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May 30th, 2011:

Health alert as HK pollution worsens

04:46 AM May 30, 2011HONG KONG – The city’s air pollution reached “very
high” levels at all three of its roadside-monitoring stations for the fourth
straight day, prompting the government to issue a health alert.

The Air Pollution Index was 179 in Central, 186 in Mong Kok and 171 in
Causeway Bay as of 12pm local time, and nitrogen dioxide was the major
pollutant, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said on its website

The roadside pollution level has exceeded 100 since Thursday, triggering a
government warning for people with heart or lung diseases to avoid prolonged
stays in heavy-traffic areas.

The city plans to ban idling engines to reduce vehicle emissions from as
early as September. Drivers will be fined HK$320 (S$51) should they idle
engines for more than three minutes, according to the Bill passed on March

Earlier in the month, the government was told to release a timetable for new
air quality rules amid rising criticism of pollution in the city of seven

Chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen promised to release the new rules by
this year, nearly a quarter of a century since the last figures were set.

The EPD is still in the midst of coming up with new levels although a public
consultation on the issue was completed more than 18 months ago. New air
quality standards in line with the WHO recommendations were presented to the
Legislative Council last summer.

“We need to study carefully the impact of the new objectives on the economy
and community before we can work out something that can remain (practical)
in the long run.” Mr Tsang said, as reported by the Clean Air Network
Limited, an independent NGO that calls for action to clean the air.

A survey last year by public policy think-tank Civic Exchange found that
one-quarter of residents would like to leave Hong Kong to escape its

Air pollution has been linked to 4,800 additional deaths from 2007 to last
year, which is hurting the city’s ability to lure talent, according to the
General Chamber of Commerce.

The daily average pollution level in Central, the city’s central business
district, posted as “very high” for 86 days last year, up from the 44 days
in 2009.

Last year, health experts had estimated poor air cost the city HK$1.18
billion in healthcare bills and lost productivity, along with 3.8 million
visits to the doctor. Agencies