Reassurance on air pollution problem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 1994, 12:00am

IN his letter dealing with air pollution from motor vehicles (South China Morning Post, March 3), Mr W.M. Sulke suggests that the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is getting things wrong.

In the matter of arithmetic it seems that the error lies with Mr Sulke since the EPD has no intention whatsoever of putting 20,000 extra petrol-engined vehicles on the road.

To deal with the problem of health-threatening emissions, one of our proposals is to gradually replace existing diesel-engined taxis and Public Light Buses with unleaded petrol-engined ones, rather than continue to replace them with diesel versions.

Whichever way the sums are done, this will result in a substantial reduction in particulate emissions. Furthermore, these reductions will occur in the urban area where the vast majority of our citizens live and work and where emissions from these vehicles are predominantly responsible for the unacceptable state of air quality.

Your readers have probably gained the impression that Mr Sulke does not have much faith in the assessment of the diesel engine situation by the Hong Kong EPD.

I would like to reassure them that an identical assessment has recently been given by the UK Review Group on Urban Air Quality, a group of experts which was established by the Department of the Environment to make recommendations to the Secretary of State.

Under the chairmanship of the Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Birmingham, Professor Roy Harrison, this Group has also concluded that an increase in diesel usage at the expense of catalyst equipped unleaded petrol vehicles in urbanareas was likely to have, on balance, a deleterious effect on air quality.

Mr Sulke is quite right, however, when he identifies emissions from larger diesel-engined vehicles and dust from construction activities as being air pollution sources deserving attention.

That is why we presently have a proposal before the Legislative Council to tighten up emission standards for large vehicles and bring the associated requisite cleaner diesel fuel to Hong Kong in April next year.

We also hope to enact regulations for the control of construction dust in the course of this year. All of these measures, and many others, will need to be implemented if we are to have any hope of ensuring that the level of particulate pollution in HongKong is brought down to meet recognised world standards for the protection of public health.

During the last few years we have seen atmospheric levels of sulphur dioxide and lead in Hong Kong fall by around 50 per cent as EPD programmes have started to take effect. As a result, our school children are paying tens of thousands fewer visits per year to doctors' clinics to deal with respiratory ailments.

Similarly, as long as there is full-hearted support from those affected and involved, and we can put specious arguments aside, I firmly believe that we can also solve Hong Kong's particulate pollution problem.

FRED TROMP Assistant Director Environmental Protection