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Hong Kong ‘Very High’ Pollution Causes Health Warning

Hong Kong air pollution reached “very high” levels at all three roadside station monitoring stations, prompting the government to advise people with heart or respiratory problems to avoid long stays in heavy traffic.

The pollution index, an indicator of air quality, was 151 in the Central district, 130 in Causeway Bay and 123 in Mong Kok as of 3 p.m. local time, the Environmental Protection Department said on its Web site today. The government discourages people with asthma and cardiovascular disease from outdoor activity and physical exercise when index readings exceed 100.

Hong Kong’s air pollution rose to 500, the highest possible reading on the 23-year-old index, on March 22 due to sandstorms in northern China, sparking renewed criticism of local efforts to improve air quality. Pollution is often cited as an issue for companies trying to recruit workers to the city.

“Parents had to deal with schools canceling sports days; people had to change their behavior,” said Christine Loh, who leads public policy research institute Civic Exchange. “They were hit by something extraordinary and it has crystallized the issue much more deeply and personally for them.”

Hong Kong’s buildings trap emissions and cause them to accumulate during the week, said Joanne Ooi, chief executive officer of independent advocacy group Clean Air Network, which sends e-mail alerts when the government’s index rises above 100. “What we have is a toxic build-up of roadside emissions.”

Hong Kong may accelerate replacement of old buses, change transit routes and set up low-emission zones to cut pollution, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau said in a release in March. Old buses are expected to be eliminated from city roads by 2019, according to Yau.

Information Officer Y.F. Chau of the city’s Environmental Protection Department said in an e-mail today that “occasional rain” today and tomorrow should lower the pollution index level.

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