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Hong Kong urged to improve ventilation and use cleaner vehicles to combat cancer threat from pollution

Experts suggest remedies for the city after study highlights health risk from tiny airborne particles

A better ventilated city, cleaner vehicles and more pedestrianised areas are among the suggestions by experts to minimise exposure to pollutants after a study confirmed a link between tiny particles in the air and a higher risk of death from multiple cancers.

They also advised the public to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The study by the University of Hong Kong and the University of Birmingham revealed that the risk of dying from any cancer rose by 22 per cent for every 10 micrograms per cubic metre of increased exposure to PM2.5 – the fine airborne particulates that are small enough to enter the lungs.

According to Clean Air Network, PM2.5 concentrations were highest in Yuen Long and Causeway last year, with annual average readings clocking in at 30 and 37 micrograms per cubic metre of air respectively.

The reading in Central from 7pm to 8pm reached 51 – more than double the World Health Organisation limit of 25.

Other districts with consistently high levels included Tuen Mun, Kwun Tong and Kwai Chung.

HKU’s Dr Thach Thuan Quoc, co-lead author of the study, said while it was difficult for people to avoid PM2.5 there were ways to reduce exposure.

“Air pollutants are everywhere,” said Thach. “Staying on higher floors would help, but that’s related to one’s financial condition.”

Edward Ng Yan-yung, a professor of architecture at Chinese University, said: “Air pollutants could be blown away with a better ventilated city. There should be more space between buildings.”

Ng said space mattered more than height, and wind should enter from the side to blow away air pollutants. Cleaner vehicles would also reduce the source of emissions of the pollutants.

And developing a more specific air pollution alert could prevent people from going to polluted areas.

Clean Air Network chief executive Patrick Fung Kin-wai said the only practical short-term measure residents could take was to avoid heavily polluted areas as much as possible.

“Long-term measures will require changes in transport and planning policy, establishing more low-emission zones and developing more pedestrianisation,” he said.

Dr Stephen Chan-lam, associate professor in oncology at Chinese University, said it was time the government took serious action to tackle air pollution. He advised the public to maintain good health through regular exercise and a balanced diet.

“But while there are unpreventable factors behind cancer such as age, sex, and gene factors, inhaling polluted air is a preventable cause,” Chan said. “The government should review its cancer prevention strategies.”

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