Hong Kong’s air pollution caused more than 1,600 premature deaths in the first half of the year, almost 40 times the number of fatalities attributed to the H7N9 avian flu virus, according to a study by the Clean Air Network.
The air pollution also cost HK$18.7 billion ($2.4 billion) in the six months ended June 30, showed the study, which cited data from the Hedley Environmental Index. It was responsible for 76,361 days spent in the hospital and 3.6 million visits to doctors, the data show.
All pollutants measured by the Environmental Protection Department at all of Hong Kong’s 14 monitoring stations exceeded the World Health Organizations’s annual average air quality guidelines, with the exception of nitrogen dioxide levels at Tap Mun, the report found. The average levels of nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulates and sulfur dioxide were higher in the first half of 2013 from a year earlier, the study shows.
“This mid-year air quality review shows just how critical it is that the government take immediate action to implement effective policies in order to safeguard public health,” Kwong Sum-yin, chief executive officer of Clean Air Network, said in a statement today. He pointed to what he said was a lack of progress in government initiatives to retire old diesel commercial vehicles, the development of optimized traffic policies and feedback on a petition to install onshore power facilities to curb emissions from ships.
The Clean Air Network also called on the government to speed up the replacement of catalytic converters for taxis and mini-buses, expedite bus route rationalization, create low-emission zones and continue efforts with the Pearl River Delta administration to improve regional air quality.
Hong Kong’s Central and Western districts saw a 22 percent increase in the levels of nitrogen dioxide from a year earlier. Leung Chun-ying, chief executive of the Special Administrative Region, announced in January that the city is offering HK$10 billion in subsidies to replace old diesel vehicles after a government audit last year showed that air quality has worsened since 2007.
Hong Kong University’s Hedley Environmental Index uses a peer-reviewed methodology to indicate the public-health impact of air pollution.
The air quality in Beijing was at hazardous levels for 20 days in January this year, according to U.S. Embassy readings. The measure showed that the average level of PM2.5 pollution in the city during that period was similar to an airport smoking lounge, based on comparisons with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
PM2.5 refers to fine air particles that pose lung and heart disease risks.