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LCQ18: Updating Air Quality Objectives

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council meeting today (February 8):


     The Government announced on 17th of last month that it will commence work on the amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (Cap. 311) to update the existing Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), and it expects to introduce a bill in the 2012-2013 legislative session, and officially implement the new AQOs in 2014.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that while the authorities launched a four-month public consultation on updating the existing AQOs in mid-2009, of the reasons why the outcome is only announced until now and the decision of adopting the new AQOs is made after a lapse of as long as two and a half years; of the actual work and procedures to be involved from now on up to the date of formal introduction of the bill; whether it can expedite the related work, and consider advancing the date of official implementation of the new AQOs; in addition, whether it can advance the updating of the existing method of compiling the Air Pollution Index (API), or simultaneously release on a daily basis the APIs compiled according to the existing AQOs and the new AQOs respectively; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) given that the new AQOs have not fully adopted the ultimate objectives set out by the World Health Organization (WHO) (e.g. the average 24-hour AQO for sulphur dioxide will be tightened from 350 µg/m³ to 125 µg/m³, which is significantly different from WHO's ultimate objective of 20 µg/m³; the average 24-hour AQO for respirable suspended particulates will be tightened from 180 µg/m³ to 100 µg/m³, and a gap still exists between this and WHO's ultimate objective of 50 µg/m³; regarding the newly added average 24-hour AQO of 75 µg/m³ and annual AQO of 35 µg/m³ for fine suspended particulates, an obvious gap exists respectively between the two AQOs and WHO's corresponding ultimate objectives of 25 µg/m³ and 10 µg/m³), of the specific reasons for the authorities not adopting WHO's ultimate objectives for such pollutants (including whether it is because it is impossible for Hong Kong to achieve WHO's ultimate objectives for such pollutants at present, together with the reasons why it is impossible to achieve the objectives for various pollutants); whether the authorities will draw up a timetable for achieving WHO's ultimate objectives eventually;

(c) whether it has assessed the price the community has to pay upon the implementation of the new AQOs; if it has, of the specific details (including the specific impact of the new AQOs on electricity tariffs and travelling expenses in future); of the expected time when such impact will be reflected in the levels of relevant charges and fees; whether the authorities have assessed the impact on the livelihood of the grassroots, and what measures they have in place to alleviate such impact; and

(d) given that the Government has expressly stated that prior to the official implementation of the new AQOs, it will endeavour to adopt the proposed new AQOs as the benchmark in conducting environmental impact assessment (EIA) for government projects for which EIA has not yet commenced, whether the authorities will consider encouraging and facilitating other private projects to adopt the proposed new AQOs in conducting air quality assessment under EIA as well before the official implementation of the new AQOs; if not, of the reasons for that?



(a) Implementation of the new Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) and related transitional arrangements require amendment of the Air Pollution Control Ordinance. We shall table the Amendment Bill to the Legislative Council in the 2012-2013 legislative session. Taking into account the time needed for drafting, submission and scrutiny of the Bill and other preparatory work, we expect the new AQOs to take effect in 2014.  To tie in with the update of the AQOs, we will review and improve the existing Air Pollution Index system accordingly.

(b) The new AQOs have all been set in accordance to the target levels of the World Health Organization (WHO). Among the seven criteria pollutants, four (i.e. nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead and sulphur dioxide) are fully or partially adopting the ultimate WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs).  As for suspended particulates, the emissions originated from Hong Kong and from the Pearl River Delta region are in the ratio of 1:99.  As a result, the particulate concentrations of Hong Kong are subject to strong regional influence.  We and the Guangdong Provincial Government have committed to implementing a number of measures to improve the regional air quality.  Taking into account the regional influence, the air quality objectives for suspended particulates cannot be updated in one go.  Instead, we have to draw up a practicable proposal.  We propose to update the respirable suspended particulate (PM10) objectives to WHO Interim Target(IT)-2.  For fine suspended particulates (PM2.5), which account for about 70% of the PM10 in Hong Kong, we propose to set them at WHO IT-1 level.  As for sulphur dioxide, we propose to update the 24-hour objective to WHO IT-1 (i.e. 125 micrograms/cubic meter), which is already 60% more stringent than the existing objective, and on a par with the level of the European Union.

     Achieving the WHO AQGs is our ultimate target. We shall review the feasibility of further tightening the AQOs every five years, and draw up corresponding air quality management plans.

(c) Implementation of the proposed new AQOs and air quality improvement measures will help alleviate air pollution problems and bring about health benefits which include reducing the number of hospital admissions due to asthma or other respiratory conditions.  According to the Consultant's study report, implementation of the recommended Phase 1 emission control measures would lead to an anticipated benefit of about $1,228 million annually due to improvement in public health, which is significantly higher than the estimated annualised cost of about $596 million to be incurred by the society.  The Consultant also estimated that some 4,200 hospital admissions could be avoided because of the improvement measures.  In addition, the average life expectancy of the population would be increased by about one month or around 7,400 life years saved each year.

     During the public consultation in 2009, we initially estimated that with the increase in percentage of natural gas for local electricity generation to 50%, electricity tariff would probably increase from the current level by at least 20% in phases.  However, as the adjustment of electricity tariff will be implemented in phases, it is difficult to ascertain the eventual increase at the moment.  For instance, with the capital cost of the desulphurisation equipment previously installed by the power companies spreading over a period of time, the impact on tariff is lower than originally expected.  To reduce vehicle emissions, it was estimated previously that if the franchised bus companies were to replace all the Euro I and Euro II franchised buses by the end of 2014, the bus fare would increase by about 15% in a single year.  However, Government introduced in recent years a number of measures, including funding the retrofitting of Euro II and Euro III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices and subsidising bus companies to test environment-friendly products and devices, such as hybrid and electric buses.  These measures, which are funded by Government, will help alleviate the pressure for bus fare increase.  Therefore, it is difficult to conclude at this moment if implementation of the air quality improvement measures would eventually result in an increase in the charges of public services to the previously estimated levels.

(d) Before the relevant legislative amendment becomes effective, Government will take the lead to adopt the proposed new AQOs as the benchmark for conducting air quality impact assessment under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for those government projects that have not yet started their EIA studies. Individual major infrastructure projects, such as the construction of a third runway for the airport, the Airport Authority has indicated they will adopt the new AQOs for the EIA study. For other private projects, the project proponents may consider whether or not to adopt the new objectives for air quality impact assessment according to their own circumstances.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 15:58


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