Experts urged to improve collaboration to combat air pollution

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 January, 2014, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 January, 2014, 4:53am


Top air scientists and health experts yesterday called for enhanced regional collaboration to tackle the choking air pollution that has long plagued the Pearl River Delta area.

Speaking after an international symposium at the University of Science and Technology, a panel of academics, government officials and health researchers stressed the importance of nurturing greater scientific expertise to aid policy formulation.

“Air quality is about science. We need to understand in great depth the latest science. We need competence in analysing the data and we also need to understand the systems other people have set up to verify the data,” undersecretary for the environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said.

Greater scientific expertise would help in developing evidence-based policies across local, regional and national governments, the panel said.

“Many cities are looking for people to help improve [air quality, but] there aren’t enough experts around,” HKUST Professor Alexis Lau said.

“We are highlighting the importance of capacity building to improve the environment, certainly in the air area, but also in other environmental areas.”

The clarion call comes at a time of growing awareness and concern about the effects of air pollution, particularly on elderly people and young children.

Outdoor air pollution prematurely kills about 1.2 million people annually in China and is the fourth biggest factor contributing to disease and death, Robert O’Keefe of the US-based Health Effects Institute said, quoting the ground-breaking Global Burden of Disease study.

Hong Kong’s air quality is also a source of consternation for many, with roadside pollution a particular threat to locals.

Last year, overall levels of nitrogen dioxide – the chemical compound found by roadsides – increased to 121 micrograms per cubic metre at the city’s three roadside monitoring stations.

Both the World Health Organisation and the city’s new Air Quality Health Objectives stipulate that 40mcg per cubic metre is the maximum acceptable level.

Loh acknowledged the threat from roadside pollution and touted government efforts to tackle emissions, including replacing heavy-polluting vehicles.