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Author: Tang Ming Chung, Kelvin, LLB IV; HKU

Date: 11/8/10


The Hong Kong government has in the past worked hard to reduce the amount of sulphur dioxide emitted from different sources. On 1 July 1990, the Hong Kong government reduced the amount of sulphur allowed in industrial fuel to 0.5% by weight, with dramatic effect on the air quality and public health. (1) This reduction led to health gains for thousands of school children like their reduction of bronchitic symptoms such as cough, phlegm and wheeze. (2) Such reduction had a significant effect on the tests of lung functions which showed an improvement over a two year period with children in Kwai Tsing improving to the level of health of children in the less polluted Southern District. (2) There was also a 2.2% decline in mortality across the population, reflecting a reduction of 600 deaths per year in those aged 46 and over. (2)


The intervention by the Hong Kong government demonstrated that even small reductions in ambient air concentrations of pollutants would lead to important health gains. This is recognized world-wide as one of the most important pieces of evidence in the causal relationship between air pollutants and injury to cardiopulmonary systems. (1)


One year after the one-weekend restriction of sulphur content to under 0.5% in motor vehicle and power plant fuel, seasonal mortality in about 75% of residents in Hong Kong, who were aged 15 and up, for total deaths, respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease was substantially reduced. (3) The seasonal mortality returned to the previous pattern three to five years after a one-weekend restriction of sulphur content to 0.5% in fuel. (3)


With the new regulations, ambient sulphur dioxide concentration in a polluted district decreased by up to 80% and sulfate in respirable suspended particulates decreased by 38%, reports of cough, sore throat, phlegm and wheezing among 3521 children studied decreased. (4)


One year after the restriction of sulphur content in fuels, testing on children aged 9 to 12 from a highly polluted district showed significant differences from children in a less polluted district in bronchial hyperreactivity. (5) Two years after the restriction of sulphur content in fuels, testing on children aged 9 to 12 from a highly polluted district showed significant decrease in hyperreactivity and reactivity. (5)

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