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Hong Kong’s pollution shame

In a World Health Organization survey, Hong Kong is embarrassingly ranked among the worst in a list of 500 cities in terms of levels of fine particles in the air.

If you’re in Central’s roads on a busy weekday, or perhaps any day, you are exposed to the city’s greatest concentration of large particles. Only Dakar (Senegal), Zabrze (Poland), Kuwait City (Kuwait), Mexicali (Mexico), Antananarivo (Madagascar) and Mongolia’s Ulan Bator – reportedly the second most polluted city in the world – of the 565 cities surveyed are worse than Hong Kong’s pollution levels.

Does this mean the allure of Central as a premium location for business (ifc and Hongkong Land properties) and leisure (Lan Kwai Fong, luxury hotels) has deteriorated? Maybe not. Such news isn’t recent and, for a while, people are already aware of high pollution levels in the city. So if people avoid Central, perhaps leaving Hong Kong is not a far off decision as neighboring districts don’t fare much better either.

Since Hong Kong’s pollution level is worse than many other cities, I’d agree with Friends of Earth’s statement that such status is “disappointing and shameful”. Hong Kong can brag about being a top-notch financial hub or a model of efficiency, but its people are breathing third-world class air. According to a document obtained by FOE from Environmental Protection Department, the pollution level at the intersection of Chater Road and Des Voeux Road Central is 20 times higher than the top-ranked Whitehorse, Canada.

Health specialists say fine particles can penetrate deep into human respiratory system and may cause severe health risks.

Top urban air pollution contributors include motor transport, small-scale manufacturers and other industries, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating, as well as coal-fired power plants. What excacerbates the situation is that Hong Kong’s tall buildings, while providing a majestic backdrop for tourist views and source of pride for locals, they trap pollutants confined on narrow roads in what’s called “street canyon effect”. No wonder that if a typhoon comes to Hong Kong, it is also means opportunity to cleanse the city from unwanted elements in the air.

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