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Hong Kong Says New Air Quality Objectives May Start in 2014

Hong Kong, facing criticism over its pollution, plans to have new objectives for its air quality by 2014 and seeks to use the World Health Organization’s targets as a benchmark, according to a statement from the government.

The city’s government will submit amendments to the air pollution ordinance to the Legislative Council in 2012-13, according to the statement. It wants to review its objectives every five years.

The former British colony is seeking to address criticism from lawmakers and academics over its delay in updating its 25-year air quality standard, as cities including Beijing and Taipei pledge to improve their monitoring and disclosure of pollutants. Roadside pollution in Hong Kong contributed to about 7,240 premature deaths from 2005 to 2011, the Civic Exchange think tank said, citing data from an environmental index.

The proposal is “a clear demonstration that the government and the community are very eager and keen to update our air-quality objectives,” Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for the environment, said at a media briefing today. Emissions from neighboring cities in mainland China and roadside pollutants pose a “major challenge” to Hong Kong’s air quality, he said.

Last Months

The government’s statement today comes as Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who had pledged to clean up the city’s air, enters the last months of his administration. While pollutants from neighboring China have declined following an emission-control pact with the Guangdong provincial government, pollution from vehicles has hurt efforts.

Hong Kong said on Jan. 11 that it will measure pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers at all its monitoring stations by March, a week after Beijing pledged to make similar data publicly available.

The city’s current method of measuring air quality is “outdated and primitive,” University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health said in a statement today. The measurements “bear no relation to actual health risks,” it said.

The university today released an update of its Hedley Environmental Index, which uses a peer-reviewed methodology to indicate the public-health impact of air pollution. The new index will have a map showing levels of pollutants at 14 monitoring stations, and will benchmark itself to WHO guidelines, the university said.

An estimated 528,388 hospital bed days and 49.26 million doctors’ visits “can be attributed to Hong Kong’s persistently poor air quality” during Tsang’s term of office from 2005, Civic Exchange said.

“The community costs of poor air quality are being ignored by the government, but everyone is paying the price for this oversight,” said Sarah McGhee, a professor at the School of Public Health.

The city will continue to strengthen cooperation with China over improving air quality, Yau said today.

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