New government must do more to clean up the city's polluted air

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


Air quality is still at dangerous levels most of the time in Hong Kong and may only improve during summer. Most pollution is locally generated.

I am worried about the PM2.5 level (fine particle concentrations) in Hong Kong.

These particles can reach the deepest part of our respiratory system and part of them can enter our circulatory system, disrupting the epithelial cells and increasing inflammation levels and oxidative stress in the body.

At 70 per cent, our PM2.5 to PM10 ratio (particles under 10 microns in diameter) is higher than that in many countries, indicating we are quite close to the emissions, including primary gaseous pollutants, that can form ultrafine particulate which can be subsequently aggregated to fine particulate.

The current average annual PM2.5 levels are about 250 per cent above World Health Organisation guidelines.

I have a number of suggestions for our new government.

It must implement stringent emission controls on vehicles and ships, such as by road-pricing charges (which operate in London and Singapore). An emission control area can reduce marine emissions near the special administrative region.

An annual eco-prize (say HK$10,000) can be awarded to registered households and the commercial sector that meet low levels of electricity consumption per capita.

There should be an award for working-age (18-65) adults who live close to their workplace, thus enabling them to lower their transport fuel consumption.

Automatic waste-collection checkpoint stations should be installed at buildings and estates (monitored by closed-circuit televisions) and the Octopus cards of registered households and organisations should be credited (HK$10-20 a day) if they dump their waste daily into the correct recycling boxes.

Eco-accountants should be employed to handle these prizes and financial awards given to households and organisations that reduce emissions and volumes of waste.

The government should consult environmental and public health experts, and inventors and providers of technology. When it introduces new programmes, it should promote them through extensive public education.

All Hong Kong citizens should write to their district councillors or representatives in the Legislative Council, telling them that improving air quality with the right solutions and tightening environmental standards should be their first priority.

Lai Hak-kan, School of Public Health, University of Hong Kong