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February, 2016:

Dim prospects of HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge breaking even

Proposed traffic restrictions on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge mean it will be underutilized and take a long time to repay the investment in it. Photo:

Proposed traffic restrictions on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge mean it will be underutilized and take a long time to repay the investment in it. Photo:

The Transport and Housing Department (THD) has made proposals for the use of the new bridge to Zhuhai and Macau that will strictly limit the number and kind of vehicles that can use it.

The restrictions mean it will take decades for the bridge to pay back Hong Kong’s enormous investment in it.

Construction of the 42 kilometer bridge will not be completed until the end of next year at the earliest, one year behind the original schedule.

On Jan. 30, at a stormy meeting, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved HK$5.4 billion in extra funding, in addition to the original budget of HK$30.4 billion.

So far seven workers have died and 129 have been injured during construction.

The construction of the bridge is a severe engineering challenge, requiring the building of tunnels and bridges across the Pearl River and the creation of giant man-made islands at either end where most of the traffic on the bridge will end its journey.

In a statement on Friday, the THD said that, at the end of last year, the governments of the three places involved and bridge management officials had conducted a study that found that the bridge would not be ready for vehicles by the end of this year.

It said the project should be completed by the end of next year and that it faces serious difficulties and challenges, including an unstable supply of raw materials, lack of workers, restrictions due to aviation and to environmental requirements and sinking of the landfill into the sea.

In a submission to Legco, the THD made proposals for which vehicles will be allowed to use the bridge.

The main users will be large passenger buses that have licenses to operate in Hong Kong and Macau or Hong Kong and Guangdong.

In the first three years, the department will give six-year permits, which can be renewed once, to 300 buses.

The bus operator will be allowed to make 300 journeys per day during the first three years.

The operator will be chosen in the second quarter of this year at the earliest.

It will be a company jointly managed by representatives from the three places and receive a five-year licence that can be renewed once.

The buses will collect passengers from stops that are part of the public transport system of the three places.

During busy periods, they will leave every five minutes; during less busy periods, they will leave every 10-20 minutes.

It will also give three-year permits, which can be renewed once, to 250 large passenger rental cars.

Similarly, the cars need licenses to operate in Hong Kong and Macau or Hong Kong and Guangdong.

There will be no limit to the number of journeys they can make in one day.

On the use by private cars, the THD said this issue was still being discussed by the three governments and that there was no timetable for private vehicles with Guangdong permits to use the bridge, nor would that be suitable.

To facilitate the development of the transport and logistics sectors, the department proposes that 13,000 Hong Kong and 800 mainland cargo vehicles with permits for both places be allowed to use the bridge.

Since the Macau government does not wish to allow the entry of such vehicles into the city, they will unload their cargo on the large man-made island being built offshore; it will then be transferred to vehicles from Macau.

On the man-made island on the Hong Kong side, there will be no area for unloading cargo, because of the shortage of space.

The three parties have not agreed on the tariff for the vehicles. It will be denominated in renminbi.

These proposals address the concerns of the Hong Kong and Macau governments and people who do not want a large influx of vehicles from Guangdong onto streets that are already crowded.

So they will be welcomed in both cities.

On the other hand, they mean that the bridge will be underutilised.

Experts estimate that, in the first year, it will carry only 9,200 vehicles.

That means that it will take decades – if ever – to repay the enormous investment.

There is also a question about how many people will use the tourist buses.

It is economic for those on a group tour of Hong Kong and whose bus can take them directly from their hotel or the airport onto the bridge.

Individual travellers will have to go to the departure point on the man-made island close to Lantau Island and then take the bus.

Is it not simpler and quicker for them to go to Central and take a 60-minute ferry to Macau or go to Tsimshatsui and take a 70-minute ferry to Zhuhai?

The ferries deliver them conveniently into the center of each city.

