Choking HK's future

Choking HK's future

24 June, 2012
Air: a silent killer?
HK's awful air quality raises concerns

With Hong Kong’s air only safely breathable 41 days in the year, and air pollution being the alleged cause of 1,100 deaths per year, air quality needs to be taken more seriously than the government has been doing.
In July of 2009, the government announced plans to revise the Air Quality Objectives (AQOs). This is the first time the AQOs have been reviewed since they were created in 1987. These objectives essentially set standards for the maximum level for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxides, and respirable suspended particulates. While Hong Kong’s air quality objective for particulates is 180, the guideline suggested by the WHO is 50. Unless the Hong Kong government is willing to look to other existing policies that work, the air quality will remain deplorably poor by current global standards.
The main culprit of air pollution in Hong Kong is transportation – buses, cars, trucks and shipping. There have been government actions to discourage people from keeping old vehicles, including higher license fees for trucks and vans 15 or more years old. So far, 13,000 owners have taken advantage of a subsidy launched in 2007 to replace diesel vans and trucks covered by Euro I or before, and 8,000 vehicles have been deregistered at the end of their useful lives. But there are still 38,500 ‘dirty’ vehicles in the city. But much more can be done to push for a shift to cleaner roadside air, such as hybrid vehicles and EVs, particularly in the public transport field. For the shipping industry, Hong Kong is doing little to ensure that ships are using cleaner fuel, especially compared to countries in Europe and North America which have taken great measures in recent years. For instance, in the Baltic and North Seas, ships are only allowed to use fuel with sulphur content of 1.5% or less. Ports in Vancouver, Seattle and Los Angeles have partnerships with port operators, environmental authorities and public health experts and incentives in place to encourage cleaner fuels be used when entering their waters. Bunker fuel can have up to 4.5% of sulphur content, compared to diesel in vehicles in Hong Kong which contains 0.005% sulphur. Power generation also plays a role, as the power generation still relies on coal in Hong Kong even though cleaner sources of energy generation are available.
At the end of the day, the cost savings achieved are at the expense of Hong Kong people’s general health. Hong Kong’s local NGO The Clean Air Network (CAN) has recently created the “Clean Up the Air, One Signature at a Time” campaign by working with over 200 cafes, restaurants and gyms in Hong Kong to conduct a petition for clean air on CAN’s behalf. This campaign aims to educate people in Hong Kong about air pollution and, more importantly, to drive political support for clean air policies.
Did you know that for the Hong Kong government to follow up a complaint about a smoky or dirty emissions vehicle, the complaint must be made by a trained “smoky vehicle spotter”? The EPD conducts free training sessions for volunteers. Get registered here: Kong/epd/english/how_help/report_pollution/spotter_training.html Image via

By: Ecozine Staff


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