and I have very deep friendships in Hong Kong. We leave Hong Kong reluctantly. It will always be a home of our heart.

Rob Chipman

Former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce

A1 To me, Hong Kong continues to be a wonderful place to live and work. There is no city in the world where I’d rather be. I always enjoy telling my overseas friends and business associates my Hong Kong story, how great the city has been to me and how much I enjoy living here.

We have our share of challenges and the most disturbing one to me is the environment. The air quality is now so bad that it should be unacceptable to all of us. I breathe this air. So does my family, my colleagues and all my friends. When I consider the long-term health effects, it is profoundly disturbing.

We have money. We have the knowledge base and the human talent to tackle the problem. For that reason, it really is frustrating to see how little progress is actually being made. We’re better than that, so I’d like to see the new administration place air quality as a key priorityI’d like to see bold steps that would put us on a path to cleaner air, and an even more livable city.

Another challenge that I’d like to see addressed is the widening income gap between the rich and poor. This is an issue of basic fairness … and it needs to be addressed. Government and business need to come together to educate, develop and bring more of the disadvantaged into the economic mainstream. I think this would benefit all of Hong Kong, not just the disenfranchised.

A2 Absolutely! It’s a fascinating place to live. It’s a great city for work and for career development. Hong Kong is a unique blend of high-velocity business, intense social interaction and amazing natural beauty that really is unmatched anywhere else in the world.

I love the fact that I can get around Hong Kong so easily, so almost everything is readily accessible. It’s unlikely that you will need to spend precious waking hours trapped in a car commuting to work.

It has been said “it’s not the quality of life in Hong Kong, it’s quantity of life” that attracts so many people. I’d agree. I do more in a typical work week. I meet more interesting people. I attend functions, events and socialise with more people than most of my overseas friends do in a month. Maybe two months.

People vote with their feet. Based on that, I’m not the only one who still sees Hong Kong as a beacon of hope and opportunity. In my business, almost every day I talk to young people starting their careers. They show a level of interest in Hong Kong that is as strong today as it has ever been. Yes, we have our share of challenges. We’ll get some things right, others wrong, but at the end of day I have great faith, developed during my 27 years living here, that once we get focus, leadership and align our priorities, that serious issues like air quality can be improved.

A3 I am still fully engaged with my job, my career and my company. As long as that is the case, Hong Kong will be my home and that’s the way I want it. Once my working life is over and I retire, then the choice will be more difficult. At that point, the work/life balance, which tilts markedly in Hong Kong’s direction, shifts considerably.

When that day comes, would I prefer to live on the mainland? Thailand? Scottsdale? The south of Spain? These are all attractive places, but I’ve come to realise that I’m addicted to the buzz and energy of Hong Kong. I’m guessing that I’ll be a “lifer” here.

Yes, air quality is an issue, and Hong Kong is not a great choice for retirees on fixed incomes. But if you can solve the housing problem and find a place to live that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, then you can live well at a reasonable cost. And you’d be living in one of the most amazing cities in world.

Paul Fan Chor-ho

Veteran banker and stockbroker

A1 Overall, I think Hong Kong is a better place to live compared with 15 years ago as people now are more aware of human rights and democracy. Before the handover, many worried we would no longer have freedom of speech, but in fact we are still allowed to express our views freely. There are also a lot of newspapers, radio and TV programmes that freely criticise government policies.

From an economic perspective, the stock market is much bigger now than 15 years ago. We have had many mega-IPOs. Almost all the largest mainland banks, insurance and oil companies have listed in Hong Kong, and there are an increasing number of international firms listing here. This provides a lot of job and investment opportunities for people. Both the stock and property markets had ups and downs through the crisis in 1998 and the 2008 financial crisis, but the current markets are still better than before the handover.

Of course, I must admit those who work in the financial markets or those who have properties on hand are better off than those who don’t. Asset prices have gone up over the years and that has caused a wide gap between the wealth of those who have assets on hand and those who don’t. This has led to a feeling against wealthy people. Grass-roots people think they are neglected, while the middle class complains they pay high taxes but enjoy too little of the benefits. This has led to tension in society and I think this is not good. I hope those who can afford it will be willing to donate more to help those in need to remove the hatred against the rich.

