Air quality task force meets once in 8 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 April, 2011, 12:00am


An official task force set up 13 years ago to improve indoor air quality has met only eight times, and none of their projects has received public recognition, the Audit Commission said yesterday.

Members of the group - formed by officials from three bureaus and 10 departments - decided to meet 'on a need basis' in 2003 because there were 'no major updates on programmes it oversees', the Environmental Protection Department said. The group has gathered once in the past eight years, and has held eight meetings in total since its inception in 1998.

The department said the members believed it was more 'cost-effective' to communicate by mail and internal circulation. Meetings were to be held only if absolutely necessary. The commission described the performance of the group as 'unsatisfactory' and urged its members to meet regularly and carry out their responsibilities. These range from conducting a study on relevant legislation to organising more public promotion campaigns.

The audit also singled out some projects managed by the group for criticism. Top of the list is an underused information centre in Kowloon Tong, which is intended to give the public advice on how to improve indoor air quality.

About 100 groups have visited the centre - 90 per cent of whom came from the mainland or overseas - in each of the past three years. It had 84 individual visitors last year and 85 organised school visits between 2007 and 2011.

The audit found on average that only one group visited the centre every two days.

Another initiative by the group - a certification scheme to classify air quality inside office buildings and public places - received poor participation, with only 559 premises taking part last year. But that was a meteoric increase compared to eight years ago when the scheme was introduced, and just 27 building took part. The commission nevertheless said the level of participation was too low, considering the number of office buildings in Hong Kong.

Even the government itself is giving the scheme the cold-shoulder, with 18 per cent of public premises taking part.

As it has done for improving outdoor air quality, the Environmental Protection Department has laid down a set of objectives for indoor air. But the standards have not been revised since 2003, despite several updates issued by the World Health Organisation in the past four years.

And while the department has issued guidelines to bus and railway operators for managing air in public transport facilities, it has no monitoring mechanism and the operators are not obliged to return data. The commission found no relevant information on their websites.

The commission recommended that the Environment Bureau compile an updated programme, and set timetables for its implementation and for a study on a legislative framework. The bureau agreed.

Alvin Lai Chi-kung, a professor at City University researching indoor air quality, said the government had done too little about the matter.

'People spend far more time indoors than outdoors. But there is little effort to raise public awareness on the importance of indoor air quality, although concerns were for a while high after Sars broke out,' Lai said.