Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Hong Kong Pollution: 4 deaths a day

An interesting post from Chinadialogue:

Hong Kong: how to breathe easier

The economics for Hong Kong to grapple with are:
Skilled professionals were already departing Hong Kong because of the heavy pollution, the bank said, and more will surely follow.

What are the health implications and economic costs of these illnesses?
Pollution is a major cause of illness in Hong Kong. Every year, pollution is the cause of around 1,600 deaths (four per day), 64,200 hospital admissions (176 per day) and 6,811,960 doctor visits (18,600 per day). These serious health effects result in annual community losses of over HK$2 billion (around US$255 million) in direct health care costs and productivity losses, and HK$19 billion (around US$2.5 billion) in further costs arising from pain, suffering and personal loss.

The question then is just how bad is air pollution in Hong Kong?
Street-level air quality regularly falls short of the government’s Air Quality Objectives (AQOs), and even further short of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines. For example, on 19 and 20 November 2006, roadside levels of respirable suspended particulates (RSPs – equivalent to PM10) exceeded the WHO guidelines by at least 300%. Since millions of people in Hong Kong live and work in close proximity to busy roads, this presents a major health risk to city residents. Studies by local public health experts have found that these roadside pollution levels are responsible for 90,000 hospital admissions and 2,800 premature deaths every year.

Declining regional air quality means visibility has also decreased dramatically. In 2004, low visibility occurred 18% of the time – the highest on record, according to the Hong Kong observatory.

The most problematic air pollutants in the region, besides RSPs, are ozone and nitrogen dioxide. But what are the sources of this pollution?

Most of Hong Kong’s power is generated by burning coal. In fact, electricity generation produces half of Hong Kong’s total emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulates, and 92% of its total sulphur dioxide emissions. Most local power stations do not yet have flue gas desulphurisation, although equipment is being installed and the government has required that all new generation capacity should come from natural gas.

Hong Kong’s roads are also the most crowded in the world, with almost 280 vehicles for every kilometre of road. The city’s vehicle fleet is dominated by heavily polluting, ageing goods vehicles, most of which run between the city and the Pearl River Delta. Diesel commercial vehicles are responsible 90% of RSPs and 80% of nitrogen dioxide emissions from the entire road transport sector, despite making up only 23% of the vehicle fleet. Double-decker diesel buses and a steadily growing fleet of private cars have also added to congestion and pollution.

Recent studies have shown that although emissions from marine vessels make up a relatively small proportion of total emissions, they affect dense population centres on the Kowloon peninsula, where container terminals are located, and so have a significant public health impact. Bunker fuel is highly polluting, and these terminals function 24 hours a day.

But Hong Kong’s air quality not only suffers from severe local air pollution generated by the city itself, but also regional smog – pollution that arises from the industry of the Pearl River Delta area.

So the answer is "pretty bad".

Solutions? According to Civic Exchange (the CEO of which wrote the article) the answer is:
1. Increase local regulations on air quality.
2. Encourage more fuel efficient cars.
3. Reduce emissions from port activities.
4. Speak to China to reduce regional pollution.

Not rocket science but always good to raise these issues in the media.

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