LC Urgent Q1: Air quality of LegCo Complex

     Following is a question by the Hon Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (January 18):


     According to the Indoor Air Quality Objectives drawn up by the Government after the outbreak of the "Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome" in 2003, the safety threshold of the total volatile organic compounds (TVOC) in the air indoor after fitting-out works should be no more than 261 ppbv (i.e. parts per billion by volume), and that of suspended particulates (SP) should be no more than 10 000 per litre of air.  Earlier on, a newspaper commissioned air quality examination experts to conduct air quality tests inside the Legislative Council (LegCo) Complex.  The experts conducted tests inside the Office of the Honourable Mrs Regina Ip and found that the highest TVOC measurement was over 44 000 ppbv, exceeding the prescribed threshold by almost 170 times.  The experts also conducted tests inside the Office of the Honourable Paul Tse, and similarly found that the volume of SP there was over 13 000 per litre of air, and the highest TVOC measurement also reached as high as 9 700 ppbv, which exceeded the prescribed threshold by more than 30 times.  The measurements of other locations (including corridors, the Coffee Corner, the Cafeteria and rear staircases) in the LegCo Complex also seriously exceeded the prescribed thresholds.  On the contrary, the tests conducted at the corridors, the cafeteria, the press rooms and the toilets of the new Central Government Complex (new CGC) indicated that the level of air quality there was good and did not exceed any prescribed threshold.  The experts warn that staying in such environment for a long time may result in infertility in men and breast cancer in women, and that the high concentration of TVOC may be related to remedial works being carried out continuously inside the LegCo Complex as well as the new furniture inside the rooms releasing toxic substances, and it may take at least one and a half years for vaporisation and clearance.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  given that the aforesaid test results indicate that the air quality recorded inside the LegCo Complex is at a dangerous level at present, which has seriously affected the safety of the people, including all LegCo Members, all staff members and members of the public, inside the LegCo Complex, while the level of air quality recorded in the new CGC at present is good, whether the authorities had examined the air quality inside the LegCo Complex according to the standards adopted for the new CGC prior to the occupation of the LegCo Complex; if not, of the reasons for that, and whether the authorities will immediately examine the air quality inside the entire LegCo Complex and conduct a thorough investigation into the matter; and

(b)  of the contingency measures to be adopted by the authorities for the serious air quality problem of the LegCo Complex at present?



     The Government attaches much importance to the indoor air quality (IAQ) of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Complex. New Central Government Offices and the LegCo Complex are frequented by Government officials, LegCo Members and their staff, as well as the public for work and deliberation of public policies. We strive to upkeep the environment of the Complex including the air quality at good level. In view of Members' recent worries over the air quality of the Complex, Architectural Services Department (ASD) has conducted daily measurements in the past few days on the air quality of the Complex. It has also met Members and the staff to explain the situation and follow up on issues raised.

     Our reply to the questions raised by Hon Mrs Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is set out below.

(a)  The New Central Government Offices and the LegCo Complex form an interconnected building cluster. It is planned to participate in the voluntary Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Certification Scheme for Offices and Public Places of the Environmental Protection Department, with a view to obtaining the ¡§excellent¡¨ class grading. The air quality of participating office buildings will be assessed with parameters of two classes under the Scheme. The IAQ objectives comprise over 10 parameters, including temperature, humidity, air movement, and some common indoor air pollutants including respirable suspended particulates, Formaldehyde (HCHO), Total Volatile Organic Compound (TVOC) and airborne bacteria. Relevant details and the objectives are set out at Annex 1. In general, participating buildings will conduct measurement after the completion of the moving-in and relevant fitting¡Vout works (i.e. usually a year after the moving-in), to assess the air quality and the relevant class. Regular recertification should be conducted thereafter to assess whether the air quality can be maintained. The Scheme also specifies the measurement method and qualification of measurement staff.
     ASD conducted air quality measurement on various floors of the LegCo Complex in November last year, shortly after the moving-in exercise. It was found that air quality of some of the floors had yet to reach the "good class" of the Scheme, largely due to the fact that the moving-in had just completed. Detailed results are set out at Annex 2. ASD had conducted a series of air quality measurements between January 14 and 17. The air quality of samples taken on some of the floors on January 14 was worse than that of November last year. Yet, there had been a significant improvement after the air-purging exercise on January 15 and 16 , at which fresh air had been taken into the Complex. Please refer to Annex 3 for details.

     The aforesaid measurement results differ much from the results of measurement conducted at Members' offices as quoted by the press. The difference may result from different measurement methods. In any case the Government is striving to tackle the problem, will continue to monitor in collaboration with the LegCo, and will work on improvement and follow up measures.

     Indoor air quality of a building can be affected by many factors in particular when the moving-in had just completed. For instance, for the LegCo Complex, a number of improvement works and defects rectification had been conducted shortly after the moving-in, including the installation of damping materials, painting, replacement of wall paper and glass panels, as well as floor finishes and rectification. Such works may need to use materials with low VOC content (e.g. paint, glue etc.). A number of such works had been conducted recently during the long Christmas and New Year holiday. As these works had to be conducted indoors within a short stretch of time, they may have increased the VOC concentration in the Complex.

(b)  To tackle the problem, ASD had conducted air purging exercises over the past few days to take outdoor air into the Complex and to promote air exchange within the Complex. Air quality measurement results of January 17 indicate the positive impact of the exercises. ASD will continue with the air purging exercise to further improve the air quality of the Complex.

     As for the upcoming works, ASD will liaise with the LegCo Secretariat to schedule them during long holiday and stagger the works, so as to reduce the impact to building users. If possible, the works area would be concealed, with air purging conducted after the completion of works. Work processes for precast or individual units, such as painting, would be conducted outside the Complex as far as possible. These measures could help prevent the increase in VOC concentration in the Complex.

     According to the Department of Health, though the health effects of different VOCs will depend on the nature of compounds, as well as the level and duration of exposure, in general major health impact would only occur following prolonged exposure running into years to high concentration of VOCs. The acute symptoms that may be caused by short term exposure to high concentration of VOCs would resolve rapidly without any long term health effect.

     Relevant departments would continue to closely monitor the air quality of the LegCo Complex, and will work with the LegCo Secretariat to adopt appropriate measures, with a view to reducing pollutants and impact on building users.

Ends/Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Issued at HKT 22:24