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Air Pollution Index

Review Of Air Quality Objectives For Hong Kong

Review of air quality objectives and development of a long-term air quality strategy for Hong Kong

Consultation Forum

Opportunities for the General Public to Express their Views and Concerns

31 January 2008 (Thursday)


The Environmental Protection Department has appointed Ove Arup and Partners Hong Kong Ltd. to commission a study to review Hong Kong’s current Air Quality Objectives (AQO) with an aim to develop a long-term air quality management strategy for Hong Kong.

Before formulating recommendations, the consultants have to examine the latest air quality guidelines and standards advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO), and in the EU and the U3; and also give balanced consideration to factors such as public health, cost effectiveness, society’s expectation, maturity of technologies, the need to work with the Mainland, and the impacts of air quality measures on other government policy areas.

Views from the Hong Kong community will form an important part of the review process. The Hong Kong Productivity Council has been commissioned to organize this forum. Members of the general public who are concerned about the air quality management in Hong Kong are welcome to participate and express their views. A panel of subject experts will give presentations from different perspectives in the forum.


Exhibition Hall, 4/F., HKPC Building, 78, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon

Date & Time

2:00pm – 5:15 pm, 31 January 2008 (Thursday)

See the full program rundown here:

Air Pollution Index Sets Record High

Bad-air days leave critics choking mad

Activists attack government’s ‘go-slow’ policy as pollution index sets record for year

Mary Ann Benitez
Updated on Dec 08, 2007

Critics rounded on the government over bad-air days as the air-pollution index hit a year’s record high of 151 yesterday, with the situation expected to continue this weekend.

Air-quality activists blamed the “go-slow” policy of the government on air pollution, and others said that based on international standards, air pollution was actually worse than local readings indicated.

Readings touched or exceeded 100 at some time during the day at nine out of 11 general stations, and all three roadside stations in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok exceeded 100.

Today the highest roadside API [Air Pollutant Index] was 151, which is also the highest this year up to today, followed by 147 on October 7,” a spokeswoman from the Environmental Protection Department said yesterday.

“We expect the current episode will last for a couple of days until we have fresh wind with greater wind speed to help disperse the pollutant over the territories.”

The department’s principal environmental protection officer, Dave Ho Tak-yin, told RTHK the very high API readings were caused by “trappings of air pollutants under light winds coupled with the influence of regional air pollution”.

But Anthony Hedley, chairman of the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Community Medicine, said the API readings were misleading because they were based on 20-year-old air-quality objectives.

What we need to do is to resolve that by adopting the World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines. If we use those as standards, then we will have a realistic estimate of the risk,” he said.

Hong Kong’s air-quality objective for particulates, for example, is 180, but the WHO guideline is 50.

So the actual readings “would be very much higher”, Professor Hedley said.

The EPD spokeswoman said Hong Kong’s API systems were “similar to the air-pollution [indices] and reporting systems currently used by most places in Asia such as Singapore, Taipei, Bangkok and Indonesia”.

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air, said the episodes of severely polluted air were “the result of the government’s go-slow approach”, which he called ” “bad for the people and for the image of Hong Kong”.

He said the occasional improvement of air quality was due to meteorological conditions and had nothing to do with government.

Alvin Chan Yee-shing, council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said a 150 reading was not only bad for the sick, it was bad for every citizen’s health.

Elderly patients who would benefit from a walk in the park or doing tai chi outdoors were being put at a disadvantage, he said.

Alfred Tam Yat-cheung, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Asthma Society, said: “There is every reason to warn people to be careful, to limit outdoor activity. Don’t stay on the roadside, because that is the most polluted place in the whole territory, and go to the doctor when you have respiratory complaints.

The Department of Health said parainfluenza was “the dominant flu-like symptoms that were spotted in patients recently”.

Hong Kong Issues Warning On Pollution

Reuters – Published: December 7, 2007

HONG KONG: People with heart or lung problems were warned Friday to avoid outdoor activities in Hong Kong as it experienced one of its most polluted days of the year, with the hills across the harbor almost invisible.

Pollution monitoring stations registered “very high” readings in several spots and the Environmental Protection Department said the poor air was expected to continue.

Hong Kong’s air has become increasingly clogged with pollutants from cars, ships, power plants and a booming manufacturing sector across the border in China’s Guangdong province.

Air Pollution Index readings surpassed 101, entering a zone that the Environmental Protection Department considers “very high,” at several sites.

They included the Central business district, which hit 150 by mid-afternoon.

Central Worst Affected As Pollution Soars

Central worst affected as pollution soars

Regina Leung SCMP

Updated on Dec 07, 2007

Pollution, trapped by light winds and hot weather, is expected to remain until wind speeds pick up later in the week.

Smoggy weather and light wind ushered the air pollution index (API) to over 100 in several areas of Hong Kong on Friday, including Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.

Based on roadside station readings, Central recorded the highest API level of 145, compared to 133 in Causeway Bay and 122 in Mongkok.

