Hong Kong will record the worst year for roadside pollution since the city started collecting readings in 1999, according to calculations made by Bloomberg based on government data.
Roadside smog reached “very high” or “severe” levels on the city’s air pollution index, triggering government health warnings, at least 12.6 percent of the time at monitoring stations this year, even without including data collected this month, Bloomberg calculations show. That compares with very high or severe roadside pollution recorded 10.62 percent of the time during the whole of 2009.
Business leaders including the General Chamber of Commerce have said pollution is harming the city’s ability to recruit top executives to Hong Kong. About 25 percent of respondents to a survey published earlier this month said smog has led them to consider leaving the city because of concerns over their health.
“It’s obvious from the roadside pollution we’ve seen this year that efforts to tackle this problem need to be redoubled,” said Joanne Ooi, chief executive officer of the advocacy group Clean Air Network. “The chief executive and government have acknowledged that this is a problem, but quicker and stronger action needs to be taken,” she said by telephone.
The pollution index topped 100 at all three of the city’s roadside monitoring stations today, as it has every day since Dec. 20. “Very high” or “severe” levels of roadside pollution were recorded 1.86 percent of the time in 2000, the first full-year of publicly available data, according to calculations made by Bloomberg.
The higher incidence of roadside pollution is due to an increase in levels of nitrogen dioxide, created by older vehicles’ exhaust emissions and higher levels of ozone in the atmosphere, a statement from the government’s Environmental Protection Department said.
Measures to tackle the problem announced by the Chief Executive Donald Tsang in October included fitting equipment to clean exhaust fumes from older buses and a pilot project to set up low-emission zones in parts of the city, the department said.
Levels of roadside pollutants including sulfur dioxide fell 36 percent from 2005 to 2009 after the government improved emission standards for new vehicles and offered subsidies to encourage drivers to buy newer, cleaner diesel trucks, according to the statement.
“In recognition of the urgency to take action to improve air quality we are sparing no effort in introducing air quality improvement measures,” the department said.
Truck drivers buying cheaper and dirtier diesel fuel in mainland China and emissions from ships’ engines in the harbor contribute to the smog, according to Michael DeGolyer, an academic at Hong Kong Baptist University who studies the issue.
“When you combine ships being unloaded onto trucks, then you really have some sections of Hong Kong where the roadside pollution is extremely high,” DeGolyer said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
If smog reaches “very high” levels at roadside, the government warns Hong Kong’s 7 million people that anyone with heart or respiratory illnesses should avoid prolonged stays and reduce physical exertion in heavy traffic areas.
People in the city are the unhappiest in the world with their air quality, with 70 percent of those polled expressing discontent about the levels of smog, according to a Gallup survey of adults in 153 countries released in April. The next most disgruntled country was Chad.
About 774 people died prematurely in Hong Kong due to illnesses related to air pollution so far this year, according to an estimate from the Hedley Environmental Index, a Web site run by the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.