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January 13th, 2010:

Deadly air pollution on the increase in Hong Kong

Want to do sports in HK? There are only 30 days in HK which the air is safe to do sports outside according to the WHO guidelines.

Want to do sports in HK? There are only 30 days in HK which the air is safe to do sports outside according to the WHO guidelines.

A report in Hong Kong media last week says the city and its surrounding areas experienced life-threatening levels of air pollution one in every eight days last year.
The South China Morning Post reports figures from the Environment Protection Department showing there were 44 days of ‘very high pollution’ reported in Central, on Hong Kong island. In some areas air quality has deteriorated five-fold in just five years, and there are criticisms that official records do not show the whole picture.

Click here to read the report from New York Times.

Presenter: Bo Hill
Speaker: Gerald Winnington-Ingram, Clear the Air Hong Kong

WINNINGTON-INGRAM: We have now in Hong Kong a situation where we only have 41 days of healthy breathable air according to the WHO guidelines per year. Irrespective of the fact that you cannot see anything which is a shame, because it really is a beautiful city and a beautiful place to be living, the health implications are very, very serious and you certainly would not want to be doing any physical exercise on one of those days. We have only some 30 days in which it is safe to do sports outside and then according to the WHO guidelines.

HILL: Are there particular areas of Hong Kong, say Central or the New Territories, that suffer worse than elsewhere?

WINNINGTON-INGRAM: There are. For example, Nathan Road, which is an extremely popular tourist destination – well there we have nitrogen dioxide levels at some 380 milligrams per cubic metre and that’s well in excess of WHO guideline which is for 200 milligrams per cubic metre and in fact even Hong Kong’s own air quality objective is for 300, so it’s well in excess of that. So that’s Nathan Road. Plus also parts of the Central District – Des Voeux Road, which is a major thoroughfare running through the central business area, that has a reading of around 390 milligrams per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide. Hennessy Road is another one which is in Wan Chai, again a very popular local area – 480. So these are areas you certainly don’t want to be going in at all on a bad day. But if you’re suffering from any form of respiratory disease or heart complaint, it is actually very dangerous. We had in 2008, over 1,000 avoidable deaths, some 81,000 avoidable hospital days as a consequence, something in the order of seven and a quarter million avoidable doctors visits and all of that amounts to the cost in the order of about 230 million Hong Kong dollars, which could have been avoided. Now that doesn’t even take into account all the other ailments such as coughs, sore throats and itchy eyes, that were not even reported.

HILL: So huge costs, not only monetary but also physically. What’s been done about it and can Hong Kong authorities be doing more?

WINNINGTON-INGRAM: Well, I think they could be doing a lot more and we certainly and other green groups are campaigning extremely hard. Fifty three per cent of air pollution is local and it’s actually Hong Kong is the dominant source. Yes, we do get air pollution coming from the Pearl River Delta of course, but roadside pollution which is a major problem in Hong Kong is caused by local conditions. Some 50 per cent of Hong Kong’s total emissions is also being caused by power plants. Forty per cent of roadside emissions have been caused by buses. The government’s figures go nowhere close to showing the real picture and the real affect of air pollution in Hong Kong.

source: Radio Australia‏

Q&A: Hong Kong’s Air-Pollution Problem

New York Times, Reenita Malhotra Hora

13rd, January, 2010

EPA Thick smog hangs over Hong Kong. Air pollution reached dangerous levels one of every eight days in 2009, according to news reports.

The air pollution in Hong Kong reached “life threatening” levels on average one in every eight days in 2009, The South China Morning Post reported in an article that was picked up widely by other news media last week.

According to the report, the “roadside air pollution index” recorded by Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department indicated “very high pollution” on at least 44 days in the city’s central district — up from 39 days in 2008.

Green Inc. reached out to Eva Wong, a spokeswoman with the Environmental Protection Department, to discuss the situation. Excerpts from that e-mail exchange are below.


Has the air pollution situation in Hong Kong really become worse in 2009 compared with previous years?


Concentrations of all the major pollutants except ozone in the general (ambient) air reduced in 2009 as compared with 1999. At the roadside, there are also discernible signs of air quality improvements due to the comprehensive vehicle emission control programs taken after 1999.

However, nitrogen dioxide concentration rose by 11 percent in the period.

The rise in nitrogen dioxide concentration at the roadside in 2009 could be explained by the high level of solar radiation and lower than normal rainfall, which favors the photochemical formation of ozone in the region. Hence, 2009 saw a rise in ozone concentration in the ambient air by 10 percent as compared with 2008. The higher ozone concentration is conducive to the oxidation of nitrogen monoxide emitted from vehicles to form nitrogen dioxide, resulting in a higher nitrogen dioxide concentration at the roadside.


Is it true that the air pollution in Hong Kong is already so consistently dangerous that the threshold for severe harm to human health is exceeded almost every day?


The health effects of air pollution vary according to the species of the causing air pollutants and their concentrations.

To alert the public to the health risk posed by air pollution, particularly in the short term, most countries use an air pollution index (A.P.I.), the compilation of which does not have a universal methodology.

In Hong Kong, the A.P.I. system was developed originally based on the former U.S. Pollutants Standards Index system. It is in general comparable with those adopted in other Asian cities, such as Singapore and Taipei. Like the A.P.I. systems in other cities, we provide advice to those more susceptible to air pollution, such as those with heart and respiratory illnesses, to take precautionary measures when the A.P.I. reaches the very high band — i.e., an A.P.I. exceeding the 100 mark.

Apart from emissions, weather conditions affect daily air pollution levels. We usually have good air quality in summer because the summer monsoon brings a cleaner background airstream from the ocean and the air-mixing level is higher favoring the dispersion of pollutants. Our air pollution is higher on days with unfavorable weather conditions that hinder dispersion, or favor photochemical smog formation and when we are under the influence of the continental airstream. Such conditions more often occur in autumn and winter.

On the whole in 2009, the A.P.I. level breached the 100 mark 7 percent to 13 percent of the time at each of our three roadside air-quality monitoring stations.


We understand that Hong Kong’s air-pollution index allows for levels of emissions many times higher than those recommended under the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines. Can you comment?


Our A.P.I. system makes reference to Hong Kong’s current Air Quality Objectives (A.Q.O.’s). In response to the release of a new air-quality guideline by the WHO, we are in the process of updating our A.Q.O.’s.

We are considering the views gathered from a public consultation on a set of proposed new A.Q.O.’s, which are largely comparable with those of the European Union, and a host of air-quality improvement measures for achieving the proposed new A.Q.O.’s with an aim to deciding how best to take forward the updating.

Meanwhile, we have also commissioned the health experts of the local universities to review our A.P.I. system for better communication of the air-pollution levels and their respective health effects to the public.