Bad-air days leave critics choking mad
Mary Ann Benitez
Activists attack government's 'go-slow' policy as pollution index sets record for year
Critics rounded on the government over bad-air days as the air-pollution index hit a year's record high of 151 yesterday, with the situation expected to continue this weekend.
Air-quality activists blamed the 'go-slow' policy of the government on air pollution, and others said that based on international standards, air pollution was actually worse than local readings indicated.
Readings touched or exceeded 100 at some time during the day at nine out of 11 general stations, and all three roadside stations in Causeway Bay, Central and Mong Kok exceeded 100.
'Today the highest roadside API [Air Pollutant Index] was 151, which is also the highest this year up to today, followed by 147 on October 7,' a spokeswoman from the Environmental Protection Department said yesterday.
'We expect the current episode will last for a couple of days until we have fresh wind with greater wind speed to help disperse the pollutant over the territories.'
The department's principal environmental protection officer, Dave Ho Tak-yin, told RTHK the very high API readings were caused by 'trappings of air pollutants under light winds coupled with the influence of regional air pollution'.
But Anthony Hedley, chairman of the University of Hong Kong's Department of Community Medicine, said the API readings were misleading because they were based on 20-year-old air-quality objectives.
'What we need to do is to resolve that by adopting the World Health Organisation air-quality guidelines. If we use those as standards, then we will have a realistic estimate of the risk,' he said.
Hong Kong's air-quality objective for particulates, for example, is 180, but the WHO guideline is 50.
So the actual readings 'would be very much higher', Professor Hedley said.
The EPD spokeswoman said Hong Kong's API systems were 'similar to the air-pollution [indices] and reporting systems currently used by most places in Asia such as Singapore, Taipei, Bangkok and Indonesia'.
Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air, said the episodes of severely polluted air were 'the result of the government's go-slow approach', which he called ' 'bad for the people and for the image of Hong Kong'.
He said the occasional improvement of air quality was due to meteorological conditions and had nothing to do with government.
Alvin Chan Yee-shing, council member of the Hong Kong Medical Association, said a 150 reading was not only bad for the sick, it was bad for every citizen's health.
Elderly patients who would benefit from a walk in the park or doing tai chi outdoors were being put at a disadvantage, he said.
Alfred Tam Yat-cheung, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Asthma Society, said: 'There is every reason to warn people to be careful, to limit outdoor activity. Don't stay on the roadside, because that is the most polluted place in the whole territory, and go to the doctor when you have respiratory complaints.'
The Department of Health said parainfluenza was 'the dominant flu-like symptoms that were spotted in patients recently'.