A2 Yes, I am proud of being a Hong Kong resident. The handover of sovereignty from Britain to China was not easy but we have done that smoothly. The city has few natural resources but we still can create an economy that can house seven million people.

We are the lucky ones. When China was very poor in the 1960s and 1970s, we were a British colony and shared the economic growth of the Western world. Then, in recent years, when the US and Europe have been in trouble, China has become the world’s second-largest economy. Before, we had to send clothes and money to help our relatives on the mainland, but now we rely on mainland tourists to spend. Hong Kong is in a special position: we enjoy the benefits from the growth of both China and the west.

I am also proud that Hong Kong people are willing to help others. In the past 15 years, I have seen more people seek the help of the Lions Clubs in Hong Kong, but at the same time, I have also seen there are more people who are willing to donate to help those in need. The Lions Clubs have raised HK$120 million in the past 15 years to cure the eye diseases of five million mainlanders. There were a lot of donations for the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan and other natural catastrophes on the mainland. This shows Hong Kong people are more aware of their social responsibility than before. With this spirit, I believe this is a city of hope.

A3 I am reaching retirement age, so now I have more time to travel. But I would still like to live in Hong Kong as this is the city I call home. I grew up here and all my friends are here. If I move to the US or Canada, my home may be bigger and the garden would be nice, but then the lifestyle there is so boring. The mainland has a lot of cities that are worth visiting but I do not want to live there as I do not have many friends there.

After travelling to many places around the world, I found Hong Kong is the best place to live as the city is convenient and is full of energy and has an exciting lifestyle. I also found it is a beautiful city if you have time to visit the many country parks that are so beautiful and easy to access. I walk the trails of different country parks two to three times a week. Many people complain about the pollution problems in Hong Kong. This is the case if you are in the city centre, which I think is no different from New York, London or Beijing. If you go to the countryside more, you will enjoy living in Hong Kong.

Bernard Lim Wan-fung

Professor at Chinese University’s school of architecture and former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects

A1 Hong Kong has become a better place to live in compared to 15 years ago. There have been improvements in social equity through public engagement – Hong Kong has been very successful in encouraging citizen participation, especially in city planning decisions. For example, in the Central Police Station conservation project and the online voting for Central Market redevelopment proposals, we saw more consultation and engagement. Though some consultations are real and some are fake, this progress has still contributed to social equity. In addition, mainland cities are learning from our example.

Hong Kong people have become more aware of issues related to the living environment over the past 15 years. Such examples of increased citizen engagement include the 2003 judicial review where the Society for Protection of the Harbour successfully opposed the Wan Chai waterfront reclamation, and debate over the building of the Express Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. The government has to put more effort into planning, conservation and environmental issues. Such works have became essential as society has demanded them. This is a positive change, but the downside is that works progress seems slower. The judicial review also shows why Hong Kong is a lovely place – it has an independent judiciary. Civil society can challenge institutions in court on city issues, which shows our social equity.

Hong Kong’s younger generation values conservation more than before because of the impact of globalisation and a pursuit for a city identity. In calling for conservation of the Star Ferry Pier and the Queen’s Pier, young people were the ones on the front line. Since the handover, the desire to search for one’s roots is stronger, and young people are more willing to take the lead. This is gratifying. Hong Kong is a more mature society now. In the past, the focus was on hard standards like economic development, but now it is more on soft values.

We see improvements in air quality through more days with clear skies as a result of our co-operation with the Guangdong government. But there are more walled buildings in Hong Kong as part of more large-scale developments, causing an urban heat island effect and a degradation of our living quality.

A2 I take pride in being a resident of Hong Kong because of our core values – professionals working according to a code of conduct and with integrity. After the handover, Hong Kong’s professionals were able to take part in bringing Hong Kong’s values to our country, promoting the so-called “Hong Kong brand”. For example, in participating in redevelopment projects in Sichuan after the earthquake, we brought to them our ways of work like quality control. I don’t recommend accommodating to the mainland’s ways of work when on the mainland, but we can learn from their qualities. As a university lecturer in architecture, the first lesson I teach is to uphold integrity. Hong Kong is a city of hope because we have these values.

