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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”.

Environmental Protection Department Emission Figures

 This letter was sent to the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) by Jim Middleton, a member of Clear The Air, in relation to the misleading figures quoted on the EPD website regarding per capita CO2 emissions. The letter was sent on the 7th of December.

Dear [EPD],

The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) chooses to disguise emission figures by using a per capita emission for CO2 and then comparing the rest of the world to show Hong Kong in favorable light.

That is ridiculous.

The Hong Kong population has a cocoon of only 154.4 m2 of space each in which to breathe the C02 and pollutants emitted. The above site shows Greenhouse weighted emissions at 6.5 tonnes per capita of Hong Kong population in 2006.

That is 42 kgs emissions per m2 per Hong Kong person per year.

You state Hong Kong emissions are lower than those developed countries shown below.

The EPD report below lists Australia at 27 tonnes emissions per capita.

In Australia each person has 374,800m2 of space compared to Hong Kong’s 154.4 m2 each.

That is 0.072 kgs emissions per m2 per Australian person per year.

I suggest the Government gets real on this misleading method of presenting Hong Kong’s greenhouse emissions.


James Middleton

Mr. Know-It-All: Breathing in China

WIRED MAGAZINE: ISSUE 15.12 published on the 27th of November 2007:

I’m about to travel to Shenzhen on business, and I’m concerned about the city’s atrocious pollution. Will I offend my Chinese hosts if I wear a dust mask?

Not at all, since many natives have adopted this practice, too — though it’s generally more popular among bicyclists than pedestrians. Sure, a few folks might think you have some horrendous disease and thus refuse to sit next to you on the bus. But most Shenzhen residents will realize that you’re only trying to protect your health. Just don’t delude yourself into thinking a skimpy mask of the sort favored by many Chinese urbanites will do much good. “Cheap surgical masks give a false sense of security,” says Christian Masset, chair of the antipollution organization Clear the Air Hong Kong, who contends that those filters catch few harmful particles. He recommends a higher-quality mask; many travelers opt for ones with replaceable charcoal filters. A little bulky and unsightly perhaps, but your lungs will thank you.

Clear The Air On facebook

Log in to facebook and do a search on ‘Clear The Air‘ or ‘Air Pollution Hong Kong‘ or even just ‘Air Pollution‘ and we will be listed in the first position. Or, after logging in, click this link: Clear The Air Group on Facebook. If you are not yet a member of Facebook, log in today and become a part of our social community.

Clear The Air 10th Anniversary Party

The charity volunteer organization, Clear the Air, now boosting a membership of 500, drew a large turn out for the occasion, including new members and representatives of other environmental organizations, such as Clean Air Action Group, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Green-Sense and the Environment Protection Department.

The purpose of the gathering went beyond the anniversary celebration;  it was also an opportunity to present the evolution of the group from its inception until the present,  and define directions for the years ahead.  In addition, the aim was to attract new people who would be interested in getting involved in committees that require more hands, such as communication, campaigning, energy, town-planning and diesel engines.

Mr Tony Lee of the EPD presented the consultation paper on the proposal to ban idling engines and asked for support to have this bill passed.

Ms Catherine Touzard talked about her book, “Going Green in Hong Kong,” a comprehensive guide to everyday life and how we can all actively participate in affecting the environment.

The Lucky Draw was a stunning light-weight, foldable, urban bicycle that was graciously sponsored by GUM Ltd and happily won by Cathy Carroll.

The Chair, Christian Masset, in a short talk, highlighted the evolution of the group, the constant need to tackle pollution at the source while promoting renewable energies and emission-less vehicles.

In regard to the latter, a short video was shown on the air car, a zero-emission vehicle designed by MDI and soon to be produced in India.

Cities for Climate Protection

The Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program

A valued member of Clear The Air has expressed his concern over the fact that Hong Kong has not signed up to be part of the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program. He has done so by preparing the following summary of what the CCP is as well as sending letters to various Government Departments expressing his view and opinion about the program. Below is his summary on the CCP followed by the letters he has sent and the replies he has recieved.

The Hong Kong SAR and the Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program

An Initiative to Improve the Air Quality (and Address the City’s Global Climate Change Obligations)

The Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program is an initiative of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). The ICLEI is an international association of local and regional government organisations that have made a commitment to sustainable development. It was established in 1990 when more than 200 local government representatives from 42 countries met at the United Nations in New York.

The CCP program was subsequently established in 1993 – also at a meeting in the UN. The CCP program builds on the existing government structures and facilities to institutionalise reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in a range of social, economic and environmental benefits.

Since its inception in 1993 the CCP program has grown to include more than 700 cities and local governments around the world.


On joining the CCP program each city commits to:-

  • Develop a ‘local action plan’,
  • Significantly reduce energy use and emissions associated with municipally-owned buildings and vehicles,
  • Change public behaviour through information, advice, awareness raising, promotion and training,
  • Join strategic procurement initiatives promoting cost effective CO2 reduction technologies,
  • Seek a partnership with a municipality in the developing countries or in emerging economies (Cities for Climate Protection

To help cities achieve their objectives the ICLEI provides specific tools, publications and technical assistance, including dedicated software programs.

