If there is a serious impact brought by air pollutants, is there any ways to prevent them from entering our respiratory system via nasal cavity? ‘There are no solutions. Normal surgical masks can’t do the job. If worn properly, N95 is helpful in blocking PM2.5 but not for other pollutants like ozone and nitrogen dioxides (NO2) unless a gas mask is worn which is not practical,’ both Dr. Chan and Prof. Wong answered.
Dr. Chan added, ‘what citizens can do is to keep an eye on the Air Quality Health Index updated daily by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). Also, outdoor activities should be avoided on heavily polluted days so as to stay away from harmful substances which can cause asthma and other diseases. If going outdoors is necessary, they can cleanse their nasal cavity using normal saline every night to flush away the pollutants and stimulants on the nasal mucosa. This is helpful for controlling rhinitis and asthma. When being outdoors, they are advised to consult a doctor immediately if they feel sick such as suffering from chest tightness, shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing. Otherwise, serious asthma can lead to death.’
Are there really no solutions to combat air pollution?
It seems that there is no full protection from air pollution for citizens. ‘The air quality in Hong Kong is way under the ideal standard which makes prevention difficult indeed,’ Prof. Wong said.
He brought up that the control of air quality in the U.S. is under National Ambient Air Quality Standards which is legal-binding. If the concentrations of air pollutants exceed the limits, the funding for the government will be scaled down. The air quality index in Hong Kong is called Air Quality Objectives (AQO), which is however only a goal or objective with no legal power. No punishment will be made even when the target is not achieved. As seen from the limited actions of the EPD in regulating air quality in Hong Kong, it is suggested that it might be constrained by the influence of the external environment such as air pollutions in the mainland which makes meeting the objective meaningless. Hence, only small movements are carried out. A case in point is the review of AQO which is now made mandatory to be reviewed once every five years instead of twenty years.
‘In common perceptions, controlling air pollution requires a large amount of money. Nonetheless, if we use the money to quantify the negative impact on health brought by air pollution, the economic loss to the society is even bigger. In Statistics, the life of a human being bears huge value. To be specific, a study once concluded that the life of one human being in Hong Kong worths about two million U.S. dollars. Therefore, if early death from air pollution happens in many people, the direct and indirect economic losses incurred are immense,’ Prof. Wong said.
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