A3 Hong Kong is my home and base. A third of the time I work on the mainland and I have rented a place in Shanghai. Hongkongers have the opportunity to be citizens of many cities around the world. We stand local and look global. It’s one of the opportunities we got after the handover and one which I am enjoying. We need to maintain connections with different parts of the world. This is Hong Kong’s great feature. Hong Kong is my base and where my roots are, but if I only stayed here, it would be too limiting. I have been participating in infrastructure building and cultural exchange projects on the mainland. We contribute with our attitude and our integrity. This is my aim in working on the mainland, and one of the duties which my God has called me to do.

Bernard Lim is also president of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design

Sit Pui-yu

Retiree who lives on CSSA at Wong Tai Sin public housing estate

A1 Hong Kong has certainly become a worse place to live in the past 15 years in all aspects, and inequality has become more noticeable.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has made it clear he is only out to help the rich and powerful at the top of the social pyramid. As an elderly rights activist with the Society for Community Organisation, I and others have requested many times to meet Tsang and he has always refused. I think he despises poor people, and you can tell this is the case by his unfair policies that have really stratified our society.

First of all, quality of life has gone down because of heavy inflation. I used to work in a restaurant, and the same wages today would buy a whole lot less. I used to be able to pay HK$26 for a meal, but now have to pay up to HK$40.

And if the new minimum wage of HK$28 an hour was supposed to help those at the bottom of the social ladder, then it has not achieved this and has in turn benefited those in power. The truth is, many workers already earn more than HK$28 an hour, and companies have used the excuse of the new law to raise their prices.

Quality of life is closely tied with social equity, and we have really begun to see the severity of housing problems manifest itself in people living in cage homes and subdivided flats. This would not have happened if Tsang had not pandered to property developers and ceased the construction of public housing.

But as much as public housing is needed, the last thing we need is another Tin Shui Wai. The reason why this “city of sadness” has emerged is because we’ve put the poorest people in our society together in an isolated place far from the city centre far from the city centre with scant job opportunities. The result is that domestic violence and family tragedies erupt. And jobs are scarce because you have malls in public housing estates operated by companies under the Link real estate investment trust that charge sky-high rents – forcing small business owners out.

Another example that shows our society has become more unfair is the HK$6,000 government handout. Why did the government have to exclude the new immigrants, when everyone else from the rich to the poor got it? The Community Care Fund ended up having to provide the HK$6,000 to these new arrivals, which to me makes no sense.

And we have even had to mobilise the elderly to protest for the monthly old age allowance of HK$1,090, something we rightfully deserve.

As for the environment, the air pollution seems to be mostly coming from factories on the mainland. But what has been most problematic seems to be in finding solutions for waste management.

A2 Yes, I still take pride in being a Hongkonger because our freedom of expression has not diminished and you can tell that is the case by the regular staging of protests throughout the year. Our basic human rights as well as a just rule of law have been safeguarded over the past 15 years. Even though there has been conflict between police and protesters, I still think our freedom of expression has remained sacred.

I have hope for this city because we are a land of prosperity (SEHK: 0803announcements,news) . We are not struck by natural disasters, and we are entitled to liberties that many of our neighbours are deprived of. Also, I am hopeful that the construction of public housing will be revived.

A3 I am passionate about Hong Kong, and I will spend the rest of my life living in this prosperous city. For this reason, I would never consider migrating. I also would not move to the mainland because, frankly, I don’t have a home return permit. But even if I had one, I would not live there because of the abundance of fake or poisonous products, but most of all, because of the chilling political persecution of activists. If someone like me enters the mainland, I will probably disappear quite swiftly.

