Bloomberg News

Hong Kong to Widen Pollutants Watch as Beijing Plans to Do More

January 12, 2012

Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong, facing criticism over its air quality, will measure pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers at all its monitoring stations by March, a week after Beijing pledged to make publicly available similar data.

Hong Kong is testing sampler monitors at nine stations, adding to the five that are already measuring the fine particulate pollutants, Environment Secretary Edward Yau said in a written reply to questions from lawmakers today. Yau didn’t say if the data would be released to the public.

The former British colony’s delay in updating a 25-year air quality standard is drawing criticism from lawmakers and academics, as cities including Beijing and Taipei pledged to improve their monitoring and disclosure of pollutants. PM2.5 particulates are more dangerous than larger ones because they may interfere with gas exchange inside the lungs when inhaled, according to the World Health Organization.

“In terms of the government’s proactive approach to inform the public of pollutants, Hong Kong is lagging behind Beijing,” said Erica Chan, campaign manager for Hong Kong-based advocacy group Clean Air Network. “We need to know PM2.5 levels in real-time to protect our health. If it’s really high I should avoid going outside.”

Beijing will publish its PM2.5 data before Jan. 23, the official Xinhua News agency said Jan. 6. The announcement came after the U.S. embassy in the Chinese capital started releasing its data via Twitter, and state-owned China Daily newspaper said in a Dec. 8 editorial that the government’s initial plan to make data on PM2.5 available by 2016 was “too slow.”

Roadside pollution in Hong Kong was the worst ever last year, the South China Morning Post reported on Jan. 9, citing data from the government’s environmental protection department.

Final Proposal

The Hong Kong government is working on a final proposal to update its air quality objectives, last set in 1987, and plans to submit it to the Legislative Council for discussion “as soon as possible,” Yau said today. An earlier draft indicated the government will withhold building and operating licenses to companies should they be unable to meet emission controls.

The city’s current air quality standards are too lax and pollution exceeds recommended levels by WHO, Clean Air’s Chan said.

Hong Kong’s central business district has fine particle level worse than 558 cities surveyed by the WHO, the South China Morning Post reported Nov. 25. The WHO survey, which didn’t consider Hong Kong, looked at 565 cities.

“PM2.5 is probably the most lethal thing next to incinerator dioxins that you could breathe,” James Middleton, chairman of Hong Kong-based charity organization Clear the Air, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Safe Levels

Clean Air Network has purchased a monitor and will begin publishing data on PM2.5 levels from 5 p.m. today via its Twitter and Facebook page, Chan said.

WHO’s air quality guidelines set as safe an annual level of 10 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter. Hong Kong’s 2010 PM2.5 levels were 36 micrograms per cubic meter in the Central district, according to data from the Environmental Protection Department.

Each 10-microgram increase above WHO guidelines boosts emergency room visits for cardiovascular ailments by as much as 7 percent, a 2009 study by the Peking University School of Public Health found.

Hong Kong’s environmental department has been working with the government in nearby Chinese province Guangdong to cut emissions in the region, spokesman Y.F. Chau said in an e-mail statement. The efforts yielded a 26 percent reduction in annual PM2.5 concentrations from 2005 to 2010, he said, citing an average taken from five monitoring stations.

--Editors: Tan Hwee Ann, Allen Wan

To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at nkhan51@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hwee Ann Tan in Hong Kong at hatan@bloomberg.net


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