Government fools Hong Kong people with tricky Air Quality Objectives

Press release - 2008-11-17
More than 97% of days in last winter will match even the updated government standard of concentration of suspended particles set in the Policy Address. Greenpeace activists condemn the low standard is intentionally temporizing the public. The authority is demanded to adopt the World Health Organization (WHO) ultimate targets and present a timeline for reaching the goal to truly protect the health of Hongkongers.

Four Greenpeace members take action at the Battery Path outside the Central Government Office today together with political representatives Kam Nai Wai from the Democratic Party, Tanya Chan of the Civic Party and Gary Chan of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The team sticks 4 pairs of "footprints" symbolizing 3,000 public signatures collected earlier on the path, pointing to a banner saying "WHO's Air Quality Ultimate Targets".

The Chief Executive suggested in the recent Policy Address that the Air Quality Objectives would be amended according to the lowest standards of WHO. The Secretary of Environment Edward Yau added later that the government would adopt the lowest standard of WHO air quality objectives to amend the Air Quality Objectives in Hong Kong, which has not been reviewed for 21 years.

Greenpeace measures according to the newly proposed standard the air pollutants levels in October 2007 to February 2008, probably the season with poorest air quality. In 14 air quality monitoring stations for the mentioned period, for over 97.5% of days suspended particles reached the newly proposed standard. For each station in average, only 3.1 days fell behind the standard.

Moreover, the annual concentration rate for the pollutant is 70mg/m3 in the new standard which is far less demanding than the existing Air Quality Objectives (AQO), which is 55 mg/m3.

Meanwhile, sulfur dioxide met completely the new standard. However, while comparing the figures to the ultimate WHO standard, sulfur dioxide exceeds the standard for half of the days.

Greenpeace Campaigner Prentice Koo criticizes the government of fooling the public by numbers, "The WHO's guideline is a complete route map and cannot be broken down. The government now aims at amending the API according to the lowest standards is just for passing the targets by trading off public health."

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Air Quality Index needs to be set for the benefit of public

Lawmakers who show up in the event agree that the Government should aim for a higher standard of API by establishing relevant work plan and timeline, which allows Hong Kong to meet the ultimate WHO standards. Regular revision of the existing system is also needed to best protect the Hong Kong citizens. They will also urge the government during a LegCo motion debate next week to act according to Hongkongers' request for a stricter Air Quality Index.

"The Air Quality Objectives should be set for the benefit of public healthcare. However, the suggestion given by the Government may raise the risk of death by 15%. Adopting the lowest standards in WHO's guideline should not be accepted," said Prof. Wong Tze Wai of the Department of Community and Family Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Prof Wong is also a representative of The Advisory Panel on Review of Air Quality Objectives and Development of Environmental Protection Department.

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