Hong Kong's roadside pollution is affecting children's lungs
A new survey shows there is a correlation between lung conditions in children and roadside pollution. The study by Polytechnic University shows that the lungs of children exposed to higher levels of roadside pollution did not function as well as those exposed to lower levels.
The survey, which was overseen by Professor Hung Wing-tat and is due to be released next month, also found that the biggest source of the roadside pollution children are exposed to is school buses, followed by private cars. Hung said many of the 20-seater and 40-seater school buses had old diesel engines. The lungs of children travelling by public buses, minibuses and rail were less affected, while the lungs of those who walked to school were least affected. The survey also showed levels of roadside pollution near some schools that were significantly higher than World Health Organisation guidelines.
The pollutants include the so-called BTEX volatile organic compounds benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, which are found in petroleum derivatives - and some of which are carcinogenic. The survey was done on children between 10 and 13 years old in 12 schools in the city, although none were in the most polluted urban areas. Nevertheless, in one class 25 per cent of the children suffered from asthma, and in another 15 per cent had the condition.
"These are high levels," Hung said.
The survey measured lung performance, and the pollution levels in the transport children took to travel to school and on the streets they walked along. The micro environments of their homes and their medical histories were also taken into consideration.
Hung said that smoking in the home also had a significant impact on the children's lung condition. In one class, there was smoking in 60 per cent of pupils' homes. Admittedly, this a fairly small survey, but its findings should worry the parents of young children. The Hong Kong government has ignored the problem for far too long.
We gather that Shenzhen lawmakers earlier this week approved sweeping anti-smoking legislation, a significant upgrade to the 1998 regulations, which banned smoking in some public places and restaurants as well as in hospital waiting rooms and kindergartens.
The new law, which comes into effect next March, imposes a comprehensive ban on all indoor public places, workplaces, and public transport in Shenzhen. Outdoor areas, such as those in primary and middle schools and maternity and children's hospitals, should also be smoke-free. Except in designated smoking spots, outdoor areas of all hospitals, public parks, stadiums and historic properties should also be smoke-free. Individuals violating the law and refusing to listen to venue staff will face a penalty from 50 yuan (HK$63) to 500 yuan.
Venue owners violating the law will first be warned, and subsequently face a penalty of up to 30,000 yuan for repeated violations. The Shenzhen law also puts a tough penalty of 30,000 yuan on cigarette vendors who sell to minors.
Under the 1998 regulations, smokers who violated the ban were fined 20 yuan, but the People's Daily reported earlier this year that nobody was ever fined. The number of organisations enforcing these laws has also been increased.
Interestingly, the Shenzhen legislation targets venue owners, something which Hong Kong legislation does not. In Hong Kong, bar owners have a responsibility to discourage drunkenness and prostitution, but surprisingly not smoking. Since Shenzhen has adopted this practice, maybe it will shame Hong Kong into taking similar action.
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