Cablegate: U.S. Assists Hong Kong to Monitor Air Pollution

DE RUEHHK #2051/01 3120847
R 070847Z NOV 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Air pollution levels in the Pearl River
Delta (PRD) remain high, though slightly improved from last
year, according to data recently released jointly by the Hong
Kong Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the
Environmental Protection Bureau of Guangdong (GDEPB). A U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expert, Dr. Golam
Sarwar, working at Consulate General Hong Kong under a
two-month Science Fellowship from the State Department, is
helping the Hong Kong government analyze this and other
historical data. Dr. Sarwar is working with scientists at HK
EPD and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
(HK UST) to adapt a U.S. EPA-developed air pollution model
for use here. This model will help researchers better
predict air pollution sources and levels across the Pearl
River Delta (PRD), supporting policy recommendations to
reduce air pollution regionally. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: Air pollution reportedly is responsible
for an estimated 10,000 premature deaths and 440,000
hospital-bed days annually in the PRD; direct air pollution
related health care costs to the region are over RMB 1.8
billion a year, according to local environmental NGO Civic
Exchange. In that context, Dr. Sarwar's research has been
enthusiastically received by Hong Kong's EPD Air Science
Group, which is providing him full access to their data. The
EPA model is now running at HK UST; initial results should be
available by late November. The Hong Kong government
recognizes air quality is a serious concern and is devoting
significant resources to monitoring pollution, but finds it
easy to blame the problem on Guangdong factories and claim
Hong Kong's ability to act is limited. The EPD Air Science
Group is particularly excited about Dr. Sarwar's research and
expertise. The Group sees the EPA model as a way to analyze
years' worth of data and put it in an understandable format
for policy makers. End Comment.

PRD Pollution Down; Thank the Weather

3. (U) The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department
(EPD) and the Environmental Protection Bureau of Guangdong
Province (GDEPB) jointly released a statistical report from
the Pearl River Delta (PRD) Regional Air Monitoring Network
covering the first half of 2008 (Jan-June), on October 29.
The network comprises 16 automatic ambient air monitoring
stations scattered across the PRD Economic Zone (13 in
Guangdong, 3 in Hong Kong). The stations monitor four major
air pollutants: sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and
large respirable suspended particulates; EPD and GDEPB
publish the data in a consolidated format for research use

4. (U) According to the latest report, pollution levels
decreased slightly overall when compared to the first half of
2007. Nitrogen dioxide levels were unchanged, ozone levels
were up slightly, but sulphur dioxide and respirable
particulate measurements were notably down. The report
speculates this improvement was due to favorable weather
dispersal patterns and heavier then usual rainfall during the
period, rather than reduced industrial emissions.

5. (SBU) Commenting on the sharing of data and its
relationship with Guangdong environmental authorities, EPD
Senior Air Science Group Officer Peter Louie told Econoff
that working-level cross-border relationships between the EPD
and GDEPB are good. At higher levels, and despite formal
exchanges like the network report, Mainland authorities still
treat air pollution data as a state secret; its release is
typically delayed significantly, Louie said. Aside from the
major pollutants noted above, other data is impossible or
difficult to acquire and measurements for the more dangerous
fine respirable suspended particulate are not collected under
the program at all. EPD Air Science Group Officer,
Christopher Fung, noted that Hong Kong has been collecting
air quality data for over ten years. The goal now is to use
modeling to show the impact of pollution and support decision
makers in developing sensible air pollution control policies.

Dr. Sarwar's Air Pollution Modeling Research

6. (U) The PRD Regional Air Monitoring Report release
occurred during a 60-day research trip by Dr. Golam Sarwar, a
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist based at
the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory in North
Carolina. Dr. Sarwar is in Hong Kong through November 28 as
a State Department Science Research Fellow to apply an
EPA-developed air quality model for use in the PRD. His
specific research goal is to use the model to evaluate the

HONG KONG 00002051 002 OF 002

impact of excited nitrogen dioxide (a major air pollutant
produced by combustion) on ozone.

7. (SBU) Dr. Sarwar's research has been enthusiastically
received and is generating a measure of excitement among Hong
Kong researchers and NGOs involved in air quality issues.
With Consulate General Hong Kong assistance, Dr. Sarwar has
engaged with major universities, government offices and NGOs
in Hong Kong focused on improving air quality. He has
presented his research to groups at four scheduled seminars
and during a number of less formal discussions. HK EPD has
given Dr. Sarwar wide access to the EPD pollution monitoring
network and data base and HK UST Environmental Engineering
Department has offered use of their computer lab. Working
with faculty there, he installed the EPA-developed Community
Multi-Scale Air Quality Model (CMAQ) on October 28 and began
running the model with the added excited nitrogen dioxide
chemistry. Initial results showing ozone impact should be
available soon.

8. (U) The cited Civic Exchange Study &A Price Too High: The
Health Impact of Air Pollution in Southern China8 is posted
on-line at s/200806
AirQualityPublichealth.pdf. The PRD Regional Air Quality
Monitoring Network report is posted on-line at

© Scoop Media

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