In the general station readings, Yuen Long, Tung Chung, Tai Po, Central and Western districts also recorded API levels over 100.

Pollutants are trapped under the light wind, and the smoggy conditions favour the photo-chemical formation of ozone in the region, resulting in elevated ozone levels, a spokesman at the environmental department said.

When the level passes 100, the environmental department says people with heart or respiratory illnesses should avoid prolonged stays in areas with heavy traffic. Those who must travel to such congested areas are advised to reduce physical activity.

Local Perspective on Hong Kong Air

Local Perspective on Hong Kong’s Air

We all know that our air is polluted, but are we getting the full information of its severity? Are we greatly underestimating the scale of our problem? Douglas Woodring, a concerned resident of Hong Kong and local think-tank, Civic Exchange have come together to answer these questions for Britain in Hong Kong.

UNFORTUNATELY, it took Hong Kong’s largest sporting event, the recent marathon, and one of our all too common “bad air” days, to really get people to understand that we are truly under threat from our air quality. Without the knowledge on where we truly stand, however, the calls to action from the community, and the incentive to make necessary improvements, have yet to occur in a way that would be expected in Asia’s world city.

Who is to blame?

Sadly, the main blame for our air quality is the industrial growth on the other side of the boundary, which we cannot easily rectify, although 70,000 factories in the Pearl River Delta are under Hong Kong ownership and should be held more accountable. This is true, but we also need to be able to demonstrate that we have done everything we can in Hong Kong to tackle our own local air pollution before we can fairly criticise emissions north of the boundary.

With little manufacturing remaining in Hong Kong, the numbers are clear. There are two main components of our local emissions: the excessively high dependence on poor quality diesel vehicles, and air pollution from power generation, particularly from coalfired plants, as natural gas and nuclear generation alternatives are significantly cleaner local fuel sources. It is good news, in that the targets are easy to define, but it is unfortunate for all of us that not enough has been done to make the real changes that are needed. Instead, we are all paying the price of a slow pace of change with our and our families’ health and quality of life.

API Index: HK vs. EU

The first issue to understand is the true level of pollutants in our air. Unfortunately, we are still being given Air Pollution Index (API) readings that are skewed by taking an average reading of various pollutants from the previous 24 hours. Moreover, the Air Quality Objectives that have been introduced for Hong Kong in 1987 are only objectives, but not actual standards. No one is accountable if they are not achieved. If you look at the API index based on European Union standards ( you will find an enormous difference in readings.

The EU claims that it is “very unhealthy” when there are 50 micrograms of pollutants per cubic metre of air, where Hong Kong’s “very unhealthy” level is only reached at 180 micrograms. The day before the Hong Kong marathon, the levels in Central reached almost 300 (based on the EU index). Based on the EU index, the readings are above 200 in Central more often than not, yet our local API index reports the same days as just under 80. With nearly 20-year-old Air Quality Objectives in place, Asia’s world city is out of step with standards set in other parts of the world, and until our API index readings and interpretations of their content are inline with those of the developed world, our decision makers will continue to underplay the urgent need for change.

Road blocks

Hong Kong has the highest percentage of “diesel” road miles driven per capita out of any major developed city in the world. This is a major challenge for Asia’s world city. Tokyo recently embarked on a stringent campaign to limit diesel vehicle use in the city during the day time, while California has declared diesel a carcinogen. The European Commission is also preparing to introduce more stringent limits on diesel particulate emissions, reducing it to a level five times lower than the current Euro 4 standard, as the soot produced primarily by diesel cars has been blamed for a variety of respiratory problems. Daimler Chrysler has recently said that it will equip all of its diesel models with particulate filters starting this year in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. This is because the community there demands it. Why can’t these filters be used here in Hong Kong?

In contrast, one of Hong Kong’s bus operators is applying for a new 10-year licence, yet the government has yet to set new minimum standards in its type of engines or pollution control equipment, and only 10 out of 752 buses in operation are of Euro III standards. In fact, out of Hong Kong’s licenced bus fleet, 83 per cent out of 4,025 buses are below Euro III standards. One recent response from a government official to the expedition of the replacement of buses to Euro III standards was “that there is a need to adopt a gradual and cautious approach in considering bus replacement.”

Hazardous to health

Locally, Nitrogen oxides (NOx) are primarily produced from power generation and transportation. They affect living materials, building materials and contribute to acid rain. NOx are also a key ingredient of ground-level Ozone, of which diesel fuels are a significant contributor. A 2005 study commissioned by CLSA and prepared by Civic Exchange shows that Ozone concentrations are rising rapidly in Hong Kong, the results of which can be eye and lung irritation, with long-term recurring exposure potentially
causing chronic health problems.

