Ideas to cut causes of smog aired, but for one leading figure they're too late A new colour-coded air pollution alert system similar to the rainstorm warning system - with mandatory action at the highest level - is proposed in Hong Kong's first public consultation paper on clean air. Mandatory actions could include ordering a stop to pollution-creating activity and asking businesses to take voluntary actions such as halting vehicle use or having employees work from home. The paper also says the controversial idea of electronic road pricing should be considered again and suggests use of eco-friendly light bulbs be made mandatory. Prepared by the semi-official Council for Sustainable to Development, the paper says the alert would need to be issued in advance of high levels of air pollution but acknowledges this could cause problems in the event of a false alarm. Council sources said the current daily air pollution index readings were only educational and were not prompting people to take positive action. 'At present, children, the elderly and people with respiratory diseases are advised not be exposed outdoor or do exercise when the index reaches above 100. These are only passive actions,' a source said. 'There is a sense of helplessness among the public when high-API days are announced, because they have no option but to carry on with normal daily activities.' He said a 'clear and strong forward alert system' was needed, like rainstorm warning signals which were simple and easy to understand. 'How about a colour-coding scheme, where green means the air quality is good, amber means some action must be taken, and red denotes urgent action must be taken? 'Of course, we should consider what needs to be done should there be a false alert. More importantly we have to ensure the public appreciates the urgency in taking action on days of high alert, just like when the black rainstorm warning signal is hoisted, people go home. We need some mandatory and voluntary measures to go with the alert system.' The council's paper, to be released next month, cited the example of Toronto, where a smog alert is issued when periods of poor air quality are expected within 24 hours. On high-smog days, people in Toronto are advised to car-pool, travel by train or work from home. They are advised to avoid strenuous outdoor activities, while those with breathing and heart problems are requested to pay special attention to a worsening of their symptoms. Toronto's action plan also requires government departments to reduce the use of non-essential petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles, oil-based paints, solvents and cleaners, as well as postponing the use of petrol-powered equipment and delaying the refuelling of vehicles until nightfall. Government staff are asked to take public transport or walk to work, and to wear casual clothes. Some non-essential services are temporarily reduced or suspended. The sources said Hong Kong should adopt some of these measures, as well as introduce road pricing to discourage private vehicle use. The council, headed by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, will seek public views on electronic road pricing and ways to reduce energy consumption, such as the mandatory use of eco-friendly light bulbs. But the existing API may not need to be replaced. 'The API could be used to complement the new alert system,' the source said. 'And there could be different alerts for different types of impending pollution, such as one for haze or low visibility, and another for air pollution levels. The public will be asked about all these questions.'