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January 6th, 2016:

We’re all in this together for cleaner air

While the Triple Crown is the epitome of thoroughbred racing, Causeway Bay has just been awarded an informal Triple Crown of sorts – the district has boasted one of the priciest commercial property rents in the world, one of the most tourist-congested shopping space in the world, and now the most polluted district in Hong Kong to boot. Quite an unenviable feat !

It’s fair to ask based on this fact alone, are we going the way of some first-tier Chinese cities which recently issued red pollution alerts?

Latest government statistics showed Causeway Bay’s air pollution was rated “7 (high)” or above on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most serious in the Environmental Protection Department’s Air Pollution Index (API). A “high” rating means people’s health isat risk. It had reached this level 103 days of last year, followed by Mong Kok, which saw 69 days of “high” air pollution level.

The level of fine particles that can penetrate the lungs and are thus hazardous to human health in Causeway Bay was way higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline in most of the days in 2015. Fortunately, it appeared not to be representative of Hong Kong as a whole as the EPD report indicated a slight improvement in our air quality last year. The concentration of nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ozone and respirable suspended particulate were lower than in 2014, although carbon monoxide did rise by 5%. There were 2% less ozone in the air, but its level was still high, increasing by 32% since 1999. There were fewer number of days when Air Quality Health Index was at “high” level or over, compared to 2014.

This is one issue where President John F. Kennedy’s famous exhortation: ‘’Ask not what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country’’ is applicable. To effectively tackle our persistent air pollution problem, the government cannot do it all. It needs the crucial cooperation of the entire citizenry.

We’re now past blaming our northern neighbors for our air pollution and must come to grips with the reality that the main source of our current pollution are locally-generated – in particular, from motor vehicles. And we must accept that the government cannot simply disperse our population concentration to the non-existent suburbs as in America. So what do we do?

Perhaps we should start by asking: do you really need a car? The answer for the vast majority of Hongkongers is undoubtedly ‘’no’’, considering our compact size and the world-class public transportation network of many modes.
But if you must, choose a car of right capacity. A single person doesn’t need a large sized car with a large engine. Forming a car pool with your friends or neighbors will help to reduce the pollution by simply reducing the number of vehicles on the road. And don’t forget the concurrent financial savings it will afford all participants.

Fuel combustion from car engines emits nitrogen oxides and suspended particulates, which cause air pollution. These air pollutants are particularly dangerous as they tend to be trapped in the deadly jungle of skyscrapers in Hong Kong.

Beyond the immediate health benefits it will bring to us all, better air quality will no doubt enhance our economic competitiveness as we are more likely to lure more talent and investment to our shores.

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Bad Hong Kong air: Eastern districts’ increasing pollution still better than Western

Eastern parts of Hong Kong recorded more hours of poor air quality last year compared to 2014, despite a continuing improvement of general air quality in the city.

While there was a drop in several types of air pollutants, the level of ozone – one of the four major items measured by local air quality monitoring stations – remained high, according to the preliminary annual air quality data on last year released by the Environmental Protection Department.

Green groups were not happy with the drop in pollutants and said interdepartmental cooperation should be strengthened.

According to the department, Eastern District had 213 hours when the air quality health index was high, very high or serious last year, a 31 per cent increase from the previous year. A higher level indicates a greater health risk to individuals from air pollution.

Central and Western and Tai Po also experienced more hours of poor air quality, recording a 12 per cent and 7 per cent increase respectively.

“In 2015, there were days when regional air pollution was high, yet the prevailing wind from the north was more easterly. Eastern parts of Hong Kong were therefore more affected by the air pollutants,” said Mok Wai-chuen, assistant director of environmental protection.

Air pollution in the east, however, was still less severe than in the west. Tuen Mun, Tung Chung and Yuen Long topped the chart for air pollution, despite a general drop in the number of hours of poor air quality.

Overall air quality was also better than in the previous year. There was a 13 per cent reduction in the total number of hours of high or above recordings at all general stations, and a 7 per cent drop at roadside stations.

Air pollutants, including fine and respirable suspended particulates, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, also dropped from the previous year.

However, ozone, a major air pollutant which can lead to respiratory diseases, remained at a high level of 45 micrograms per cubic metre of air.


Mok said the high level was due to an increase in ozone emissions in the Pearl River Delta.

“If we want to solve the ozone problem, we need to work hand in hand with the mainland,” said Mok.

The Hong Kong and Guangdong governments set emission reduction targets for 2015 and 2020 in November 2012. Both governments are now conducting an interim review of last year ‘s emissions and the 2020 targets.

Patrick Fung Kin-wai, director of communications for Clean Air Network, an NGO focusing on air pollution, said it was hard for him to be happy with the latest air quality data.

“From 1998 [till now], the level of roadside pollution has stayed at its original point,” said Fung.

He took nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant mainly emitted by vehicles, as an example. The 1998 and 2015 levels were almost the same, close to 100 micrograms per cubic metre.

Fung urged greater cross-departmental work, such as designating more busy areas as pedestrian zones, in a bid to improve air quality.

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Delta blamed for ozone rise

Vehicle, factory and power plant emissions in the Pearl River Delta have pushed up the ozone level in Hong Kong, although general air quality continued to improve last year compared with 2014, the Environmental Protection Department says.

While preliminary data showed concentrations of all major pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and respirable suspended particulates, dropped in 2015 compared with 2014, the level of ambient ozone dropped slightly by 2 percent but was still 32 percent higher than in 1999.

The assistant director of environmental protection, Mok Wai- chuen, said ozone pollution produced from local emissions showed a decreasing trend over the past year.

“But the increase in the regional background, mainly due to PRD-originating emissions, has led to an overall increase in ambient ozone level,” he said.

Mok stressed that collaboration with the mainland is a must when tackling the increasing level of ozone.

But he did not say what actual measures have been or would be taken.

“The two sides of the government will prepare for a mid-term review on the emission reduction results for 2015 so as to finalize the emission reduction targets for 2020 in order to further improve regional air quality,” he said.

Data showed that Tuen Mun had the worst air quality last year, with 416 hours of the Air Quality Health Index at high or above, followed by Tung Chung with 346 hours.

Principal Environmental Protection Officer Shermann Fong Che-ping said the two areas were mainly affected by ozone.

Asked if the smog in China would possibly affect the SAR air quality, Mok said: “The air quality will be worse if the wind is from mainland because it will bring the pollutants from the land and human activities.”

Mok said the government aims to phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles by the end of 2019.

Three low emission zones have been set up at busy corridors in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok for franchised buses whose emission performances meet Euro IV or above.

He believed that Hong Kong will reduce carbon intensity by 50 to 60 percent by 2020 compared with the 2005 level by committing to its control measures