There is still work to be done to clean up Hong Kong’s air

The government has a chance to redouble efforts to upgrade local truck and bus fleets and develop a strategy to cut the growth in the number of cars

Outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying listed the environment as one of his priorities when campaigning for office. That was five years ago. Were he to have sought a second term in office, would he have been able to campaign on his government’s record in fighting air pollution? It is a mixed scorecard. Undersecretary for the environment, Christine Loh, says a report assessing performance under the 2013 Clean Air Plan, due out in a few weeks, will show there has been “significant progress” towards hitting international targets. But that is when measured against a bar that has been set fairly low.

Annual average roadside levels of PM10 – respirable particles smaller than 10 microns – dropped from around 53 micrograms per cubic metre in 2012 to less than 40mcg last year. The report projects a further fall to 30mcg by 2020. Projections for the fall in the more insidious hazard of PM2.5 will not be known until the report is out.

Roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) fell from 120mcg to 80mcg and are forecast to drop to 65mcg by 2020, against the WHO’s standard of 40mcg. In terms of “bad air” days and reduction of pollutants, there has been significant impact on air quality, according to Loh. Most progress was made in lowering shipping emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2), thanks to legislation requiring ships to switch to low-sulphur fuel on berthing. A new emissions control area for Pearl River Delta waters to be set up by the mainland in 2019, requiring all ships to burn low-sulphur fuel in regional waters, is expected to slash SO2 levels to one third of those in 2012.

However, most pollutant levels are still far above the WHO’s ultimate targets, with roadside and ambient pollution hovering at unsafe levels and smog-inducing ozone still a major regional headache. The HK$11.7 billion scheme to subsidise the phasing out of old diesel-burning commercial vehicles has helped improve roadside air. The government is conducting a five-year review of the city’s air quality objectives. It is a chance to redouble its efforts to upgrade heavy-polluting local truck and bus fleets, and developing a strategy for curbing the growth in the number of cars, which has worsened pollution, and for providing incentives to use clean energy.

(Reposted from South China Morning Post)

How Bad is Hong Kong’s Air Pollution Problem?

Hong Kong, we have a problem. The city is literally drowning in air pollution with no relief in sight.

It’s been studied for some time now that air pollution is detrimental to health and well-being. Time has just provided even more research showing that there are increasing negative effects of breathing in unclean air, with a markedly increased risk as the level of exposure increases.

The South China Morning Post reports that Hong Kong Air pollution which have been exceeding the WHO standards for the longest time, will get even worse. The Clean Air Network stated that this already is cause for alarm as the levels are clearly detrimental to health.

Effects of Air Pollution on Health

Air pollution has both acute and chronic effects on human health, affecting a number of different systems and organs. The responsible elements are:

  • carbon monoxide (CO),
  • sulfur dioxide (SO2),
  • nitrogen oxides (NOx),
  • respirable particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10).

These elements of are proven to be affect the body in a number of serious ways. For adults, these could range from minor upper respiratory irritation leading to chronic respiratory bronchitis. These in turn are aggravating circumstances to asthma, lung cancer, and heart disease. Children are not spared because they suffer from acute respiratory infections.

In addition, short- and long-term exposures have been linked with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy. The death rate in Hong Kong from air pollution increased as follows: 42 per cent by coronary heart disease, 24 per cent from strokes, and 22 per cent from cardiovascular disease.

Air pollution impacts us even in the our everyday routines by lowering our overall well-being and ability to conduct a normal life.

Lower work productivity

Companies and businesses are all about efficiency. They invest in people thru advanced training and continuing education. But all of these are negated by increasing amounts of air pollution.

The main culprit here is Particulate Matter, or simply PM. This form of air pollution can enter air conditioned buildings. Once breathed in, PM is known to affect the central nervous system which leads to lower concentration levels, lower intelligence and shorter attention spans.

A study conducted by the University of Southern California on call center workers in Shanghai show that the employees productivity dropped by 6% on days when high levels of pollution were recorded. Adding to their findings, a 10 point reduction in pollution levels would increase worker output by 1.5%. Putting that in perspective, it translates to an incredible  ¥15 billion [$2.2 billion] annually. Even in US cities, if they had dropped their pollution indexes to normal levels, they would have seen better worker output worth $374 million.

Missed school days

Anything that affects our offspring is a matter of concern. Studies have been done in both the economic and medical fields on the negative effects of air pollution on school age children.

The most obvious but nonetheless serious is absenteeism. Heightened exposure to air pollution almost always leads to children getting ill or not well enough to attend school. A study done in Michigan USA showed that schools located in areas with higher air pollution having the lowest pupil attendance rates. These same schools also have the highest proportion of students failing to pass tests for state educational standards.

Beyond the classroom, air pollution impacts young children for the long term via impaired mental or brain cognition development. Research clearly indicates that children from schools in polluted areas had lower cognitive scores than children in schools in a pollution free environment. They also found significant associations between traffic-related air pollution exposures with poor performance on several neurobehavioral tests.

But life goes on. Even if there are no expected improvement for the coming year, there are still several ways you can minimize your exposure and risks that air pollution bring with it.

A Little Planning Goes A Long way

This does not mean never coming out of your home, but to be conscious about it.

The biggest factor in our exposure to unclean air is roadside pollution from transport vehicles like cars, buses, and ferries. If you want to take a walk or do a 5 kilometer run, schedule it during hours that there are less transport activities. Studies have shown the atmosphere takes advantage of the nighttime lull in activity to reset its balance. So early mornings are best because a lot of the airborne pollutants have been washed out when it is dark.

For those of you who work in an area where air pollution is known to be high, make an effort to get out as expediently as possible. Reserve your outdoor activities like exercise, shopping or dinner out to areas with less transport activity and more likely closer to your home.

If You Drive, Follow the Idle Law.

Keeping their engine running burning fuel yet going nowhere is an air pollution nightmare. Switching your car off is a small inconvenience compared to the impact it has on the environment. Car manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Mazda, Toyota now have engine start-stop systems where the vehicle automatically switches off when stationary and starts back up when the accelerator is stepped on. Surely auto manufacturers would not develop the system if the benefit was inconsequential.

First enacted in 2012, the Hong Kong government began the Motor Vehicle Idling Ordinance. This law states that the driver of a motor vehicle is prohibited from causing or permitting any internal combustion engine to operate for more than three minutes in aggregate within any continuous sixty-minute period while the vehicle is stationary or idling unless an exemption applies.  A violator of the ordinance may be issued with a Penalty Notice requiring him or her to pay a fixed penalty of HK$320.


Use a Good Face Mask.

Even the plain old surgical mask will block up to 80% of particles in the air, plus its highly affordable. A bike mask will do slightly better at 82%. But masks from well-established brands like Totobobo may do even better.

Equip Yourself with a Home Air Filter

Heightened awareness of the air pollution’s effects on productivity have given incentive for office buildings to take action. More and more of them are now equipping their climate control systems with air purifiers. The system is expensive so will definitely add a check mark to a potential tenant’s advantages column.

This same air purification technology is easily available for your homes at an affordable price. Renaud has gathered some the best brands in this increasingly important home appliance, and is making it easily available. Our website is both informative and easy to navigate. If you have questions, you can call us at (852) 5804-4760 and we’d be more than happy to answer them.

Enter the New Year with a breath of fresh air!

Protect Your Home from  Indoor Air Pollution – We conduct FREE Air Quality Test!

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