Act now on city's pollution crisis, warn campaigners
Green group urges measures on roads and at sea as environment official pledges 'big moves' on city's pollution crisis ahead of policy address
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Air quality at shopping and commercial districts is continuing to decline ahead of new measures to curb the city's pollution problem, says a green group's review.
The group, Clean Air Network, has called for bold and immediate action to improve air quality, including implementing rules to scrap old diesel trucks and make all sea vessels switch to cleaner fuel.
Undersecretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai echoed their wishes, suggesting yesterday that tough action was on the way. "We will have big moves," she told a meeting of the Legislative Council's subcommittee on air quality. "After all the money is spent … there will be apparent changes on the roads."
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is expected to announce, in his maiden policy address on Wednesday, a generous subsidy scheme to replace old vehicles .
Clean Air Network's call came after their review found no improvement in the roadside nitrogen dioxide level in Mong Kok, despite bus firms agreeing in 2011 to deploy low emission vehicles to busy districts.
The pollutant's annual average concentration in the area hit a new record of 122 micrograms per cubic metre last year - 1.6 per cent higher than the previous record set in 2011.
And although there were slight improvements the nitrogen dioxide levels in Central and Causeway Bay - dropping to 117mcg and 120mcg from 125mcg and 126mcg respectively last year - these levels were still at least three times the limit advised by the World Health Organisation.
The pollutant, which can cause respiratory and heart diseases in cases of over-exposure, has become one of the city's biggest problems in recent years.
While roadside sulphur dioxide and particulate levels have fallen, nitrogen dioxide levels have surged since 2008, peaking in 2011. Officials blame bus and truck emissions, poor maintenance of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) vehicles and chemical reactions with other pollutants.
Clean Air Network's chief executive officer, Kwong Sum-yin, said old diesel trucks and franchised buses were the main culprits of pollution in Mong Kok.
The group's review also found that Sham Shui Po and Kwai Chung - districts situated close to the container ports and key logistic routes - remained the most affected by sulphur pollution.
Addressing the issue of pollution by marine emission, Loh said legislation was necessary to make vessels switch to cleaner fuel. She said if this was done, Hong Kong would be the first in Asia to introduce such rules. "What should be done must be done with great force," she said.
Loh said she had asked two local universities to submit proposals on long-term research on public health and air pollution.
This was crucial to show the health costs of pollution and the benefits of curbing it, she said.
Professor Anthony Hedley, of the University of Hong Kong, told the subcommittee yesterday that American studies had showed that for every US dollar spent on cleaning up the air, four dollars of benefits were generated.
An index, named after Hedley and which tracks real-time air pollution, showed that poor air quality caused more than 3,000 premature deaths and monetary loss of HK$39 billion last year.
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Department said most roadside pollutants showed a slight to moderate drop in concentration last year, compared to the 2005 levels.
But the nitrogen dioxide level was 24 per cent higher than in 2005. He said the number of days when the roadside air pollution index was over 100 also fell, from 172 days to 142 last year.