Hong Kong's worsening smog problem is being filtered into a pot of gold by a clean-air provider In a world where almost every tourist destination has an associated ailment, Hong Kong fares better than most. Kathmandu, after all, has its quickstep, which becomes two-step in Tasmania and belly in Delhi, while travellers fear Montezuma's revenge in Mexico and Tutankhamen's curse in Egypt. Thanks to its (relatively) clean water, Hong Kong escapes the worst toilet references, but 'Hong Kong nose' - officially rhinitis - is the term used to describe headaches, nasal discharges and nausea associated with breathing in the city's increasingly notorious pollution. While Hong Kong pollution does the tourist board no favours, smog and coughs are a business opportunity for a young firm in Central. Oxyvital began life in Hong Kong in 1999 running an Oxygen therapy bar in Wellington Street, but has since branched out into large-scale air purification systems for offices and entire developments. 'The idea [behind the oxygen therapy bar] was for people to go there and to have a clean environment, to breathe clean air, and to have a nice sip of fresh orange juice,' said Oxyvital managing director Ilse Massenbauer-Strafe. 'This was just a philosophy, but the lifestyle in Hong Kong is such that people don't just go to one place to breathe clean air, because then they think they waste their money by going outside in the street again. 'More and more clients asked to have the machines at home so they could sleep in clean air, so that took us in this new direction.' Oxyvital's answer to Hong Kong's dirty air harnesses technology used in the medical field of kidney treatment. Using a natural substance called zeolite, found in rock formations around the world, Oxyvital's patented process exploits zeolites' ability to dismantle dangerous pollutants. 'Polluted air is passed through the zeolite, where it is broken back into the original gas molecules, so [the equipment acts as a] processing plant,' said Massenbauer-Strafe. 'The air has to be there for a specific period of time, known as the contacting time.' Sound technology does not always lead to sound profits, but Oxyvital believes it is in the right place at the right time in Hong Kong. The firm's products are currently processing air in 1.2 million sq ft of office space in Central, with clients ranging from Hongkong Land to garment manufacturer Li & Fung. 'I think the days when you were able to sell just a harbour view or access to the MTR have gone. People will start to ask, 'Is it healthy for me to work in this area?'' Ms Massenbauer-Strafe said. 'They will ask what you as a building owner are doing to make [them] safe indoors.' The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 30 per cent of new or remodelled buildings globally cause some form of sick building syndrome and that, in the worst cases, up to 85 per cent of the occupants suffer symptoms. A study by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's centre for coastal and atmospheric research found that air pollution could be a factor in up to 15,000 deaths a year in Hong Kong. Oxyvital said a major part of the problem was that air conditioners were pulling polluted air from the streets, exacerbating their negative effects in an enclosed space, not to mention the fact air pumped out to the street was worse than when it was pumped in. 'With our solution we have the potential to not draw so much air from outside the building because we keep very good air quality inside,' Ms Massenbauer-Strafe said. 'Also the air we blow back to the street is not as polluted.' Oxyvital said a growing number of corporations were warming to the idea of cleaner air in their offices. 'The big players are starting to come in now and they do see the need,' she said. 'The corporate identity they want to show is that they care about their employees and the environment.' Oxyvital also lists customers in Thailand, Korea, Macau, Taiwan and the mainland, but the firm's main focus remains Hong Kong. 'There are so many buildings in Hong Kong and I really want to have at least 20 per cent of them - because I just want to see the sun shine again,' Ms Massenbauer-Strafe said.