For Immediate Release
Improvements in Hong Kong’s air quality lag behind Mainland’s
Clean Air Network launches “Clean Air Pledge” for Legislative Council candidates
(13th July, 2012, Hong Kong) Clean Air Network (CAN) has studied the data collected from the Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) fourteen air quality monitoring stations from January to June 2012 and found that Hong Kong’s air quality continues to be far from satisfactory. All air pollutants (NO2, PM10, PM2.5, SO2, and O3) reached levels that exceeded the World Health Organization’s (WHO) air quality guidelines at every single monitoring station in Hong Kong, with only two exceptions. Although there has been, in general, a decreasing trend in the amount of overall air pollution in Hong Kong, evidence shows that this is most likely due to the improvements in regional air quality, rather than action on the part of the Hong Kong Government. To ensure that better air quality gets placed as a higher priority soon, CAN will initiate a “Clean Air Pledge” for candidates of the coming Legislative Council election. In this way, CAN hopes that the candidates who sign will urge the Government to take stronger action. Signing the pledge will demonstrate the candidates’ willingness to protect the health of Hong Kong’s citizens and his or her resolve to press the administration for effective policy measures to clean up the air.
All pollutants exceeded the WHO’s air quality guidelines during the first 6 months of 2012
From January to June of this year, CAN found that, other than nitrogen dioxide levels in Tap Mun and ozone concentrations in Sham Shui Po, all pollutants measured by the EPD –nitrogen dioxide, suspended particulate, fine particulates,, sulphur dioxide and ozone – at all of Hong Kong’s fourteen air quality monitoring stations exceeded the WHO’s annual average air quality guidelines; a situation that is very worrying.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels at all stations, except Tap Mun, exceeded the WHO’s annual average air quality guideline and Hong Kong’s annual standard, as outlined by the city’s new Air Quality Objectives (40 µg/m3). Measurements from the Tap Mun monitoring station are considered to be representative of the state of regional air quality and vehicles are recognized as a significant source of NO2. Therefore, the past six-months data from Tap Mun, in addition to data showing that NO2 pollution at roadside stations was two times worse than at general stations, indicates that local sources are mainly to blame for Hong Kong’s poor air quality and that, in particular, vehicle emissions are a significant contributor.
Suspended particulate matter (PM10) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are both recognized to be deadly to human health due to their small size. Both PM10 and PM2.5 levels at all stations exceeded the WHO annual guidelines (20 µg/m3 and 10 µg/m3, respectively) by 2 to 3 times, indicating levels that pose a significant health threat to the general population. Furthermore, PM10 and PM2.5 levels at Causeway Bay also exceeded the new AQOs average annual standards. As for levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2), a marker of marine emissions, levels at all stations exceeded the WHO annual guideline (5 µg/m3*). Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung had the highest SO2 levels among all stations, indicating that air quality in those areas is heavily impacted by ship emissions.
Hong Kong’s new Air Quality Objectives will be ineffective in improving air quality
Hong Kong’s new air quality objectives (AQOs) were announced in 2012, but will not be implemented until 2014, and even then, there will be an additional three-year grace period. Comparing the old AQOs, the new AQOs and the WHO’s air quality guidelines will indicate whether or not the new AQOs will be lead to better air quality in Hong Kong’s future.
For sulphur dioxide (SO2), the number of exceedances within a 24-hour period is exactly the same under the current AQO and the new AQO. Similarly, the number of exceedances for levels of ozone (O3) in one-hour under the current AQOs is almost the same as the number of exceedances for levels of ozone in an 8-hour period under the new AQO. This means that the new AQOs for 24-hour SO2 and 8-hour O3 do not set the bar high enough and will make no difference, when compared to the current AQOs, in regulating current SO2 and O3levels.
The number of exceedances for 24-hour PM10 are not much different between the current AQOs and new AQOs, however, a significant difference was found between the new AQO and the WHO’s guideline for the same period. This signifies that while the new AQO is slightly more stringent than the current AQO for 24-hour PM10, it is still far too lax when compared to the WHO’s guideline and will not accurately reflect how dangerous the levels of PM10 are.
The Hedley Environmental Index estimated that, from January to June 2012, air pollution led to 1,459 premature deaths, 18,517 million in dollars lost, 71,955 hospitalizations, and 3.41 million doctor visits. The death toll due to air pollution for the first six months in 2012 is four times higher than the total number of deaths caused by SARS in Hong Kong in 2003. The Government has already invested a lot of resources into the new AQOs and should not allow them to become a stumbling block on the path to improving air quality. To ensure this does not happen, they should establish a concrete timetable for tightening the standards, and thereby, adequately protect public health.
Hong Kong’s air quality holds back overall air quality improvement in the Pearl River Delta Region
There is, in general, a decreasing trend in the overall air pollution in Hong Kong, but this is likely due to the improvements in regional air quality in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) area. This is demonstrable by concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the PRD region falling thirteen percent, while Hong Kong’s NO2 concentrations were rising by twelve percent. Hong Kong, despite being a highly-developed city, is not taking the lead in improving air quality, and instead, is holding the region back from achieving better air quality.
Campaign manager of Clean Air Network, Erica Chan, says, “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. We urge the Government to strengthen cooperation with the PRD authorities, eliminate old and polluting commercial diesel vehicles from our roads, and also collaborate with Legislative Councillors, who sign CAN’s Clean Air Pledge, in making policies that will improve our air quality.”
Download the full report here.
Summary of the powerpoint presentation [Chinese only] can also be found here.
- Clean Air Network’s Campaign Manager Erica Chan (left) and Education and Research Manager Dr. Yuling Jia (right) at the 2012 mid-year air quality review press conference, explaining Hong Kong’s air quality trends during the first six months of 2012 and comparing them to air quality in the general Pearl River Delta region.
- Prior to the Legislative Council election, CAN will seek the support of Legco candidates, represented here by the figures in the gas masks, carrying shields with the Legislative Council logo on them. They are being handed Clean Air Network’s “Clean Air Pledge,” which all candidates will be invited to sign. Signing the pledge will indicate the candidate’s willingness to protect public health and serve the best interests of the Hong Kong people.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Clean Air Network Campaign Manager
Tel: 3971 0106/ 9633 1943