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Hong Kong air pollution worst since records began: official data

by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Jan 2, 2009
Air pollution across large swathes of Hong Kong last year reached its highest level since records began, despite government efforts to improve the environment, official figures showed Friday.

Hong Kong suffers high air pollution, caused partly by huge numbers of factories over the border in southern China, and there have been fears the problem could compromise its position as an international finance centre.

The number of hours for which street-level pollution exceeded the danger level in some of the city's busiest districts rose by 14 per cent in 2008, according to Environmental Protection Department figures.

The department said air pollution levels in the three main shopping and business districts were dangerous for more than 2,000 hours last year -- the highest figure since it began taking roadside recordings in 2000.

An Air Pollution Index (API) of more than 100 is considered dangerous, indicating immediate health risks, especially to people with respiratory or heart problems.

The latest figures are for Central, Hong Kong's main business district, and the Causeway Bay and Mongkok shopping areas.

They were released as Hong Kong's acting environment secretary proposed a ban on running engines of parked vehicles, the latest in a series of measures to improve the city's air quality.

The city's Chief Executive Donald Tsang has called improving air quality a "matter of life and death" for Hong Kong, and said he expects the full backing of Chinese authorities.

A report released last year by the Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange said that at least 10,000 deaths every year in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China are caused by the area's worsening air pollution.

A spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Department cautioned that the figures did not give a full picture of air quality because they reflected only the level of the pollutant that posed the greatest health risk.

However, Edwin Lau, director of pressure group Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, said this meant the true picture could be even worse than the figures indicated.

"You can look at the data from another perspective and say the problem could be even more worrying if the levels of the other pollutants were also taken into account," he told AFP.

Lau said the government needed more effective policies to improve roadside air quality, such as banning heavy diesel vehicles from driving in busy districts during peak hours.

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