Website aims for less hazy presentation of smog data

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2012, 12:00am


Confusion over the government's online pollution statistics and news that roadside pollution hit its worst-ever level last year have inspired a rival website delivering the city's latest air-quality figures.

The site by web developer Steve Holmes lets users generate custom air-pollution graphs by time interval, pollutant and monitoring station.

'The government is fairly transparent about the data,' said the 42-year-old. 'But it does not present it in a readable way.'

Holmes, a Briton who founded Thought Sauce, a Hong Kong-based web-app-development consultancy, together with friends from another startup, 83bits, came up with a program that could access and retrieve Environmental Protection Department data every hour and present it on their website.

Holmes said he was especially worried about pollution now that he has a two-year-old son. But it was an incident seven years ago involving the competitive mountain runner's own health that triggered his concern: He suffered an asthma attack during a race.

'I have never experienced asthma anywhere in the world apart from Hong Kong,' he said. He checked the weather report and saw that the pollution level was 'high'.

Last month, he rented a portable monitoring station from the non-governmental organisation Clean Air Network to see for himself the levels of fine suspended particulates, known as PM2.5, and compare it with the government's readings.

'I carried it with me for the whole day. It was very interesting,' he said. In one restaurant in Central, he got levels 10 times the World Health Organisation's accepted level.

Clean Air Network started a monitor-rental scheme in January and charges HK$800 for two weeks or HK$500 for one week.

The NGO is also developing its own free iPhone application that will include government data but also a feature that allows Hongkongers to use their GPS location to report pollution witnessed first-hand. Yuling Jia, education and research manager for Clean Air Network, said it would be ready before the end of May.

The Environmental Protection Department said the Hong Kong government was determined to improve air quality, 'both for [our] citizens' health and to attract overseas talent and enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness as a financial hub and tourist destination in this region'.

Find Holmes' site at: