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January 11th, 2016:

A Biodiversity Study of Lantau

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Researchers find shared molecular response to tobacco smoke and indoor air pollution

Exposure to certain household air pollutants may cause some of the same molecular changes as smoking cigarettes.

A study in the journal Carcinogenesis reports non-smoking women living in rural China who burn smoky (bituminous) coal for heating and cooking had gene expression patterns in buccal (cheek) epithelial cells similar to those present in the cheek cells of active cigarette smokers. The study, conducted by investigators at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), and others, is the first to identify genomic alterations that result from exposure to smoky coal.

Approximately three billion people in the world use coal and biomass (charcoal, wood, animal dung and crop waste) for cooking and heating. “Lung cancer rates among non-smoking women in China’s rural counties, where smoky coal is used extensively, are among the highest in the world,” noted Qing Lan, MD, PhD, MPH, senior investigator at the NCI, and co-senior author of the study.

Avrum Spira, MD, MS, professor of medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine at BUSM and co-senior and co-corresponding author of the study, has previously shown that tobacco smoke induces gene expression changes throughout the epithelium of the respiratory tract. Since smoky coal is also an established risk factor for lung cancer and other non-malignant respiratory diseases, the researchers were interested to examine whether smoky coal had a similar effect on the respiratory tract.

“While lung cancer in this population has been linked to the usage of smoky coal, as compared to smokeless (anthracite) coal, the molecular changes experienced by those exposed to these indoor air pollutants remained unclear,” said Nathaniel Rothman, MD, MPH, MHS, senior investigator at the NCI, and a co-author of the study.

To understand the physiologic effects of this exposure Spira and his collaborators at NCI analyzed buccal epithelial cells collected from healthy, non-smoking female residents of Xuanwei and Fuyuan county who burned smoky and smokeless coal. Genome-wide gene-expression profiles were examined and changes associated with coal type were compared. The researchers identified 282 genes as differentially expressed in the buccal epithelium of women exposed to smoky versus smokeless coal.

“We then compared our smoky coal gene-expression signature to gene-expression changes observed in tobacco users and found that smoky coal emissions elicited similar physiologic effects. These results shed new light on the molecular mechanisms associated with smoky coal exposure and may provide a biological basis for the increased risk of lung cancer,” explained Spira, who is also director of the Boston University Cancer Center and a pulmonologist at Boston Medical Center. “We hope genomic profiling of the biologic response to solid fuel emissions will ultimately lead to the development of clinically relevant biomarkers,” he added.

“Ultimately, this and other studies of the health effects from indoor air pollution due to smoky combustion highlight the importance of switching to cleaner fuels,” concluded Lan.

Reclaimed seabed, man-made islands and miles of road and railways for Lantau in development plans released quietly online

Report released with minimum fanfare draws ire of environmentalist who said island should be kept largely intact to protect ecology

Dozens of hectares of reclaimed seabed, man-made islands and more highways and railroads to link with the urban areas are all part of a package of ambitious proposals seeking to turn the tranquil island of Lantau into Hong Kong’s new commercial hub, as well as a tourist haven.

The ideas were contained in the first-term report of the government-appointed Lantau Development Advisory Committee, which was discreetly released online yesterday, following about two years of study.

The 33-page report, entitled “Space for All”, was available in Chinese, with only an English summary for now and a full version “to be provided” later.

The plans split the island into four major development areas: a northern Lantau corridor, near Tung Chung and the airport for economic and housing developments; an area for leisure and tourism on between 60 and 100 hectares of reclaimed seabed off Sunny Bay and an expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland; a new core business district in the east, to be created by the reclamation of one or more artificial islands; and the development of 14 recreation and tourism areas, mostly to the south, including Sunny Bay, Mui Wo, Tai O and various Buddhist monasteries, and the Tung Chung valley.

An adventure park was to be built in Sunny Bay, with facilities such as indoor surfing and indoor skydiving. Campsites and observation decks will be provided at Sunset Peak for stargazing.

The waters off eastern Lantau will see massive reclamation to develop Hong Kong’s newest core business district and a new town housing up to 700,000 people. It will also become a major source of land supply for Hong Kong’s development beyond 2030.

Environmentalist and Green Sense chief executive Roy Tam Hoi-pong criticised the idea of developing Lantau and said the island should be kept largely intact to protect the ecology there.

“Like Sai Kung, Lantau is a garden in Hong Kong’s backyard. The last thing you want is to bulldoze it down to build high-rises,” said Tam.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying yesterday said he had received the report and hailed the committee’s proposals as having “fully considered the current situations of various districts in Lantau, including the conservation needs and the development potential.”

He added: “Large-scale infrastructure, including a Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok link, Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the third runway of the airport will turn the geographical condition of Lantau from an outlying island to a significant region of Hong Kong.”

There was no official announcement of the release of the report. Its publication was mentioned in an article posted to the official blog of Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po.

In his article, Chan said the committee appreciated that Lantau is rich in ecological habitats and these should be preserved.

“The committee is of the view that conservation and development should not be considered mutually exclusive. Simply leaving things intact does not necessarily mean effective conservation… we should improve and make better use of the natural environment in a responsible manner, so as to allow the public to appreciate, understand and enjoy the environment.”

In his 2014 policy address, Leung raised the idea of making Lantau a converging point of traffic from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau. He announced the setting up of the advisory committee to explore strategies for the economic and social development for Lantau.

Proposals for development under various themes


Sunny Bay:
Indoor adventure park, indoor surfing, indoor skydiving

Mui Wo:
Outdoor adventure park, hillside slides, war game, aqua park, mountain bike
Lantau history museum

Splurge and indulge

Shopping, MICE tourism, international ice rink


Siu Ho Wan:

Sunset Peak:
Stargazing facilities, campsite

Yi O:
Revitalisation of abandoned land, farm stay

Culture and heritage

Tai O:
Wushu retreat, Tai Chi centre, culinary heritage centre

Relaxation and wellness

Cheung Sha:
Development of spa and resorts, water sports centre, wedding centre, cycle track

Soko Islands:
Facilities for extreme sports, rock climbing.

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Lack of accountability stinks

Letters to the editor, January 11, 2016

As if the report by the [1] Audit Commission [2] on the Environmental Protection Department is not embarrassing enough (“Hong Kong’s waste problem: a stinking trail of missed targets, data errors and misdirected efforts [3]”, December 1), the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee’s two hearings last month on food waste reduction and recycling will enshrine the department in perpetuity in the Hall of Shame in Mismanagement.

We learned that the department handled the growing problem of food waste, which accounts for 38 per cent of municipal solid waste in Hong Kong, in a piecemeal, disjointed manner. We learned that the department has no idea on how each programme quantitatively contributes to the reduction of food waste, which has increased by 13 per cent from 3,227 tonnes per day in 2004 to 3,648 tonnes in 2013. We learned that targets are either non-existent or not met if they’d been posted. We learned that officials are not accountable for their mistake, and the same consultant who partnered with the department in the mistake continues to advise the department on a bigger project.

After spending HK$150 million and HK$50 million to reduce food waste in schools and private housing estates respectively, the department cannot explain how much food waste was reduced as a result of those programmes. The same goes for the HK$18.7 million spent during 2013 and 2015 in advertising, marketing, and education programmes to promote the department’s signature Food Wise campaign.

Only 26 out of 1,027 business entities provided data on their efforts to reduce food waste on a voluntary basis. No data was provided by the 294 schools who signed onto the Green Lunch Charter on the result of their effort.

Phase one of the Organic Waste Treatment Facilities that was priced at HK$489 million in 2010, with the help of a consultant company which earned HK$8.8 million for its advice, turned out to cost HK$1.53 billion. The Audit Commission pointed out that essential components were underestimated in the initial estimate.

Despite clear evidence in the commission’s report showing mistake in professional judgment, Mr Elvis Au, assistant director of the department, insisted that rising cost and lack of reference price of the facilities were the causes of the cost overrun. Mr Au and the same consulting company have since moved on to manage one of the most expensive project in the department’s history – building an incinerator at Shek Kwu Chau.

Is there accountability in Hong Kong?

Tom Yam, Lantau

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Developing Lantau For New Opportunities

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