Cancer Mortality Risks from Long-term Exposure to Ambient Fine Particle




Few studies have assessed long-term effects of particulate matter (PM) with aerodynamic diameter < 2.5 μm (PM2.5) on mortality for causes of cancer other than the lung; we assessed the effects on multiple causes. In Hong Kong, most people live and work in urban or suburban areas with high-rise buildings. This facilitates the estimation of PM2.5 exposure of individuals, taking into account the height of residence above ground level for assessment of the long-term health effects with sufficient statistical power.


We recruited 66,820 persons who were ≥65 in 1998 to 2001 and followed up for mortality outcomes until 2011. Annual concentrations of PM at their residential addresses were estimated using PM2.5 concentrations measured at fixed-site monitors, horizontal–vertical locations, and satellite data. We used Cox regression model to assess the HR of mortality for cancer per 10 μg/m3 increase of PM2.5.


PM2.5 was associated with increased risk of mortality for all causes of cancer [HR, 1.22 (95% CI, 1.11–1.34)] and for specific cause of cancer in upper digestive tract [1.42 (1.06–1.89)], digestive accessory organs [1.35 (1.06–1.71)] in all subjects; breast [1.80 (1.26–2.55)] in females; and lung [1.36 (1.05–1.77)] in males.


Long-term exposures to PM2.5 are associated with elevated risks of cancer in various organs.


This study is particularly timely in China, where compelling evidence is needed to support the pollution control policy to ameliorate the health damages associated with economic growth. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 25(5); 839–45. ©2016 AACR.


How poor air quality in Hong Kong is damaging your skin – and the cancer risks to watch for

Traffic-related air pollution can cause dark spots, known as lentigines or “liver spots”, on the skin of Asian women over the age of 50, some forms of which may be pre-cancerous, say researchers
Air pollution caused by traffic can do more than just wreak havoc on your respiratory system – it may also cause the formation of dark spots on the skin, according to a new study by German and Chinese researchers.

These dark spots, also known as lentigines, were most obvious on the cheeks of Asian women over the age of 50, say the researchers, writing in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

The study involved about 1,550 women, roughly half of whom were German and the other half Han Chinese from the Taizhou region in Jiangsu province.

Lentigines, also known as liver spots, are small, darkened areas of the skin. Although they may first appear small, they may enlarge and separate patches may merge. They are most commonly found on the face, forearms, hands, and upper trunk. Usually brown, lentigines can appear yellow-tan to black. They are generally benign, although some may be pre-cancerous.

“In addition to particulate matter, traffic-related air pollution is characterised by increased concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). While NO2 exposure is known to be associated with low lung function and lung cancer, its effect on human skin has never been investigated. This is important because environmentally induced lung and skin ageing appear to be closely related,” says lead investigator Dr Jean Krutmann of the IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf.

The 806 German women had an average age of 73½ years (range 67 to 80 years) and 20 per cent had a history of smoking. These women reportedly spent an average of just over 2½ hours a day in the sun. Their average level of NO2 exposure was 28.8 micrograms per cubic metre.

The 743 Chinese women had an average age of 59 (range 28 to 70 years). Twenty per cent of this group had a history of smoking, with a reported average daily sun exposure of 3½ hours. Their average level of NO2 exposure was 24.1 micrograms/m3.

Overall, an increase of 10 micrograms/m3 in NO2 concentration was associated with approximately 25 per cent more dark spots. No association was seen between levels of NO2 and lentigines’ formation on the back of the hands or forearms. However, exposure to NO2 was significantly associated with more lentigines on the cheeks in German and Chinese women older than 50 years.

The average NO2 level in Hong Kong in 2015 was 98 micrograms/m3 (roadside air pollution) according to figures from the Environmental Protection Department.

The researchers performed sensitivity analysis and found that NO2 gas had a slightly greater impact on dark spot formation than the particulate matter concentration.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest epidemiological study demonstrating a link between traffic-related air pollution and the formation of lentigines,” notes co-investigator Li Jin of Fudan University’s State Key Laboratory of Genetic Engineering and the Fudan-Taizhou Institute of Health Sciences in Jiangsu, China. “The findings also strengthen the concept that the pathogenesis of lentigines might differ depending on the anatomical site.”

