Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Hong Kong Air Pollution

Urban Jungle

Celebrity vet Eric Lai shares his views on society through the eyes of animals. Give him your feedback at

Dr Eric – Updated on Sep 19, 2008 – SCMP

This week: Air pollution

Making my way to work today reminded me why I moved to Sai Kung recently. When approaching Causeway Bay along the Island Eastern Corridor, I am usually greeted by the impressive panorama of the skyline from Causeway Bay stretching out to distant Sheung Wan, the break of water of Victoria Harbour, then the new skyline of Tsim Sha Tsui stretching back to Whampoa. The view can be breathtaking when you can see it, but today I couldn’t see any of it through the heavy haze of air pollution. It was absolutely atrocious; the air was thick with a brown-yellow particulate matter and my airway allergy was acting up and I was coughing as I choked on the air. I couldn’t believe that I was voluntarily going into the heart of the haze to breathe in that air – I wanted to turn around and run away. It was sort of scary really.

It is undoubtedly true that the horrible air today as reported by the Hong Kong Observatory was partly due to light winds in the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong and the low-pressure system over Taiwan trapped the pollution in Hong Kong. And because of the sunny weather and heat, there are photochemical reactions between pollutants that form ozone, which is a strongly oxidising agent that will readily react with other chemicals such as nitrogen oxide from vehicle admissions to form the smog.

The report from the Hong Kong Observatory highlights several issues. The prevalent calm weather has caused this smog to stay in Hong Kong, which implies this amount of air pollution exists every single day of the year but today nature hasn’t had the grace to blow it elsewhere. I find the situation totally unacceptable. It is shocking to see and breathe what we Hongkongers have created and it is equally shocking to know that we accept this amount of pollution normally because it gets blown elsewhere, where it is someone else’s problem. There is a saying that goes, “You reap what you sow”, and it will be future generations that will suffer as a result of the air pollution we are creating.

The government on numerous occasions in the past has laid the blame for much of Hong Kong’s air pollution squarely on the shoulders of our Shenzhen and Pearl River Delta neighbours, but there is much evidence to show that most of the air pollution over Hong Kong is created right here. It has been shown that 50 per cent of the nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in the air is caused by electricity generation in Hong Kong. The Castle Peak power plant operated by CLP Power has been cited as the world’s third most polluting power plant, an accusation that the power plant denies. Hong Kong roads rate as among the world’s most polluting. Much of the blame lies with the thriving goods transport sector between the busy harbour terminal and neighbouring Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta.

I was shocked at the recent government tax cuts for the slightly less polluting Euro V diesel fuel during the recent oil price rises, when only 23 per cent of the vehicle fleet is made up of diesel trucks and they create more than 80 per cent of the pollution. This tells us that the groups that represent these diesel users have unusual amounts of influence over the government or the government made a knee-jerk reaction based on inadequate or poorly evaluated data.

The Environmental Protection Department, which was set up to help monitor and solve air pollution problems, set its own air quality objectives for seven air pollutants in 1987. These objectives haven’t been reviewed once since their establishment and even though the street-level pollution index exceeds their own air quality objectives consistently, nothing has been done.

As a resident of this otherwise great city I urge the public to take a more active interest in improving air quality. The effects of air pollution are not just irritation to the airways when the pollution is particularly bad. There are horrible long-term side effects, such as chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver and kidneys.

We need to encourage the government to support green industries that are actively looking for a way to decrease pollution. We should also support the scientific community in its search for alternative energy sources and ways to clean up air pollutants. The government should be more active in policing the dialogue between its own departments and that of the mainland in decreasing air pollution. This dialogue exists but its agenda has been delayed time and time again. We citizens need to stop being hypocrites and accept the loss in productivity and income that is sometimes needed to decrease the amount of destruction we are causing to the environment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *