Prof. Anthony Hedley’s main research and public health advocacy interests in recent years have been in the field of environmental health, including outdoor and indoor air pollution, the prevention of diseases caused by tobacco and assessment of environmental risks from measurement of persistent organic pollutants including dioxins and polychlorobiphenyl compounds in breast milk.
Professor Hedley and his colleagues together with Civic Exchange have created the Hedley Environmental Index, which is designed to monitor and publish in real-time the level of air quality and the economic costs of Hong Kong’s air pollution in terms of its public health impact and monetary value.
Prof. Anthony Hedley was nominated as an Earth Champion for his commitment and tenacity to improve air quality and public health in Hong Kong through health research and advocacy over the decades in Hong Kong.
Shortly after Prof. Hedley was appointed head of Community Medicine at HK University in 1987, he was asked to do a comparative study of the health of children in two locations in Hong Kong. One was in an area in which the air quality was particularly poor – mainly related to high sulphur dioxide levels, as there were nearby factories. In the other the air quality was considerably higher.
This study arose from the initiative of young district environmental committee members who were very concerned about the health of local children. At that time there were substantial differences in air quality between areas in which there was industrial activity and those in which this did not exist. Now that air pollution is so ubiquitous these differences no longer exist.
Prof. Hedley’s investment in this issue has occupied much of his professional life during the time he has lived in HK. It has continued in diverse forms until now, with many studies involving thousands of people. A lack of funding has meant that not all the relevant studies have been conducted – one being the long-term health consequences of being exposed to air pollutants in children, in which his team found indications of impaired lung function.
Prof. Hedley deeply believes that there is now solid evidence to reduce the burden of disease in people here in Hong Kong.
He has received substantial support from colleagues, students, associates in the field and to a limited extent, from funding organizations. There was a natural experiment made possible here when legislation was introduced by the Hong Kong Government in 1990 to reduce the permissible levels of sulphur in fuels. “Our subsequent studies indicated that improvements in health indices were quickly measureable.”
Since then by far the major obstacles to achieving improvements in air quality have been the Hong Kong government’s non-interventionist policy and special business interests. “I see that firm, responsible action on the issue of air quality in Hong Kong will only come once we have universal suffrage here.”
There is now a substantial public awareness of the effects of poor air quality. A range of non-government and other organisations, particularly Civic Exchange, which are doing what they can to bring about change, have supported Prof. Hedley’s work.
“Our work on the health effects of secondhand smoke in catering workers has been instrumental in introducing no-smoking legislation in public places in Hong Kong”, but we still need better regulation for indoor air quality.
“I see no hope for the resolution of health problems associated with air quality – which are far worse now than 20 years ago – until there is a responsible, reasoned approach to addressing this problem.”
Department of Community Medicine, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, The Hong Kong SAR