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By ExpatBriefing.com Editorial
15 January, 2014
New figures show that air pollution in Hong Kong is continuing to increase, several years after the issue of air quality was highlighted as a growing obstacle to recruiting international staff.
The Clean Air Network (CAN) reviewed air quality monitoring data for 2013 gathered by the Environmental Protection Department, and found that levels had exceeded standards set by the territory's Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) and in some places had reached record levels. In particular, roadside nitrogen dioxide levels over 2013 were the second-worst recorded in Hong Kong's history, while ozone levels in some areas reached record highs. Also, levels of suspended particulate matter and fine particulate matter were two to three times higher than WHO annual guidelines and also higher than the AQOs, which are less strict.
There was also a slight increase in sulphur dioxide levels from marine emissions compared with 2012, and although levels have decreased over the past decade they remain higher than the WHO annual guideline. CAN suggests that the AQO is too lax, observing that "the bar is not set high enough to provide an incentive for improving Hong Kong's SO2 levels."
The CAN has also drawn attention to figures from the Hedley Environmental Index, which publishes details of the economic costs of Hong Kong's air pollution in terms of public health impacts and their monetary value. The Index estimates that in 2013, air pollution caused more than 3,000 premature deaths, more than 150,000 hospitalizations, and more than 7,000 visits to a doctor. Further, the cost of pollution came to HKD40.5m (USD5.2m).
In 2012, it was reported that air pollution in Hong Kong had increased ten-fold between 2005 and 2011. In the same year Regus, which supplies office space and services, produced research indicating that three-quarters of companies in Hong Kong saw pollution as an obstacle to international recruitment.
The Environmental Protection Department is currently introducing a scheme to phase out pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles. The Department says that the move will reduce emissions of suspended particulates by 80 percent and nitrogen oxides by 30 percent. However, the CEO of CAN, Sum Yin Kwong said that the figures show that "end-of-pipe solutions" are inadequate. He added: "To speed up the improvement in air quality, we hope to see the government look into the problem from a comprehensive transport management perspective in this year's policy address."
CAN suggests strict standards for vehicle inspection and maintenance, the designation of comprehensive low emission zones, and mandated fuels for marine vessels.
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