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Air Quality Targets Dangerously Inadequate For Public Health

SCMP – Updated on Oct 31, 2008

We agree with views expressed by Anthony J. Hedley and Wong Chit-ming, of the University of Hong Kong (“New air quality measures inadequate“, October 25).

We are extremely concerned that the government is proposing to use the very lowest tier of the WHO air quality targets as our air quality objectives.

The World Health Organisation interim target-1 is not much of an improvement compared with our 21-year-old air quality objectives, and far from what is needed to drive air quality improvements.

For example, the annual mean concentration (the 12-month average) for PM10 (particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers) specified in the interim target-1 is 70 micrograms per cubic metre, while our air quality objectives specified an annual mean of 55 micrograms per cubic metre.

International and local studies have shown that, among all the criteria pollutants, particulate matter is by far the most significant contributor to both the chronic and acute health risk.

Let us not forget just how far behind Hong Kong’s particulate matter standard is when compared with European cities. In Europe, the PM10 standard is now 40 micrograms per cubic metre, while the WHO air quality guideline of 20 micrograms per cubic metre will take effect in 2010.

After all the hype and public expectation in Hong Kong about strengthening our air quality objectives, a recommendation to take a backward step to 70 micrograms or staying with our outdated 55 micrograms is just unbelievable.

We must set targets that protect public health, and not arrive at a target which is dictated by some limited vision of what can or cannot be done in a few years.

What is being set is a loose target which shows the government is abrogating its responsibility to push hard for a policy of public health protection.

This is wrong-headed and dangerous because we will all be paying the price with our health.

Alexis Lau, director, atmospheric research centre, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Wong Tze-wai, professor, community and family medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong

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