STUDENTS at a top Kowloon girls' school are being exposed to dangerously high levels of air pollution, tests commissioned by the Sunday Morning Post reveal. The amount of airborne dust and dirt at the Diocesan Girls' School in Jordan Road is 30 per cent higher than safety standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The school's headmistress, Elim Pong Lau, admitted fallout from heavy traffic and constant roadworks was taking its toll on her pupils. 'We are surrounded by flyovers and roads and the children do get bronchitis, coughing, sneezing and colds,' she said. 'We used to look on it as the common colds that most people suffer from, but you [Sunday Morning Post ] have drawn our awareness to it. We just hope the Government can do something to help us.' The Drainage Services Department is responsible for the roadworks in the area. Because of nearby reclamation projects, it must dig up roads and lay new pipes but work will not be completed for at least another three months. 'We have had roadworks outside the school for 11/2 years and we are caught in the middle,' Mrs Lau said. 'Parents have rung to complain but have been passed from contractor to contractor. They did invite us to meetings to explain the work but said there was a lot more left.' The Sunday Morning Post commissioned an independent company to carry out air pollution tests at selected schools and recreation areas close to main roads across Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. On Kowloon side, the survey covered Kowloon Tong Club in Waterloo Road; New Method College in Prince Edward Road; and the Diocesan Girls' School. On Hong Kong Island, the paper targeted Belilios Public School in Tin Hau Temple Road; a children's playground across from St Paul's Convent School in Causeway Bay; and a children's play area at the junction of Gloucester Road and Victoria Park Road. While the study showed lead, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide readings were well within safety limits, levels of Respirable Suspended Particulates (RSP) - usually construction site dust or diesel engine emissions - were double those quoted by the Government's own pollution watchdog, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD). The company which carried out the tests, Tuen Mun-based MateriaLab, said high levels of RSP caused respiratory illness and reduced lung functioning. The results were most alarming outside the Diocesan Girls' School, where the figures soared to 237 unit-micrograms of dust per cubic metre (mg/m3) of air - more than triple the EPD's Hong Kong-wide figure for October of 68 mg/m3. The WHO considers health to be at risk if levels exceed 180. Students from the Diocesan Girls' School, which has 1,010 pupils, and the 1,200-pupil Belilios Public School in Tin Hau Temple Road, complained about the dirty air. A Form Five pupil at the Diocesan Girls' School, Carmen Lee, said: 'The pollution has been particularly bad since the roadworks started. The situation is so serious that every time we walk past the school, our white sport shoes turn black. Our school had to install air-conditioners in every classroom to protect our health.' A Form One pupil at Belilios Public School, Ivy Yim, said: 'I have to cover my mouth while walking up to the school because of the pollutants from a construction site.' Fred Tromp, assistant director of the EPD's air and noise division, said it was making great strides in ridding Hong Kong of its air pollution. His department was pushing for legislation to reduce the number of cars and lorries using diesel fuel, the most damaging in the territory, as well as importing cleaner fuels and fining motorists with high-emission cars. 'Hong Kong has a long way to go but we will use the carrot-and-stick approach. The sticks will be the high fines while the carrot will be passing the emissions test,' he said. But while 180mg/m3 is the maximum allowed daily RSP level, the department's average daily figure for a whole year, including seasonal fluctuations, should not exceed 55mg/m3. The dry season allows the particulates freedom to move but, during a wet month, they tend to stick to objects and cause less damage, resulting in low levels of RSPs. Mr Tromp admitted: 'We do not exceed daily pollution levels but we do breach long-term standards over the year. The levels are chronically high which is why we need the legislation.' The EPD October average of 68mg/m3 was dwarfed by the Sunday Morning Post 's findings which included readings of: 148mg/m3 for Belilios Public School; 122mg/m3 for the Kowloon Tong Club in Waterloo Road; and the huge 237mg/m3 for the Diocesan Girls' School. The figures were based on a six-hour test, usually during peak school hours. But Mr Tromp added: 'Our calculations are over a 24-hour period. This includes night-time when levels are lower and the results are distributed over the day. If you just take the rush-hour times, the figure will be much higher.' He also pointed to the Government's success in reducing lead in Hong Kong over the past 13 years: lead emission from cars was down 90 per cent while the amount of lead in the air was halved. The WHO safety limit for lead in the air is 1,500 nanograms, one billionth of a gram per cubic metre and Hong Kong's level is just 50. Also, lead emissions were running at 150 tonnes a year in 1981 but is now down to 15 tonnes. Nevertheless, the findings match studies by the University of Hong Kong, which published a paper two years ago with the Community Medicine Department on the effects of pollution on children. One of the university doctors who took part in the research, Dr T. S. Tang, said: 'We took an industrial area like Kwai Chung and an out-of-town area and compared the children's health. There was a significant difference. The children in Kwai Chung showed more symptoms of pollution, coughing and sneezing. They had more doctors' visits and more had asthma.' Lisa Hopkinson, from Friends of the Earth, said the figures were 'an obvious cause for concern'. Legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai, who spearheaded the recent CLEAR forums on how to tackle pollution, said the Sunday Morning Post figures showed pollution was still at potentially harmful levels. 'I'm not an expert but common sense says we need to measure pollution in the daytime when traffic is at its worst. They should measure from 9 am to 9 pm when children are taking in the pollution as it would be much more accurate,' Ms Loh said. An Education Department spokesman said officials regularly toured schools to advise on environmental protection. But it was up to teachers, like those at the Diocesan Girls' School, who considered they had a problem to report it.