The effects of air pollution can persist for more than three decades after exposure, a separate new study by researchers at Imperial College London has found.

The researchers followed 368,000 people in England and Wales over a 38-year period and estimated air pollution levels in the areas where the individuals lived in 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001, using measurements from Britain’s extensive historic air pollution monitoring networks.

Highest risks were seen for respiratory disease, such as bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia, as well as mortality risk from cardiovascular disorders, such as heart disease.

The study found that for every additional unit of pollution (equivalent to 10 micrograms/m3) that people were exposed to in 1971, the risk of mortality in 2002 to 2009 increased by two per cent.

The researchers also looked at more recent exposure and found a 24 per cent increase in mortality risk in 2002 to 2009 for each additional unit of pollution people were exposed to in 2001.

“Our study found more recent exposures were more important for mortality risk than historic exposures, but we need to do more work on how air pollution affects health over a person’s entire lifetime,” says Dr Anna Hansell, lead author of the study published in the journal Thorax. “We were surprised to find pollution has effects on mortality that persist over three decades after exposure.”

Hansell, however, adds that it’s important to remember that the effects of air pollution are small compared to other risk factors like whether you smoke, how much you exercise, whether you are overweight, as well as medical factors such as your blood pressure.

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Hong Kong Government’s efforts in managing municipal solid waste & Reduction and recycling of food waste

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Legco report slams ‘unacceptable’ management of vacant school premises in Hong Kong

Education Bureau and Lands Department both criticised for failure to deliver comprehensive policy to utilise valuable land Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim has admitted there is room for improvement in the way his bureau handles vacant school premises, after a Legislative Council committee report slammed its management of the situation as “unacceptable”. The report, published yesterday by the Legco public accounts committee, also criticised the Lands Department.

“Despite the scarcity of land resources, the Education Bureau and the Lands Department have not effectively managed and allocated the vacant school premises under their respective purviews,” the report, which followed up on November’s Audit Commission, said.

The audit watchdog had earlier found that more than 100 closed schools had been lying empty and unused for up to 36 years. Among them, 29 were overseen by the Education Bureau and 73 by the Lands Department. In its report yesterday, the committee expressed “grave dismay” that the bureau had failed to create a comprehensive policy on the effective use of vacant school premises.

In response, Ng said 14 of the 29 premises had been put into use again and nine had been reserved for future educational uses. Four had already been retrieved by the government and nine were on private land, meaning the government would need some time to handle the situation.

“I agree that there is room for improvement in identifying, allocating and managing vacant school premises. We are reviewing the mechanism and we expect it to be completed in the middle of this year,” Ng said. For the 73 premises overseen by the Lands Department, director of lands Bernadette Linn said in December that 24 were being planned for uses by other government offices or interested organisations; 18 were on private land where the school sponsoring bodies had no obligation to deliver possession to the government.

Meanwhile, the committee also criticised the Environment Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department for their “lack of determination” in executing plans to manage municipal solid waste in a “professional and effective manner”.

The government had set a policy to cut municipal solid waste disposal at landfills from 60 per cent in 2004 to 25 per cent by 2014. But as of 2013, 63 per cent of the waste was still heading for dumps.
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Public outcry triggers scrapping of Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront revamp

The government made a surprise announcement today that it will significantly scale back a plan to revitalise the Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it is scrapping the proposal to open restaurants, observation decks and a film gallery on the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade.

The revamp was approved by the Town Planning Board in August last year. The work was originally expected to take more than two years.

LCSD says it will revise the design to make it simple and maintain the area as “a passive public open space.’’

In a statement, a spokesman for the department said the change was made in response to views from the public consultation last year.

It said the majority of the respondents wished to have fewer structures to be built on the promenade so that people can stroll on a more spacious area and enjoy unobstructed views of Victoria Harbour. Respondents also expressed the wish to shorten the period during which the promenade has to be closed for renovation.