The CCP program itself is divided into five parts:-

  • Conduct a baseline emissions inventory and forecast – the inventory and forecast provide a benchmark against which the city can measure its progress,
  • Set an emissions reduction target for the year – helps fosters political will and creates a framework for the action plan,
  • Develop an action plan – including policies and measures for both direct and indirect reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, financing mechanisms, responsibilities of departments and staff, etc.,
  • Implement policies and measures – such as energy efficiency improvements to buildings and water treatment, use of renewable power, reduction and recycling of waste, methane recovery from landfills, street light retrofits, etc.,
  • Monitoring and verification of results – provides feedback to modify and improve the action plan. It also provides data for the general public, many of whom are increasingly interested in concrete results for climate change mitigation measures. (Cities for Climate Protection


  • A reduction in the urban heat island effect,
  • A reduction in low level smog formation,
  • Meeting of Hong Kong’s global obligations with regard to greenhouse gas emissions,
  • Regional benefits – economic and environmental,
  • A reduction in Hong Kong’s contribution to the Asian atmospheric brown cloud.

Hong Kong is facing problems relating to air pollution and the urban heat island effect. The city’s air pollution problem is linked to global climate change through the burning of fossil fuels.

Control of the HKSAR’s air pollution (and greenhouse gas emissions) requires a coherent coordinated plan. The CCP program is an established world wide program providing a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. The program primarily targets greenhouse gas emissions but in doing so it will help to address the Hong Kong’s air pollution problem. It will also help to reduce the city’s increasing urban heat island effect.

Below is the letter sent out to Governmental Departments:

Hon Audrey Eu Yuet-mee,
Chairman Legco Panel on Environmental Affairs,
Room 601, Citibank Tower,
3 Garden Road,
Hong Kong.  

22nd September, 2007.

Dear Ms. Eu,

Hong Kong has been my home for the last 18 years. I originally trained as a zoologist, however, I am currently employed as a pilot by one of the airlines based here. As such, I am acutely aware of the deteriorating air quality in the HKSAR.

These days a flight into Hong Kong frequently encounters the Asian Atmospheric Brown Cloud (Asian ABC) while descending through the altitudes between about 12,000 to 18,000 feet. In the daytime, when flying clear of clouds, the ABC appears as a brown haze layer. It can also be detected in the aircraft cabin by a strong acrid smell. The ABC is composed of carbon particulates, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides; all of which are the combustion products of coal, oil, natural gas and biomass. In the presence of sunlight a photochemical reaction also results in the formation of low level ozone.

In the final stages of an approach to land at Hong Kong International Airport the visibility can, on occasions, be severely reduced by low level atmospheric smog and/or haze. In extreme cases the visibility can reduce to as low as 1,200 metres, and were it not for the instrument landing systems installed at the airport, flights would be unable to land.

Hong Kong’s increasing air pollution problem is intimately linked to global climate change through the burning of fossil fuels. Recent research by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the Civic Exchange organisation has shown that in the year 2006 for just over half of the time (53% or 192 days), local pollution sources were the primary contributor to Hong Kong’s air pollution. Just over one third of the time (36% or 132 days) regional sources were the main contributor with the remainder (11% or 41 days) being classified as low pollution.

In other words the HKSAR has a significant degree of control over the quality of its own air.

The HKSAR needs to get involved with one of the city networks where people share their experiences and ideas on air pollution. The Cities for Climate Protection program ( is an established global network providing a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. The program targets greenhouse gas emissions and in doing so will help to address the HKSAR’s air pollution problem and the city’s increasing urban heat island effect. Ultimately this will help to make Hong Kong a better place for people to live and work in and a more attractive place for businesses to invest in.

                                    Yours faithfully,

                                                                        Member of ‘Clear the Air’

cc Emily Lau Wai-hing, Deputy Cahirman, Panel on Environmental Affairs,
     Martin Lee Chu-ming, Member for Hong Kong Island,
     Sin Chung-kai, Member for Information Technology,
     Wong Yung-kan, Member for Agriculture and Fisheries,
     Lau Kong-wah, Member for the New Territories East,
     Miriam Lau Kin-yee, Member for Transport,
     Choy So-yuk, Member for Hong Kong Island,
     Lee Wing-tat, Member for the New Territories West,
     Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, Member for Commercial,
     Tam Heung-man, Member for Accountancy.


This is the response recieved by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC):

3 October 2007

Dear [Clear The Air Member],

Thank you for your letter addressed to the Chamber Chairman Dr Lily Chiang.

We agree with you that the HKSAR has a significant degree of control over the quality of its own air. Besides the Government, it is also very important for everyone to take part, including the business sector. I am pleased to tell you that some 600 organisations and companies have so far signed the Clean Air Charter, a business sector-wide environmental initiative being driven by Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) and the Hong Kong Business Coalition on the Environment under Project CLEAR AIR. Among the signatories are the HKSAAR Government, all of the HKGCC General Committee members and all 28 foreign chambers in Hong Kong. The Project has been supported by a series of campaign activities to engage the government, business sector and the community in a collective effort to combat air pollution.

