Hong Kong’s roadside air pollution reached record levels for the third quarter, putting the city’s government under more pressure to clean up the environment.
The city’s Air Pollution Index was “very high” at roadsides for 9.5 percent of the hours recorded in July, August and the first two weeks of September, government data indicated. With all three monitoring stations climbing to those levels today, Hong Kong is set to outdo the previous third-quarter record for very high pollution, 8.2 percent of recorded hours in 2004.
Hong Kong’s General Chamber of Commerce called for “decisive” government action in Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s policy address to tackle the issue. Hong Kong ranked 71st in a survey this year of livable cities, compared with 28th for rival financial hub Singapore, with pollution bringing its score down, according to Mercer Consulting, a unit of New York-based insurance broker Marsh & McLennan Cos.
“There’s no doubt that roadside pollution is getting worse,” said Prentice Koo, a spokesman for the environmental pressure group Greenpeace in Hong Kong. “Much stronger measures need to be introduced to solve this,” he said.
When roadside pollution is very high, topping 100 on the Air Pollution Index, the government warns people with heart or respiratory illnesses to avoid prolonged stays in heavy traffic areas. Roadside pollution reached 135 in Causeway Bay, 112 in Central and 122 in Mong Kok as of 3 p.m. today.
Even if the rest of September has cleaner skies, Hong Kong is poised to record “very high” pollution for 8.3 percent of the hours in this quarter.
The pollution index only acts as a rough guide to alert the public to levels of smog, the Environmental Protection Department said in an e-mailed statement. Looking at figures for short time frames can be misleading and yearly measurements of several key pollutants in the atmosphere, which are more reliable, are falling, the statement said.
Levels of some pollutants including sulfur dioxide fell by as much as 22 percent since 1999 due to measures including curbing emissions from Hong Kong power plants and introducing cleaner vehicle fuels, the statement said.
Roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide, the pollutant which causes most of the high readings in the pollution index, rose by 11 percent since 1999 due to higher traces of ozone in the atmosphere, according to the statement.
Hong Kong’s roadside smog was the worst on record during the six months ended March. Roadside pollution was either “very high” or “severe” 13.6 percent of the time from January to March and 23.8 percent of the time in the October-December period last year. Hong Kong’s pollution is worse in winter months, due to weather patterns trapping emissions in the city.
Tsang is due to give his policy address for the coming year on Oct. 13. “The chief executive is still working on his policy address and we cannot comment on its content before the delivery,” a written statement from Tsang’s office said. “The government has been making continuous efforts to improve our air quality and these efforts rank very high on the priority list of the administration.”
Measures to tackle air pollution should include further incentives to replace older buses and trucks, and to promote electric vehicles and the use of cleaner fuels, the chamber of commerce said this week.
Hong Kong people are the most dissatisfied in the world with their air quality, with 70 percent of those polled expressing their unhappiness about the levels of smog, according to a Gallup survey of adults in 153 countries released in April. The next most disgruntled population was in Chad, where 59 percent of adults were highly dissatisfied with their air. Gallup said it surveyed about 1,000 adults in most of the countries, with margins of error ranging from plus or minus 2.1 percentage points to plus or minus 5.7 percentage points, depending on the country.
Hong Kong’s two biggest power companies CLP Holdings Ltd. and Hongkong Electric Holdings Ltd. may have to increase the amount of electricity they generate using natural gas to reduce emissions. Fifty-two percent of power should be produced by gas by 2015 compared with 39 percent now, according to a policy document to be discussed by the city’s Legislative Council.
Just over half of the city’s electricity is now produced by coal-fired generators, according to a government public consultation document on reducing greenhouse gas emissions released Sept. 10.