Lai See

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 May, 2011, 12:00am


Hot on the trail of that elusive breath of fresh air

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen this week promised that new air quality objectives would be ready this year. We should be grateful for small mercies. The government has been dragging its feet for years over this and was recently criticised by the Ombudsman for its tardiness. As we have noted before, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has already done the work and has established guidelines for levels of pollutants beyond which they begin to affect public health. The government has studiously ignored these guidelines for years and has contented itself with using outmoded air quality standards. Hong Kong's roadside air quality frequently exceeds even these outmoded guidelines and even more frequently exceeds WHO guidelines. The government's approach has been to float new possible guidelines and then see if all the vested interests agree with them, rather than setting standards which are safe from a public health perspective and telling polluters to meet them.

Unfortunately, air pollution for most people in Hong Kong is not a high priority. People tend to be more worried about housing prices, education, their jobs and the cost of living and so on. People are not aware of the impact that pollutants like nitrous oxide have on the health of their children, nor are they aware of the high levels of this stuff in the streets along which they walk, and in the schools and public buses. There are even high levels of pollutants present in schools near busy roadsides. This has been indicated in preliminary studies.

There are now an increasing number of exposure studies seeking to show the direct impact of roadside pollution on health, particularly on children. There are already significant anecdotal accounts of delays of up to two weeks to see paediatricians, particularly for respiratory problems. Given the impact on public health, the government is guilty of appalling neglect in this area.

Many people in Hong Kong believe that the city's pollution is largely derived from the Peal River Delta. It is true most of the atmospheric pollution does come from the mainland, with a certain amount from local power stations. Since March all of Hong Kong's power stations have been fitted with scrubbers that take out sulphur dioxide. But the pollution that people breathe at street level in urban areas is roadside pollution which is created in Hong Kong and it is a problem the government can deal with. Some people are under the illusion that cars are the major source of pollution. Cars account for 3 per cent of roadside pollution, with buses and trucks causing 80 to 90 per cent of it.

Asking the transport industry and other vested interests how they feel about cutting back on emissions is like asking rabbits how they feel about eating less lettuce.

Let us hope the government does not let us down again when it comes to setting new air quality objectives and that it takes a responsible attitude towards public health rather than making easy political compromises. But we are not holding our breath.

The games people play

After presiding over the annual general meetings of Cheung Kong and Hutchison yesterday, Li Ka-shing took a few questions from the media. One focused on the big issue of the day, which was last night's massive Mark Six jackpot (three tickets won in excess of HK$44 million each). Asked if he had bought a ticket, the great man said he didn't know how to play this game. But then why should he engage in a game in which the odds of winning are 14 million to one. The games Li plays tend to have a more predictable outcome.

No let-up in listing quest

The ongoing saga of ASX-listed manganese miner OM Holdings (OMH) and its efforts to secure a second listing in Hong Kong has taken another interesting turn. The company says that its legal advisers believe that although shareholders voted against changing the company's by-laws at its AGM last month this may not hinder its efforts to secure a dual listing in both Australia and Hong Kong. The company says it will persist with its application. The Hong Kong listing is strongly opposed by minority shareholder Ukrainian billionaire Gennady Bogolyubov, who believes the move is aimed at diluting his stake in the company.