At the same time, despite Hong Kong’s comparatively small share in greenhouse gas emissions, as a cosmopolitan city, we have a part in contributing to the global effort on climate change. The HKGCC Environment Committee has recently formed a working group to seek ways to raise the awareness of the impact of climate change and help play a part in the government’s action plan in meeting out global obligations.

I am happy to copy your letter to the HKSAR Government, and enclose information of the Project CLEAN AIR for your reference.

Thank you very much.


Yours sincerely

Alex Fong

c.c. Mr Oscar Chow, Chairman of the Environment Committee, HKGCC
        Dr Andrew Thomson, Chief Executive Officer, Business Environment Council


And the response recieved from the Business Environment Council (BEC):

18th September 

Dear [Clear The Air Member],

Thank you for you letter dated 15th September to Andrew Thomson of the Business Environment Council (BEC).

We agree that HKSAR needs to get involved with one of the city networks where people share their experiences and ideas on air pollution. We are aware of the Cities for Climate Protection Programme (CCP) and the Business Environment Council is in the process of setting up a Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF) which will develop a local action plan to try and reduce energy use and emissions. As well as running workshops on behaviour change, and finance much needed research on understanding the local and PRD impacts.

We expect the CCBF to be up and running within this month and we will make sure that it hooks into initiatives such as the CCP.

Thank you again for your letter.

For further information in the CCBF please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Ciara Shannon
Climate Change Business Forum (CCBF)
Tel: 27843935

cc Dr. Lily Chiang, Chairman of the General Committee, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce,
     Mr. Oscar Chow, Chairman of the Environment Committee, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce,
     Ms. Gaby Oetterli, Corporate Social Responsibility, Business Environment Council

New Law Could Curb The Idlers

Published in the SCMP on the 10th of October 2007:

New Law Could Curb The Idlers

The reply from the commissioner of police (”Police willing to take action”, October 4) to Gareth Jones (”Idling engines add to pollution”, September 18) misses the point.

Choi Wong Fung-yee states that “Waiting [in certain areas] is allowed provided that the vehicle does not cause an obstruction.” The key is that, as the law currently stands, it is not illegal to leave your vehicle’s engine idling while waiting which means many vehicles are indiscriminately spewing out noxious fumes that add to Hong Kong’s pollution problem.

Perhaps the commissioner of police could tell us why the law still allows for idling engines? As we have proved with Clear The Air’s idling engine street patrols, most drivers are willing to switch off idling engines when reminded.

We have also found a significant number of vehicles that are idling, are also breaking a traffic law such as vacating the vehicle to deliver products, double parking (thus blocking traffic) or parking illegally.

Therefore the police should be more vigilant in regards to idling engines. We need a no-idling engine fixed penalty law enforced by the police to keep our streets safe and our air clean.

Amy Ng, Clear The Air

Clamp Down On Idling Engines, Greens Urge

Published in the SCMP on the 10th of October 2007:

Clamp Down On Idling Engines, Greens Urge

Green groups have urged the government to crack down on motorists who leave their engines idling while parked, saying this is a major contributing factor to Hong Kong’s air pollution problem.

Clear The Air and the Clean Air Action Group patrolled Mong Kok yesterday, where they say they saw at least 100 drivers who left their engines running.

Members of the two groups launched their patrols in Tung Choi Street and Fa Yuen Street from 11am to 5pm and renewed their call for a city wide ban on idling engines.

“There is no public consultation, no policy to tackle this issue. Our government has done nothing to curb the pollution from idling engines,” said Amy Ng Yuk-man, chairwoman of Clear The Air’s idling engine committee.

Ms Ng said vehicle and vessel emissions were responsible for most of Hong Kong’s locally produced air pollution.

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.

LegCo Presentation – Tamar Canyon Effect

LegCo Presentation:

Feb 2006 – Tamar canyon effect – Dr. Jimmy Fung

Air pollution numbers wrong and canyon effect not considered


November 30, 2005

TO: Panel on Planning, Lands and Works – Special Meeting 17 Dec, 2005 – Tamar
Fax: 2869-6794

Honorable Chair and Members,

We ask that you not accept anything from the Government regarding the Tamar site until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for CRIII is updated with recent, actual air pollution data using a proper model that includes the “canyon effect” of our buildings in trapping air pollution.

We note the following regarding the results of the Environmental Impact Assessment shown to you in 2001.

  1. The predictions were wrong – the Environmental Impact Assessment is no longer valid
  2. The model used in the Environmental Impact Assessment assumes Central is a flat surface
  3. There is no urgency. There is time to do a new report properly with current data and the correct model (estimated 3 months and $300,000)

Comparison of predicted and actual 24-hour Average Respiratory Suspended Paticles (RSP)

Predicted and Actual Levels of RSP in Central 2003

* Environmental Impact Assessment (July 2001) supported by Urbis Limited, Babtie BMT Harris & Sutherland Regards

** Data from Environmental Protection Department Central roadside air pollution monitoring station 2003

Annelise Connell
Vice Chairman , Clear the Air

Central Reclamation Phase III

South China Morning Post – Sunday November 20 2005 – Tamar pollution prediction ‘far too low’