Hack, hack: Hong Kong government urged to take action as toxic air pollutants alarmingly high

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Air pollution in Hong Kong scored an unhealthy 192 in air quality index last week, five times higher than Beijing where pollution has been a serious problem for a long time.

The poor air quality was mainly due to an increase in ozone due to light wind, more sunshine, and higher level of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, CEO of Hong Kong’s independent non-governmental organization Clean Air Network Patrick Fung told Harbour Times.

“While the particularly high pollution last week was largely triggered by weather conditions, we must not ignore the pollutants emitted by local vehicles and traffic congestion problem in Hong Kong, as they are, in my opinion, the major causes of air pollution in the city,” said Fung.

Severe air pollution certainly could cause harm, but in some case, it can also raise the death rate, according to recent study ‘Spatiotemporal influence of temperature, air quality, and urban environment on cause-specific mortality during hazy days‘.

The researchers looked at death statistics over the past ten years and revealed that mortality risk rose sharply on hazy days. In particular, mortality risk was 16% higher on the first day of haze and 27% higher on the second day. If the haze was accompanied by high ozone pollution, the risk of death increased by 79%.

“Haze days are very likely to trigger an acute depression response in people. This has been shown in surveys in 2013 in Indonesia, where there was a big disaster of haze from forest fires,” said Lin Yan, one of the authors of the journal article.

“My nose allergy has definitely improved,” Lee Kai, a Hong Kong citizen who moved to Lamma Island 15 years ago, told Harbour Times. “There may be some things that Hong Kongers could do to improve the environment. For example, I find residents in Lamma have a stronger sense in recycling properly, and turn on air conditioners only when it’s absolutely necessary. These little things add up and they help sustaining the environment.”

Any buildings with more than three floors are prohibited and there are no automobiles on the Lamma island, where some people find a more desirable alternative to the hectic life in Hong Kong and Kowloon Island.

“Governments need to control air pollution as a priority, that is the best way to eradicate the problem – from the source,” Lin added.

While the government has taken action in the past to tackle the issue, Fung from Clean Air Network thinks much more could be done to further control pollutants emission levels.

“It is great that the government has started to phase out old vehicles which are major pollution contributors, and initiated subsidy programs that provided greater incentive to use environmental friendly vehicle parts. But we see the subsidies are only offered once, when the parts expire, the government would not subsidize for their maintenance or exchange.  In fact, many of such parts have expired in 2014 and we are seeing worsening air pollution in the city since then,” said Fung. “Take Shenzhen as an example, they have rolled out more than 16,000 electrical buses. Hong Kong should follow suit and even consider electric taxis.”

Fung then noted that traffic congestion is another factor the government needs to consider, as the city records high growth of private cars numbers.

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