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Tsang promises new pollution rules this year

South China Morning Post

Chief executive denies there is a delay in updating quarter-of-a-century-old levels in order to protect massive government infrastructure projects

Ng Kang-chung and Cheung Chi-fai
Updated on May 20, 2011
Hong Kong will have new air quality objectives ready this year, the chief executive has pledged – nearly a quarter of a century since the last figures were set.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen made the promise after being accused by Civic Party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of dragging his feet for fear new regulations could hold up an array of massive government infrastructure projects.

Tsang insisted the government was serious about setting new objectives adopting interim and ultimate targets for the levels of various pollutants listed in World Health Organisation guidelines.

“We need to study carefully the impact of the new objectives on the economy and community before we can work out something that can remain [practical] in the long run,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Department has yet to come up with new levels although a public consultation on the issue was completed more than 18 months ago, and new air quality standards in line with the WHO recommendations were presented to the Legislative Council last summer.

Hong Kong’s air pollution index, which measures the concentrations of five major pollutants, is based on a set of air quality objectives from 1987 that are widely criticised by environmentalists as being outdated and too lax.

According to the results of a review, the WHO objectives are 10 to 64 per cent more stringent than existing ones.

Tsang said it took time to study overseas experience in adopting the new standards recommended by the WHO.

The government has said that at least seven, and as many as 70, projects are already in doubt after a court quashed the environmental impact assessment for part of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge.

Tsang’s pledge came as Hong Kong scientists yesterday launched a new air quality monitoring “super-site” that uses state-of-the-art instruments and comprehensive measurements to monitor pollution.

The station at the University of Science and Technology campus at Clear Water Bay, Sai Kung, was officially opened yesterday.

It marks the beginning of a network with the air quality monitoring site operated by Polytechnic University in Cape D’Aguilar.

Another site is to open in Tung Chung, and Guangdong has also started construction of a super-site in Heshan, south-west of Foshan.

Scientists said the 1,000 square foot Sai Kung station could offer continuous real-time measurements and observations of the physical and chemical properties of air pollutants.

They said it was an ideal place to study background air quality and movement of pollutants into Hong Kong.

Atmospheric scientist Alexis Lau Kai-hon said the system should outperform the existing network run by the Environmental Protection Department, which could tell the weight of an air pollutant but offered no quick answer as to what it was.

“For instance, when we see the sky getting grey, we can’t really tell whether this is sand, dust or fog.

“But if we can find out immediately that the particles are actually an earth metal, then we can tell it could be sand,” he said.

Lau said knowing the composition would make it easier to determine where the pollutants originated and how they could affect people.

A spokeswoman for the EPD said the department had upgraded its facilities to make “complementary measurements” and stressed it was also a partner of the super-site project. The project, which is costing at least HK$17 million, was funded by the University Grants Committee, the university itself and the government’s Environment and Conservation Fund.

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