David Wong Yau-kar

Chairman of the Business and Professionals Federation and former president of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong

A1 It feels as if there is more tension and discontent in the social environment, particularly concerning the wealth gap. Actually the widening wealth gap is a worldwide phenomenon, a product of globalisation. Hong Kong may be particularly hard hit because of the mainland factor, where China’s opening up has brought a lot of opportunities initially, but much challenge and competition subsequently. The deindustrialisation of Hong Kong has intensified the process because grass-roots workers have lost their jobs in manufacturing. They were driven into menial service jobs in large numbers, depressing wages even further. What this illustrates is that when we look at problems like the wealth gap, working poor, middle class discontent and the lack of social mobility among young people, they might appear to be social problems. However, the root cause is economic.

Economic growth in Hong Kong has slowed significantly since the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and the business cycle has become much more volatile. There have even been periods of negative GDP growth, which was quite unheard of previously. As a result, it’s natural that we would have fewer opportunities and that there is less upward mobility.

We should therefore revitalise and grow the economy. But we should look for more balanced growth that creates better and more diverse employment opportunities. We need a more diversified industry structure, such as development of the Six New Industries. We also need to fortify and upgrade our existing pillar industries, such as conventions and exhibitions.

Environmentally speaking, it’s getting worse mainly due to congestion, and we don’t have enough land for development. Infrastructure has developed slowly compared with 20 years ago. It is unbecoming of such an advanced city such as Hong Kong that people are forced to live in such extremely cramped quarters.

A2 Of course I take pride in being a citizen of Hong Kong. Our city has its share of problems, but overall, compared to other cities, Hong Kong is a liveable city. We still have a sound education system and an excellent public healthcare system. It’s also a safe city with a low crime rate, a developed city with efficient transportation and infrastructure, and also a free city that is a hub where East meets West. These characteristics have never regressed. The only long-standing complaint is the congestion, the dense population, the lack of living space and not enough recreational and cultural facilities. Hong Kong also faces serious challenges: our health care system is under tremendous pressure from an ageing population and has to be reformed. We also have a long way to go in beefing up our retirement protection system. Overall, I think this city can continue to succeed if it could safeguard its core values – to remain open and free – and to be receptive to newcomers and new ideas. With all these elements, Hongkongers can continue to be innovative and solve various problems. I am confident in Hongkongers.

A3 I would not want to live elsewhere. I have lived abroad for 17 years for study and work. It’s good to have spent time abroad, as it broadens one’s perspectives. Having said that, I think Hong Kong remains an ideal place to call home. Hong Kong is part of China. It directly benefits from the dynamic growth in China and the vast and diverse opportunities that it offers. Meanwhile, under “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong can maintain its high degree of freedom. Therefore, Hong Kong enjoys the best of both worlds.

Some foreign countries might have a better living environment but they don’t benefit from being at the centre of this dynamic part of the world like Hong Kong does. In mainland cities, they might enjoy strong growth, but they do not have the freedom and the international connectivity Hong Kong has. Hong Kong remains a good base for developing a business or a career.


Since a new government’s policies and proposals will affect everyone, we are asking you to respond to the big issues facing Hong Kong. Please express your views on our Facebook page at

The clean-up begins on China’s dirty secret – soil pollution

A Chinese farmer walks through his crop on the outskirts of Leshan, Sichuan

A farmer in Sichuan, China – one of the regions suffering most from soil contamination. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters

Nowhere is the global push to restore degraded land likely to be more important, complex and expensive than in China, where vast swaths of the soil are contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals from mines and factories.

Scientists told the Guardian that this is likely to prove a bigger long-term problem than air and water pollution, with potentially dire consequences for food production and human health.

Zhou Jianmin, director of the China Soil Association, estimated that one-tenth of China’s farmland was affected. “The country, the government and the public should realise how serious the soil pollution is,” he said. “More areas are being affected, the degree of contamination is intensifying and the range of toxins is increasing.”

Other estimates of soil pollution range as high as 40%, but an official risk assessment is unlikely to be made public for several years.

The government has spent six years on a soil survey involving 30,000 people, but the academics leading the project said they have been forbidden from releasing preliminary findings.

Chen Tongbin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the worst contamination was in Yunnan, Sichuan, Hunan, Anhui and Guizhou, but there were also parts of Beijing where the soil is tainted.

