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On two cloud-free days, the haze situation can differ dramatically depending on the season and therefore on the direction of the wind.
Air pollution in Hong Kong is considered a serious problem. Visibility is currently less than eight kilometres for 30% of the year. Cases of asthma and bronchial infections have soared in recent years due to reduced air quality.
Controversy about monitoring
The EPD’s Air Pollution Index
The Environmental Protection Department in Hong Hong was established to solve problems and provide for a long lasting acceptable level USA quality.
In June 1995, instead of adopting internationally accepted benchmark index for pollution, it set up the Air Pollution Index as an indicator to pollution levels, both “General” and “Roadside”.
Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) for seven widespread air pollutants were established in 1987 under the Air Pollution Control Ordinance (APCO), and have not been reviewed since it was set up. It is not clear how the levels are determined
In October 2005, Task Force on Air Pollution criticised the Government for deluding itself with a pollution index that is a “meaningless” indicator of health risks Professor Wong Tze-wai, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong commented that the current air pollution index “gives a false sense of security”. Gary Wong, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Department of Paediatrics and School of Public Health, said that under the current index, “some harmful pollution components aren’t even recorded.” In addition, he pointed out that there is no strategic plan or a timetable to tackle the problem, unlike in other countries
Street-level air quality regularly falls short of the government’s Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), and even further short of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines, revised in October.
Academics called for Hong Kong Government to immediately update its air quality objectives set almost twenty years ago For example, on 19 and 20 November 2006, roadside levels of respirable suspended particulates (RSPs – equivalent to PM10) exceeded the WHO guidelines by at least 300%. Prof Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong said in September 2007 that if Hong Kong’s API was based on WHO recommended levels, our readings would be “absolutely sky high” for most of the year. Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung said the WHO targets were too stringent
Greenpeace’s Real Air Pollution Index
In September 2008, Greenpeace China’s Hong Kong office launched its “Real Air Pollution Index”as part of a campaign to get the government to update the API to match WHO guidelines. The Real Air Pollution Index reports hourly pollution levels from 14 monitoring stations across the region and compares them to WHO standards.
Declining regional air quality means visibility has also decreased dramatically. In 2004, low visibility occurred 18% of the time – the highest on record, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. The number of days in which visibility was less than eight kilometres rose to 102 in 2005 from 40 in 1997
The mortality rate from vehicular pollution can be twice as high near heavily travelled roads, based on a study conducted in Holland at residences 50 meters from a main road and 100 meters from a freeway. Since millions of people in Hong Kong live and work in close proximity to busy roads, this presents a major health risk to city residents. The Hong Kong Medical Association estimates that air pollution can exacerbate asthma, impair lung function and raise the risk of cardio-respiratory death by 2 to 3 percent for every increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of pollutants. Studies by local public health experts have found that these roadside pollution levels are responsible for 90,000 hospital admissions and 2,800 premature deaths every year.
Donald Tsang’s comments
Chief Executive Donald Tsang declared that the high life-expectancy of Hong Kong demonstrates that concerns over air quality were not justified.
“The life expectancy in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world … you can come to only one conclusion: we have the most environmentally friendly place for people, for executives, for Hong Kong people to live”
Professor Anthony Hedley, chair of community medicine at Hong Kong University, said “Tsang is badly advised on current public health issues.” Hedley added that air pollution levels in the SAR were extremely high, and could affect the lungs, blood vessels and heart James Tien , former Chairman of the Liberal Party of Hong Kong, retorted, “Can [Tsang] really be confident that, if pollution continues to worsen, will he be able to promise the same life expectancy for our children and for our grandchildren?”
Even as early as 2000, the total negative impact to the Hong Kong Economy, including cardiorespiratory disease was in excess of HK$11.1 billion (http://ec.hku.hk/improvehk/Issues/Vol_3/IHK_Vol_3.pdf). Research by three universities and a think-tank estimates that the pollution is costing Hong Kong about HK$21.2 billion a year in hospital admissions and lost productivity. In addition, about 1,600 deaths a year might be avoided if air quality improves.
Made aware of fresh statistical and anecdotal evidence that pollution is driving away business and hurting Hong Kong’s global competitiveness, James Tien called air pollution “a health issue, a lifestyle issue, a tourism issue, a business issue, and increasingly a political issue.”
Merrill Lynch downgraded several Hong Kong property companies because of air quality concerns, and there have been warnings from the head of the Stock Exchange that pollution was scaring investors away. It said that the air quality in Hong Kong is now regularly so poor that its “long-term competitiveness is in some doubt”, and advised clients to switch into developers in Singapore instead
Pollution is dramatically harming not only the health of citizens of Hong Kong but also its economy, particularly relating to the ability to attract skilled foreign labour.
The chairman of the Danish Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said each year at least two or three people decline offers to work in the Hong Kong offices of member companies because of pollution: “It’s going to cost us in the future if we don’t clean up here”.
“Five years ago, air quality wasn’t a concern when people considered whether to relocate to Hong Kong”, said Jardine Engineering Corp. Chief Executive James Graham. “[In the past, one of the advantages was clean air. We can no longer say that”. A London-based human resources consultant recommends that companies pay a 10 percent hardship allowance to lure expatriates, partly because of air quality.