Under the new plan, all trees will be retained. Only basic improvement works will be carried out. The period during which the promenade has to be closed for renovation is expected to be reduced by about half.

The statement also said LCSD will manage the facilities.—RTHK

Lantau folk hit out in development protest

A group of angry Lantau residents confronted Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po yesterday as he led a media tour of the proposed sites for the island’s development.

The protesters condemned the government for proposed plans that would destroy the island’s natural environment.

“I love Tai O, protect Lantau!” chanted members from the Save Lantau Alliance as they held a rally next to the parking area in Tai O, accusing Chan of not consulting the public before coming up with the development plans.

“The government spent two years on a closed-door survey, which doesn’t involve any opinions from the public,” said Eddie Tse Sai-kit, convener of the protesting group.

Tse expressed concerns about plans to extend the Ngong Ping 360 cable car service from Tung Chung to Tai O and establish an entrance plaza in Tai O.

He believes construction and the expected influx of tourists will kill Tai O’s beautiful scenery.

Tse criticized the government for planning to turn Lantau into commercial areas, in the name of developing green tourism, which will not only destroy the natural environment but also result in “white elephant projects” ending up wasting a huge amount of public funds.

During the protest Tse invited Chan to attend a meeting held by residents. Chan said he would consider it.

Wong Wai-king, founder of Tai O Cultural Workshop, also condemned the government for disregarding voices of residents. Wong said the workshop has been in operation for more than 10 years, but no government officials have visited.

Tai O Community Group chairwoman Kathleen Daxon said her biggest concern about the development project is the safety on the roads of South Lantau. An increasing number of cars are permitted to drive on the roads, posing a danger to cows.

Mui Wo resident Thomas Yam stopped Chan at the Mui Wo pier, protesting against the “fake consultation.”

Yam said: “The government behaves like they are making consultations, but the truth is that the plan hasn’t changed at all during the two years of the consultation period.”

Chan responded that all consultation documents are available to the public.

Yam said Chan secretly visited Mui Wo two weeks ago to kick off a consultation meeting but only those who were invited were allowed to meet him.

On concerns of protesters, Chan said at the end of the tour there were some misunderstandings.

He promised to communicate with the public, and will be engaging residents to have a constructive dialogue.

Congestion charging ‘no instant cure’ for traffic gridlock

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London.

As Hong Kong decides on how to deal with traffic gridlock, the boss of London’s congestion charging scheme said any similar system in Hong Kong should not be expected to bring benefits overnight.

Officials are more than halfway through a three-month public consultation on the impact of a pricing scheme to ease Central’s notorious traffic jams.

The government has said it was no longer a matter of whether, but how, to start charging road users.

Paul Cowperthwaite, the general manager for congestion charging at Transport for London (TfL), told the Sunday Morning Post Hong Kong could succeed in changing habits and overcoming road blocks to any such scheme, but should not expect miracles.

“One of the key things for any city: Don’t assume you’ve solved the problem on day one,” he said, adding “what we’ve always done is keep the scheme under review so it’s having an impact.”

He added that congestion charging had “become a part of everyday life in London” that worked.

Opponents of the Hong Kong plans believe an increase in fines for illegal parking would be adequate to ease traffic jams, rather than the government’s two-pronged approach of raising the parking fines and charging for driving in Central.

The latest statistics by TfL showed 18 per cent fewer vehicles entering the congestion charge zone and traffic within the paid area down 15 per cent, leading to 70,000 fewer daily car trips during charging hours, 30 per cent less congestion and 40 per cent fewer traffic accidents since 2003.

The British capital will celebrate the scheme’s 13th birthday next Wednesday, having raised £1.4 billion to reinvest in roads and public transport schemes.

Cowperthwaite said it was important to have full political backing to any congestion charge.

“There are a number of key steps we can share from London. Having strong political support. London was lucky that we both mayors who strongly supported the scheme,” he said.

