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10,000 lives lost to worsening pollution
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Poor air quality in the Pearl River Delta Region (PRD), Hong Kong and Macao cost 10,000 lives in 2006 and results in heavy productivity loss and medical expenses every year, according to a study released yesterday.

The study, which was commissioned by public policy think tank Civic Exchange and conducted by academics from local universities, said air pollution was responsible for 440,000 annual hospital-bed days and 11 million outpatient visits throughout the region.

The relative loss of productivity and medical expenses incurred amounted to 1.8 billion yuan in the PRD, HK$1.1 billion in Hong Kong and HK$18 million in Macao.

In the opinion of Civic Exchange chief executive officer Christine Loh, improvement of regional air quality requires concerted efforts of all concerned parties. In this connection, Hong Kong and Guangdong should cooperate more closely before the East Asian Games is held in Hong Kong next year and the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.

They should take advantage of Beijing's experience in improving air quality for the Olympic Games, Loh said.

Presenting the findings of the study, professor Alexis Lau from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Institute of Environment said the number of clear days in a year decreased from 1997 to 2006 owing to heavy presence of respirable suspended particulates (RSP).

The researchers based their study on 2006 data collected from Hong Kong and Guangdong environment authorities.

The 2007 situation was worse than 2006, Lau added.

As pointed out by professor Anthony Hedley of the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong, the SAR government is currently adopting air quality objectives formulated in 1987 which are not as demanding as those set by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005.

The WHO objectives focus on four major air pollutants namely: RSP, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone.

To improve air quality and protect public health, Lau suggested the government adopt the more stringent WHO air quality objectives.

(China Daily HK Edition June 12, 2008)

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