Author: Antonio Da Roza
Originally: Child Welfare Scheme; School of Public Health and Primary Care, CUHK; Hong Kong Transition Project, Department of Government and International Studies, HKBU; Centre for Comparative and Public Law, Faculty of Law, HKU; Oldham, Li & Nie Lawyers; Clean Air Foundation
Child Welfare Scheme, the School of Public Health and Primary Care (CUHK), the Hong Kong Transition Project (HKBU), the Centre for Comparative and Public Law (HKU), Oldham, Li & Nie (OLN) and Clean Air Foundation (CAF) submit in response to the public consultation on the air quality objectives review as follows:
(1) We agree that the existing air quality objectives need updating, as the present AQOs are over 20 years old and incapable of protecting the health of the people of Hong Kong, particularly the children of Hong Kong.
(2) We agree that protection of public health should be the key consideration in updating the AQOs. Health concerns are the reason most children surveyed complain about air pollution. Not only should public health be protected according to the purpose of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, but public health is also required to be protected by the right to health. Children’s health, in particular, is protected under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child have in fact addressed the detriment air pollution causes to children’s health in other countries. Local and international studies show that air pollution causes DNA damage to children in utero, damages the development of children’s lungs, reduces the lung function and physical performance of children, and is related to higher rates of hospitalization. The effectiveness of personal measures to protect health against the effects of air pollution is limited, but as a local intervention to restrict sulphur content in fuel shows, even modest air quality interventions by the Government can bring about improvements in the health of children.
(3) We agree that a staged approach should be taken to air pollution control in Hong Kong. A significant number of children surveyed believe that the World Health Organisation should set Hong Kong’s AQOs, and we agree that the AQOs should be set with reference to the World Health Organisation Air Quality Guidelines. However, we do not agree that the Interim Targets should be substituted for the WHO AQGs as under the laws relating to air pollution in Hong Kong, the AQOs appear to be long term goals, and the Interim Targets still represent levels of air pollution at which some prejudice to health may occur.
(4) We therefore do not agree with the proposed new AQOs, which were set with reference to a combination of WHO AQGs and Interim Targets. We note that in the case of some pollutants, the AQOs have been set higher than the highest levels of those air pollutants we experience in Hong Kong.
(5) We agree that there should be a mechanism for reviewing the AQOs at regular intervals; this is required under the human right and child right to the progressive attainment of the highest standard of health. If the WHO’s AQGs are all adopted, then the updating exercise would simply follow the WHO’s updates to their AQGs.
(6) Given that the majority of children surveyed do not believe their complaints about air pollution will do any good, we commend the detailed emission control measures proposed by the Government. We are concerned that because of the decentralized nature of air pollution regulation in Hong Kong, it may be difficult to implement these measures without clear co-ordination of the relevant Government authorities and departments. We would also like to put forward for consideration that measures which reduce the exposure of children to air pollution in order to protect their health should be developed, especially in light of the medical evidence of the damage air pollution causes to children’s health.
(7) We believe that the emission control measures need to be implemented as soon as possible due to the ongoing damage air pollution is causing to children’s health.
(8) We believe that the costs of implementing the emission control measures should be borne by polluters and the population on a proportionate and equitable basis. We comment that given the speed at which Hong Kong society has adapted to the ban on indoor smoking and the tax on plastic bags, the people of Hong Kong are prepared to accept adjustments to their way of life for the sake of their health and the environment.
Each of the organizations has made a contribution to these submissions. We believe air pollution is a problem that affects people from all walks of life, and is a multi-faceted problem that calls for a multi-disciplinary understanding. Each of the organizations has made their contribution to these submissions because of their concern in respect of the effect of air pollution on the health of children in Hong Kong.
We thank the Government for this opportunity to present the issues we feel are relevant to the issue of air quality in Hong Kong, and attach to our submissions the results of Child Welfare Scheme’s survey of how children feel about air pollution, so that their views may also be considered.
- Submissions – last accessed 10/8/10