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Time for marathon to take a breather on health grounds

South China Morning Post – Laisee

7 February 2012

We’ve always applauded exercise, believing that a healthy body often helps with a healthy mind and so on. Whilst we have run in the past, we’ve never got beyond reflecting on the possibilities of running a marathon and have some reservations about the supposed net benefits. We’re not against the principle, but Hong Kong would be one of the last places on earth we would choose to run a marathon: it’s hard enough to last the distance with any dignity let alone sucking in large quantities of Hong Kong’s filthy air along the way.

Hong Kong’s roadside pollution in Central and Causeway Bay on Sunday was “high” even on the government’s Air Pollution Index, which is now 25 years old, hopelessly outdated and falls well below World Health Organisation guidelines. The government’s “warning” at this level is that no action need to be taken, though “Long-term effects may, however, be observed if exposed at such level persistently for months or years.” However the Hedley Index, which is based on WHO guidelines, rates air quality at this level as “dangerous,” which doesn’t sound particularly inviting since marathon runners can take in up to 10 to 20 times more air pollution on average than people who are sedentary in the same environments. Hong Kong has on average 3,200 avoidable deaths a year according to the Hedley Index.

Given all this, you wonder how long Standard Chartered, which organises and sponsors the marathon, can continue to invite people to risk their health in this way without at least warning them that it can affect their health, to say nothing of the months of training for the event. This might even encourage Standard Chartered to put some effort into lobbying the government to take effective measures to clean up the air. The annual swim across the harbour was stopped for many years because the water was considered too polluted for swimmers. The annual marathon faces a similar fate if nothing is done about the air

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