|Air quality below WHO standards: Green groupJune 14th, 2012 By Ming Yeungmingyeung@chinadailyhk.com A green group charges that air pollution levels at most of Hong Kong’s 14 monitoring stations exceeded recommended World Health Organization guidelines in the first half of this year. The Clean Air Network studied government data on pollutants such as nitrogen oxide and respirable suspended particulates, and found that only two of the 67 readings didn’t exceed WHO recommendations. The Environmental Protection Department released an Air Pollution Index (API) with numbers ranging from 0 to 500 and levels from low to severe. Hourly readings are taken at the monitoring stations throughout the year on five major pollutants. A reading above 100 means at least one pollutant fails air quality objectives. Environmentalists complain that Hong Kong’s API is more than 20 years old and permits pollution levels two to four times greater than the maximum levels recommended by WHO guidelines. Pollution levels generally vary from medium to high, although the biggest problems are at built-up areas like Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Central. Despite the fact the government has long blamed factories on the mainland for the city’s dirty air, the group’s campaign manager Erica Chan Fong-ying acknowledged that a decreasing trend in overall air pollution in Hong Kong is most likely due to the improvements in regional air quality, rather than action on the part of the SAR government. Concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, to which vehicle emissions are a significant contributor, in the Pearl River Delta region fell 13 percent, while those in Hong Kong, in contrast, increased by 12 percent, proving the city’s roadside pollution to be the main culprit. “This mid-year air quality review shows that Hong Kong’s air quality has not shown any improvement locally, and even goes so far as to negatively impact regional air pollution; this is something that our city and our government should be ashamed of,” Chan said. “We urge the government to strengthen cooperation with the PRD authorities, eliminate old and polluting commercial diesel vehicles from our roads.” The group said measurements in the new air quality objectives, which will not be implemented until 2014, make no major difference to the current one and won’t improve air quality. The worsening air quality may further undermine the city’s role as an international financial center since businesses consistently rank pollution as one of their top issues of concern in moving staff to Hong Kong. Human resources consultancy ECA International even called air pollution “Hong Kong’s Achilles’ heel” when the city is comparable to Singapore at all levels, except air quality. Not just wealthy expatriates loathe moving to Hong Kong. In 2010, a survey found that a quarter of Hong Kong people had considered leaving the city because of its poor air quality, up from one in five in 2008, according to think-tank Civic Exchange. The government said it has implemented a serious of measures to reduce local emissions by tightening emissions from power plants and introducing more environmental friendly vehicles on the road. “To improve local and regional air quality, the Hong Kong SAR government reached a consensus with Guangdong provincial government in 2002 to reduce the emission of major air pollutants by 20 to 55 percent in the region, using 1997 as the base year,” said the department’s spokeswoman. She said the government had taken into account of WHO recommendations when formulating the new air quality objectives which are similar to those in the advanced regions. She added that 22 new initiatives will be introduced to improve the city’s air quality.