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We Must Act To Curb Pollution Caused By Port

Updated on Jun 24, 2008 – SCMP

Your leader on the Civic Exchange report, describing the burden of pollution which results from Hong Kong’s port operations (“Take pollution fight to region’s ports”, June 18), contrasts with the stereotyped comments of the deputy director of marine (“Use policies on fuel tax to lower port pollution: study”, June 18).

He offers only caveats on the costs of the transition from the current use of polluting fuels to an essential and effective air quality management strategy. There are many reasons why he could have publicly recognised that a rapid solution to this problem was imperative for all marine activities in Hong Kong.

Why does he feel it necessary to take this line when there is even strong support from the shipping industry itself to clean up?

For years, all government departments voicing a view on pollution issues have, as a reflex, given primacy to the relatively minor operational and economic aspects of the transition to cleaner fuels rather than the fact that emissions of sulfur dioxide, and toxic metals such as nickel from heavy residual oil, kill hundreds and damage the health of thousands each year.

We also showed this month that the external costs paid by the general population for pollution amount to a major cause of environmental injustice and that burning dirty fuel is a false economy (“Young and old pay high price for bad delta air”, June 12).

We should remind ourselves that, overnight, on June 30 to July 1, 1990, Hong Kong permanently restricted the territory-wide landside use of fuels to those with not more than 0.5 per cent sulfur content.

The operational and economic turbulence was minimal in all sectors burning fossil fuels. Annual deaths fell by 600 a year, mainly from heart and lung diseases, and there were health gains at all ages, especially in children. Unfortunately, that event 18 years ago was the last significant impact on air concentrations of pollutants in Hong Kong. Today, almost 4 million people are affected by the plumes created from intensive dirty port activities, with predictable health impacts. We need an intersectoral approach to pollution abatement in our shipping channels and ports as an urgent public health priority.

Anthony J. Hedley, department of community medicine, school of public health, University of Hong Kong

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