• Wed
  • Oct 22, 2014
  • Updated: 6:55pm
Column
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 4:54am

Why the gasp of alarm over dirty pools but not polluted air?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

A local newspaper has drawn attention to the level of bacteria in seven public swimming pools because they exceed what are considered as safe limits. According to the Oriental Daily, two swimming pools - Lai Chi Kok Park and Chai Wan - have bacteria levels five times higher than is considered safe. The bacteria includes E coli. A doctor has called for the pools to be closed immediately for cleaning.

This is all very laudable and as it should be. But while people recoil in horror at the prospect of swimming in a pool containing E coli, it doesn't pose the same threats to health that Hong Kong's roadside pollution does. E coli may cause food poisoning-type effects which, although unpleasant, are not generally fatal. Most kinds of E coli are harmless. The worst kind of E coli can sometimes cause kidney failure and death. Hong Kong's roadside pollution has led to an average of 3,200 avoidable deaths annually over the past five years according to the Hedley Environmental Index. These figures have not been disputed. If there were 3,200 avoidable deaths a year from using Hong Kong's swimming pools we can safely assume there would be some action. But roadside pollution, alas, does not appear to attract the same kind of concern from the government.

Invitation-only association

We hear of a curious story relating to the Hong Kong Islands District Association(HKIDA). This is the mystery group that has been trying to promote the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator at the grass-roots level. It was able to access cash from two funds that come under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Department - the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF) and Environmental Campaign Committee - to organise heavily subsidised trips to Singapore and Taiwan to study their respective approaches to waste management. Unsurprisingly, both places rely heavily on incineration.

One of the environmental groups recently came into contact with an HKIDA member and expressed interest in the association. How does one become a member? Apparently only by invitation. Where does its funding come from? While some appears to come from the ECF, the HKIDA member was vague about the rest of it. She was non-committal when it was suggested she should organise a subsidised trip to study other forms of dealing with municipal waste, for example, plasma gasification. This process vaporises the waste and the gases can be used to generate electricity or biofuel.

People who know about these matters say the HKIDA is a United Front organisation. It recently held a meeting which was presided over by Randy Yu, son-in-law of Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat. Lau has been a staunch government supporter and has made no secret of the fact that he does want the incinerator in his backyard, that is at Tsang Tsui in Tuen Mun, which is one of the locations initially considered for the project. Strange how the Heung Yee Kuk can apparently hijack a United Front organisation. The kuk was widely credited with holding the line against the Communist Party in the New Territories in 1967-68 disturbances. How times have changed.

The power of music

Richard Pontzious - founder, artistic director and conductor of the Asian Youth Orchestra - writes to say: "Never underestimate the power of music." He tells us that the orchestra's concertmaster, 18-year-old Shanghai violinist Ouyang Yu, was so moved and exhausted by the Asian Youth Orchestra's 85-minute performance of Gustav Mahler's Ninth Symphony at the Cultural Centre recently that she broke down in tears as she stood to take her solo bow. Meanwhile in the woodwind section's 21-year-old Taiwan oboist Wang Yupo, who had been hospitalised with gastritis earlier in the day, rallied and completed the concert in grand style, only to be rushed to St Paul's Hospital after the demanding performance. Pontzious goes on to say that St Paul's demand for a HK$50,000 deposit before treating him resulted in a quick move to the Ruttonjee Hospital, where he spent the night. But he was back on stage for the orchestra's all-French programme the following night.

Beauty and the ghost town

We see that a use has finally been found for what is reputedly China's largest ghost town. Ordos in Inner Mongolia emerged during the mainland's recent property boom but is now virtually empty with uncompleted flat and office blocks. However, it has been brought to life - albeit briefly - with the staging of the Miss World 2012 pageant.

 

Contact Us Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com

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