Unlike in Europe where persistent organic pollutants are the main concern, Chen said China’s worst soil contamination is from arsenic, which is released during the mining of copper, gold and other minerals. Roughly 70% of the world’s arsenic is found in China – and it is increasingly coming to the surface with horrendous consequences.

“When pollution spills cause massive die-offs of fish, the media usually blames cadmium, but that’s wrong. Arsenic is responsible. This is the most dangerous chemical,” he said. The country’s 280,000 mines are most responsible, according to Chen.

But the land – and food chain – are also threatened by lead and heavy metals from factories and overuse of pesticides and fertilisers by farmers. The risks are only slowly becoming well known. The Economic Information Daily reported this week that pollution ruins almost 12bn kilograms of food production each year, causing economic losses of 20 billion yuan.

Chen estimated that “no more than 20% of China’s soil is seriously polluted”, but he warned that the problem was likely to grow because80% of the pollutants in the air and water ended up in the earth.

“The biggest environmental challenge that China faces today is water pollution, but there are efforts underway to control that. In the future, the focus must be on soil pollution because that is much harder to deal with. Soil remediation is an immense and growing challenge.”

Calls for a clean-up of the land are slowly gaining prominence. Huang Hongxiang, a researcher from the Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, warned earlier this year that China needed to widen its focus from production volumes.

“If we don’t improve the quality of farmland, but only depend on increasing investment and improving technology, then – regardless of whatever super rice, super wheat and other super quality crops we come up with – it will be difficult to guarantee the sustainable development of our nation’s agriculture.”

EPA proposes stricter soot pollution standards

WASHINGTON — In a step that officials said would save lives, the Obama administration Friday announced new air quality standards intended to reduce the amount of soot that can be released into the air.

Environmental groups and public health advocates welcomed the move by the Environmental Protection Agency, saying it would protect millions of Americans at risk for soot-related asthma attacks, lung cancer, heart disease and premature death.

But congressional Republicans and industry officials called the proposal overly strict and said it could hurt economic growth and cause job losses in areas where pollution levels are determined to be too high.

Perhaps wary of the rule’s political risk, the administration had sought to delay the new soot standards until after the November elections. But a federal judge ordered officials to act sooner after 11 states filed a lawsuit seeking a decision this year.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s top air official, said the new rule was based on a rigorous scientific review. All but six counties in the United States would meet the proposed standard by 2020 with no additional actions needed beyond compliance with existing and pending rules set by the EPA, she said.

Those counties are San Bernardino and Riverside counties in Calif.; Santa Cruz County, Ariz.; Wayne County, Mich.; Jefferson County, Ala., and Lincoln County, Mont. All six face “unique challenges” and will receive individual attention from the EPA, McCarthy said Friday in a conference call with reporters.

“We will work very hard to make sure by 2020 they can enjoy the same kind of clean air that the other 99 percent of U.S. counties will achieve, based on the federal rules” already in place or scheduled to take effect over the next few years, she said.

But industry groups said the administration’s assertion that so few counties would be affected by the new rule is based on the assumption that a dozen or more federal rules and standards achieve their pollution reduction goals.

“The EPA wants to wave its hands and say, ‘Don’t worry about it, it will all be taken care of by 2020,’” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry. “I’m worried about disinvestment by 2017” in counties that fail to meet new federal standards.

The new rule would set the maximum allowable standard for soot in a range of 12 to 13 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The current annual standard is 15.

UCLA Professor Sues for Firing over Diesel Pollution Study Whistleblowing

Dr. James Enstrom

A California epidemiologist who lost his job with UCLA not long after challenging the science behind claims that diesel pollution was responsible for 2,000 deaths a year in the state is suing to get his job back.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) announced today it had filed suit Wednesday in Los Angeles against UCLA officials for violating Dr. James Enstrom’s constitutional rights:

“The facts of this case are astounding,” said David French, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ. “UCLA terminated a professor after 35 years of service simply because he exposed the truth about an activist scientific agenda that was not only based in fraud but violated California law for the sake of imposing expensive new environmental regulations on California businesses. UCLA’s actions were so extreme that its own Academic Freedom Committee unanimously expressed its concern about the case.”

