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Pall Of Pollution Shows Which Way Wind Blows

Updated on Jul 29, 2008 – SCMP

We were basking just days ago under the bluest of skies and breathing in the cleanest air of recent memory. Hong Kong was picture perfect; every resident would have been proud to show it off to visitors. That changed dramatically yesterday when we experienced the worst air pollution index readings since monitoring began 13 years ago.

The choking air has betrayed any suggestions that efforts to curb pollution here and on the mainland are having a significant effect. To suggest, as some people did last week, that we were clearly heading in the right direction has been put in doubt. The reality is that we still have a long way to go to clean up our environment.

Environmental officers put the poor air quality yesterday down to intense heat and the trapping of ozone above Hong Kong by Typhoon Fung-wong. Southeasterly winds were the reason for the clear and clean conditions last week. Scientists could not say for sure whether anti-pollution measures had had an impact.

Any such thoughts can only have been erased by the record 202 air pollution index reading on the island of Tap Mun. Walking the streets of Central where the index was 150 at one stage was unhealthy. Readings of 100-plus across the New Territories were similarly unpleasant.

Putting the Tap Mun reading down to a quirk of nature would seem a simple explanation. If this is the case, we would also have to say that the weather last week was also merely a peculiarity of nature. Whatever the case, both arguments miss the point: That for all the talk, our pollution levels remain unacceptable.

Pacific breezes pushed away the pall over Hong Kong for a few days last week. If conditions had been still, air quality readings would have been poor.

So much has been said at the highest levels of government about fighting pollution that we expect after all this time to be able to see a difference. But for all the talk, the measures taken have been inadequate. Much more needs to be done. The record reading at Tap Mun was nature’s reminder.

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