Dialogue has started to introduce Euro V fuels, where the Sulphur content is five times lower than that of current diesel. This will have very little impact, however, if the quality of the majority of Hong Kong’s diesel engines used is not brought up to date. Serious efforts should be made to phase out older diesel vehicles of all types, retrofit others with the most sophisticated particulate traps, and make sure that the fuel used is of the highest quality. This also means making sure that fuels from across the border, where sulphur content is from 50 to 500 times that of Hong Kong, do not make their way onto our roads.

Polluter pays

In terms of energy production in Hong Kong, with the Scheme of Control under review, it would be timely for the introduction of coal-fired emission control equipment to be introduced under a new regulatory regime, which includes environmental performance targets. Hong Kong needs to embrace the “polluter pays principle”. In this regard, a combination of ‘carrot and stick’ comprising bold leadership, world standards, meaningful penalties, attractive incentives and civic education all need to be utilised to deliver necessary improvements.

One solution recommended by economist Philip Bowring’s recent South China Morning Post article suggested an ‘energy tax’, which would simply mean that those who use the most of our resources pay accordingly. Since there is no longer a significant industrial base in this city, this option appears to have merit, also prompting conservation and energy efficiency along the way, which few seem to have the true incentive to pursue today. Until older polluting vehicles are phased out, part of the proceeds from such an ‘energy tax’ could be used to help convert, modify and greatly improve the tens of thousands of outdated diesel vehicles that travel (and idle) on our roads every hour by retrofitting state of-the-art pollution traps and filters.

The options for improvement, that we have in Hong Kong can control, are fairly straightforward, but we all have to want improvement. Unfortunately, not all of us ask for it with such urgency because we are not aware of what is really happening when we are given air pollution readings, which are out of step with international standards. The choice is ours, but we need to put the goal posts in the right places so that we can judge the results and bring accountability to the system.

Hong Kong Marathon – 2006

Hong Kong Marathon – 2006

Monday, February 27, 2006

Pollution index bogus

The Hong Kong marathon has again brought the environmental crisis into sharp focus and this will probably recur for years to come. We can only hope that the marathon’s high profile will promote government action rather than denial and further false rationalisation. In the meantime, the marathon has highlighted several major inconsistencies, reflected in pronouncements by different sectors of the community, which should be addressed urgently. First, the Athletic Association sought to defend the event by pointing to an air pollution index (API) of 100 as “safe”.

It is not to be blamed for this, because, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the government continues to cling to this meaningless and misleading measure. I realise that to do otherwise (that is, tell the truth) would precipitate a political furore, but there are no grounds for arguing that such a level of pollution will not cause an injury to respiratory and cardiovascular systems of even healthy people.

I suggest that everyone who took part in the marathon was at risk of harm to their health from pollution. Mostly silent and unobservable, these medical events contribute to our lifetime risks of disease in the heart, blood vessels and lungs.

Second, I disagree with the downgrading of the risks by some medical colleagues, and the suggestion that these will amount to minor and insigificant symptoms. At the very least, they are signals of more fundamental damage. I suggest that the Academy of Medicine convene a consensus conference so that we can all speak with one voice on the matter.

Until and unless we have the courage to admit that we have lost control of air-quality management throughout the region and that the API is a completely bogus health-protection measure, we will move even further away from urgently needed definitive action.

ANTHONY J. HEDLEY, department of community medicine, University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Marathon Air Pollution Alert

News Release – 13 February, 2006

Hong Kong Marathon should have sounded an air pollution alert

The air pollution levels were so high Sunday morning for the Hong Kong Standard Chartered Marathon 2006 there should have been air pollution alert to warn runners that their health was at significant risk.

According to the US Environmental Protection agency, an Air Pollution Index (API) of 88 – 100 means that everyone should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion. For an API over 100 everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion. Says Annelise Connell, Chairman of Clear The Air “It was inexcusable for the Hong Kong Government to claim that no action should have been taken and that running a marathon in this pollution was not a risk to healthy people.”

Running in this marathon was guaranteed to make everyone sick to some degree because of the pollution. There is often a three day lag time between pollution episodes and symptoms, so everyone who ran on Sunday should check their health over the next few days and report any heart or respiratory symptoms to their doctor, the Health Department and the Environmental Protection Department.

The Air Pollution Index is worthless to athletes during a race because it is an average of the previous 24 hours. The air pollution peaked at 9 am and the runners were sucking in very unhealthy amounts of pollution.

Said Ms. Connell “All sporting events organizers should check the Greenpeace / Clear The Air website to see if athletes need to be warned of the air pollution levels.”

European Union “very unhealthy” level is 50 micrograms per cubic metres of air.
Hong Kong “very unhealthy” level is 180 micrograms per cubic metres of air.

Economic Cost of Air Pollution

5 November, 2004 – South China Morning Post

David Hui Shu-cheong, an assistant professor at the Chinese University’s Division of Respiratory Medicine, noted that the number of patients suffering from breathing problems surged a few days after the air pollution index (API) rose.

Some of those suffering from asthma and chronic obstructive lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema end up in hospital.