Lai See

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2012, 12:00am


Smoke and obfuscation in defence of outdated incineration technology

RTHK's Backchat programme on Wednesday generated a certain amount of heat with its discussion on the proposed Shek Kwu Chau incinerator project. Elvis Au was wheeled out to bat for the government. He is the assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department.

During the discussion, Au defended the decision to use old moving-grate technology, which essentially moves the material over a grate and burns it, producing a noxious fume that is vented through a chimney that, at 130 metres high, will be about half the size of the IFC 1 building. Scrubbers on the incinerator will eliminate some of the particulate matter (PM10) that are 10 micrometres in size. But it will not stop the more dangerous carcinogenic-causing particulate matter (PM2.5) which, depending on the wind direction, will add to the poor air quality in Kowloon or the Pearl River Delta. Some 1,200 tonnes of fly ash a day, complete with dioxins, will also have to be transferred to barges and dumped.

When pressed on why the government was not considering plasma arc technology, which produces considerably fewer emissions and is environmentally much cleaner, Au became somewhat cagey. He said the government had spoken to representatives from plasma arc firms, but remained unconvinced, saying the technology was untested and could only handle relatively small quantities. This does not seem to square with evidence elsewhere, which suggests that, in theory, any volume of waste can be handled by increasing the number of burners.

Despite the decision against plasma arc technology, we gather that Aecom, the government's consultants, will be visiting a plasma arc firm in Britain later this month to further inform themselves. But Aecom's counterparts in North America seem more informed. Commenting on Milwaukee's plans to proceed with a 1,200-tonne per day plant using plasma arc technology, Aecom's Mike Zebell said: 'We believe that this technology is not only environmentally friendly, but ready for large-scale commercialisation.'

The suspicion is that the government's reluctance to consider plasma arc technology is because it is pandering to business interests, in that the proposed incinerator plan involves significant reclamation work and contractors are already salivating at the prospect of another lucrative concrete pouring exercise.

Women's touch bolsters longevity

The beginning of the year is the time when most people think - albeit fleetingly - about ways to lose weight, improve their health and so on. Business Insider has a helpful list of things you can do to live longer. Being rich helps, though not in the way you might think. Scientists from University College London found that wealthier people have higher levels of DHEAS (dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate), a steroid produced by the adrenal glands and brain. It has been linked to a broad range of health benefits, including improved memory, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and increased longevity, especially among men. Socialising with women is supposed to be beneficial for men's health. This might seem strange given that it can sometimes result in stressful situations. But Harvard University researchers found that men raised in an environment with few women die sooner than those who grow up surrounded by them.

Living on a Greek island is also good for you. The Greek island of Icaria in the North Aegean Sea is home to the largest percentage of 90-year-olds in the world. Almost a third of the population have reached this age. Research attributes this to the natural mountainous terrain, which requires daily physical activity and healthy diets high in olive oil and herbal teas.

Frequent sex has always had its appeal, but the practice is also good for you. Researchers at Queens University Belfast followed about 1,000 middle-aged men over 10 years and found that men who hit the highs more frequently, so to speak, lived twice as long as those who did not. More life-enhancing measures to follow tomorrow.

Little to celebrate at 10th year mark

The new year marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of euro banknotes. This is being celebrated at the European Central Bank, though one suspects more with a sense of relief rather than confidence in the battered currency, which reached its 10th anniversary limping across the line rather than with a triumphant surge. As Bloomberg's new newsletter Economic Asia notes, the 10th anniversary year was marked by, for the first time, the euro losing ground against the US dollar and also falling to a record low against the yen. Will it be around this time next year?