More than three decades have passed since a road charging scheme was first floated in Hong Kong.

Similarly, London spent almost four decades talking before implementing a congestion charge in full.

Air pollution ‘kills more than 5.5m people a year’

Most of the deaths occur in China and India, two of the world’s fastest-growing economies

Air pollution kills more than 5.5 million people each year, new research has shown.

Most of the deaths occur in China and India, two of the world’s fastest-growing economies, say scientists.

International researchers conducted estimates of indoor and outdoor air pollution levels in the two countries and calculated their impact on health.

The data was compiled by the World Health Organisation’s Global Burden of Disease project.

Results show that China and India together account for 55 per cent of all the deaths caused by air pollution worldwide. Some 1.6 million people died as a result of poor air quality in China, and 1.4 million in India in 2013.

Professor Michael Brauer, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, said: “Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease.

“Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.”

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science(AAAS) taking place in Washington DC.

Power plants, industrial manufacturing, vehicle exhaust and burning coal and wood were all named as sources of small particles that lodge in the lungs and can endanger health.

In China, burning coal was the biggest contributor to air pollution. This alone was responsible for around 366,000 Chinese deaths in 2013.

A major source of poor air quality in India was the practice of burning wood, animal dung and other forms of biomass for cooking and heating.

Millions of families, including some of India’s poorest, were regularly exposed to high levels of particulate matter in their own homes.

Over the past half century, North America, Western Europe and Japan have made great strides to combat air pollution by using cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles, limiting coal burning, and imposing restrictions on electric power plants and factories, the researchers pointed out.

Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a Boston-based non-profit organisation that sponsors efforts to analyse air pollution from different sources, said: “Having been in charge of designing and implementing strategies to improve air in the United States, I know how difficult it is. Developing countries have a tremendous task in front of them.

“This research helps guide the way by identifying the actions which can best improve public health.”

Over 50 Percent of the World Breathes in Toxic Air

Everyone needs clean air to survive, yet somehow it is not an internationally recognized human right. That probably has something to do with the fact that over half of the world’s population live in areas where they breathe in toxic air. Altogether, that means there are more than 3.5 billion people inhaling dangerous air into their lungs on a daily basis.

A lot of present day discussions about pollution focus on the long-term consequences that are in store thanks to climate change. While those discussions are certainly important, the truth is that we don’t need to make predictions about future environmental catastrophe to see the harms of pollution – those harms are already here.

The Environmental Protection Index (EPI) track changes – both improvements and regressions – on a number of important environmental issues. Air that is unsafe to breathe is one area where researchers see conditions getting alarmingly worse.

Air should be life giving, but for half the world, that’s no longer the case. Currently, health officials attribute about 5.5 million deaths around the world to unclean air each year. Given that over 50 million people die in a given year, toxic air deaths account for roughly 10 percent of all deaths.

In better news, the EPI is simultaneously reporting a major decrease in consumption of polluted water. In 2000, about 1 billion people drank unsafe water, a figure that has essentially been cut in half in the past fifteen years. Access to clean water is expanding because poorer nations are industrializing and technologies are improving.

Alas, it’s hard to argue that this industrialization is a net positive for the environment. While providing clean water to hundreds of millions of people who lacked it previously is an unquestionable benefit, industrialization is also a huge reason for the rise in air pollution.

Accordingly, it’s heavily populated countries like China and India that are rapidly expanding their number of factories and businesses that are most threatened by air pollution. For example, in India and Nepal, this gross air is almost inescapable: 75 percent of the overall population in this region is regularly exposed to deadly smog.

“With the very survival of the planet at stake, we hope leaders will be inspired to act – especially in urban areas where an increasing majority of the world’s population lives,” said Kim Samuel, one of the lead researchers on the EPI report.

The health of the economy is important – but it shouldn’t come at the cost of the health of humanity. Exposing half the world to unsafe air sounds like nothing short of a catastrophe, yet it’s a choice global leaders are implicitly making by agreeing to only insignificant changes in environmental policy.