Dr. Enstrom, a research professor in UCLA’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, published important peer-reviewed research demonstrating that fine particulate matter does not kill Californians. Also, Dr. Enstrom assembled detailed evidence that contends powerful UC professors and others have systematically exaggerated the adverse health effects of diesel particulate matter in California, knowing full well that these exaggerations would be used by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to justify draconian diesel vehicle regulations in California. In addition, the complaint argues that he exposed the fact that the lead author of the key CARB Report used to justify the diesel regulations did not have the UC Davis Ph.D. degree that he claimed. Instead, according to the suit, this “scientist”bought a fake Ph.D. for $1,000 from a fictional “Thornhill University.”

Finally, Dr. Enstrom discovered that several activist members of the CARB Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants have exceeded the legislatively mandated three-year term limits by decades. The suit contends that shortly after Dr. Enstrom revealed this systematic wrongdoing, UCLA not only issued a notice of termination, it denied him any compensation for his work by systematically and wrongfully looting his research fund accounts. Dr. Enstrom worked for more than a year without pay as he in good faith appealed his wrongful termination using UCLA procedures. Ironically enough, the fake “scientist” was only suspended for his misconduct while Dr. Enstrom was terminated for telling the truth.

The legally inclined can read the lawsuit here [pdf]. interviewed Dr. Enstrom in 2011 and detailed the controversy, as well as the economic disaster California truckers face in the wake of CARB’s diesel guidelines.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization waded into the subject matter, releasing a study declaring diesel fumes a carcinogen akin to second-hand smoke, so it’s possible truckers in other states (or countries) may soon be fighting this fight as well.

Hat tip to Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for the Twitter tip. FIRE has beenheavily involved in both covering and assisting Enstrom’s fight.

UPDATE: UCLA has posted their response here.

WHO cancer report a wake-up call for Hong Kong on air pollution

SCMP – 18 June 2012

One of the leading questions of our times is just what it will take to convince the government to treat air pollution with a greater sense of urgency. It is a life and death issue. The Hedley Environment Index, maintained by University of Hong Kong researchers, shows that there has been an annual average of 3,200 avoidable deaths due to the city’s bad air quality for the past five years, a fact which remains undisputed by officials. Perhaps the answer to the question is a decision by World Health Organisation experts to raise the cancer risk of breathing in diesel fumes to the same level as that for passive smoking. But we should not hold our breath in anticipation. We have a farcical idling engine ban that is now founded on exemptions, and we have an unconvincing attempt to ban smoking in public indoors, which shields the owners and managers of bars, restaurants and the like and doesn’t much frighten anyone else. The incoming administration of chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has a chance to show from the start that it really means to make a difference by putting the public interest before sectional and vested interests.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, comprising independent experts, has just reclassified the links between diesel exhausts and lung and bladder cancer from probable to definite. Its findings are based on analysis of decades of published studies, evidence from animals and limited research on humans. Hong Kong recently adopted new air-quality targets that still fall short in key areas of those recommended by the WHO seven years ago. More recently, however, the Environmental Department reported the worst-ever levels of respirable suspended particles and nitrogen dioxide. Officials blame low rainfall, sunny days and industrial activity beyond our borders in the face of evidence that polluted air is largely of our own making. The authorities know the real cause and what must be done to stop it – two coal-burning electric power stations, harbour traffic and vehicles, especially those with diesel engines. But as the watering down of the idling engine law shows, business interests still prevail over the public interest, even at the astronomical economic cost to the city of unnecessary deaths and ill health.

That said, officials have shown what can be done if they try, with marked reductions in the levels of some pollutants, encouragement to take old, polluting vehicles out of service and power firms gradually switching to cleaner fuel. It is not a question of money. Leung should give priority to air quality in his plan to make better use of the city’s huge reserves. For the sake of public health and the city’s attraction as a place to live and work, we trust the link between diesel fumes and cancer serves as a wake-up call.