Author: John Lee, Antonio Da Roza
Originally 27 November 2006
We should set Hong Kong’s Air Quality Objectives at levels that inform rather than mislead the public and policy makers about the costs of failing to reduce air pollution.
For the purposes of the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance’s implications for project approval, we should set up Interim Air Quality targets which will be gradually tightened and eventually converge with the health-based Air Quality Objectives.
According to the Air Pollution Control Ordinance, the Air Quality Objectives are set up to “promote the conservation and best use of air in the public interest”. There is reference to health in the Ordinance, in section 2, where “air pollution” is defined as “an emission of air pollutant which either alone or with another emission of air pollutant, is prejudicial to health. …..”
The Air Quality Objectives were established in 1987 by “making references to research results done mainly in the United States”. These AQOs have remained unchanged despite progressive changes in the direction of more stringent criteria in many developed countries.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) established a Working Group on the Health Effects of Air Pollution which held its first meeting on 5 March 1997. A review of the Air Quality Objectives in Hong Kong was high on the agenda, and a Sub-Working Group on the Health Effects of Air Pollution was formed. After 18 months of work, a comprehensive report was produced by the Sub-Working Group and submitted to the Working Group. No further meetings were convened either by the Sub-Working group or the Working Group thereafter.
The AQOs should be set with the sole purpose of protecting the public’s health, without consideration of social and economic factors.
Air pollutants such as fine suspended particulates (PM2.5 – particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) are now considered by many researchers to be more harmful to health than the larger particles (PM10) are.
The formulation of AQOs is a scientific process. The process must involve experts in this highly specialized field. The Government must take the lead in the process.
What can we do to stop air pollution from affecting our health?
- Revamp transport policies – discourage use of motor vehicles and highways and encourage the development of railways and mass transit.
- Control the population of motor vehicles.
- Traffic volume should be reduced in extremely polluted areas (Central, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok) by charging a road toll or by pedestrianisation.
- Promote policies that favour less polluting vehicles and cleaner fuels
- The conservation of energy, reduction of air pollution and the concept of sustainable development must be built into the school curriculum.
- The 1990 restriction of sulphur in fuel led to health gains for thousands of school children – reduction of bronchitic symptoms such as cough, phlegm and wheeze. Tests of lung function showed an improvement over a two year period with children in Kwai Tsing, Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi improving to the level of health of children in the less polluted Southern District. 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.
- Regionally, besides better communication and sharing of air pollution monitoring data, efforts must be made to discourage the more polluting practices in the manufacturing and power industries in the Pearl River Delta.
- http://www.civic-exchange.org/eng/upload/files/200611_ReviewAirQuality.pdf - last accessed 8/8/10