Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Misplaced Blame

Hot and humid weather should have arrived in Hong Kong by now but we're enjoying warm days and cool evenings, which is great in terms of less air conditioner use.

However, air quality in the city has been horrific -- the most polluted spring on record.

For about a third of the period from January to March the air pollution index was at a very high level, almost three times longer than the same period last year when a severe sandstorm from the mainland made its way down to Hong Kong.

Central was the worst in terms of air quality at 912 hours of very high readings, followed by Causeway Bay at 808 hours and 488 in Mongkok. A very high level reading of 100 or more means at least one of the air pollutants monitored has surpassed the air quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Department in 1987.

Severe air pollution can lead to or aggravate respiratory problems or heart disease.

There was also reduced visibility, another indicator of air pollution. The number of hours where visibility fell below 8 kilometres excluding days with high humidity and fog jumped to between 190 to 207 hours in February and March, the highest ever for the two months according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

There was also a surge in nitrogen dioxide levels roadside by 21 percent.

However, the Hong Kong Observatory explained that the reason for the high levels of air pollution was due to stronger sunshine and not enough rain.

"The weather was in general dry with rainfall low," a spokesman said. "Air pollutants would thus stay in the atmosphere instead of being washed out by the rain. In addition, there was less cloud cover than normal, which caused solar radiation that promoted photochemical smog formation."


That mumbo-jumbo of weather jargon made no sense -- someone in the department is trying to blame the weather for air pollution, when it's really man made. And why are we still following standards set in 1987?!

Alexis Lau Kai-hon, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Science and Technology said vehicle emissions should take most of the blame.

"I did not notice any major changes in regional pollution and this no doubt suggests the air quality deterioration by the roadside is of our own making," he said. "Year after year, the city's vehicle fleet is aging and will emit more pollution. But we do not have any system, such as thorough vehicle maintenance and repair, to monitor the changes."

Another academic, professor Wong Tao who is an air pollution specialist at the Polytechnic University, said the weather was more influenced by the air from the north than from the ocean in the south. He also agreed with Lau that more vehicle use was the cause of air pollution and the density of high-rise buildings which prevented air circulation.

March was also the driest on record, as observatory figures show that rainfall was about a third of normal amounts.

While it's good to see the Hong Kong Observatory isn't trying to hide reduced visibility to fog unlike Beijing does with its Blue Sky Days, but can you really say the weather caused the high levels of air pollution?

It's just another pathetic effort by the government not to seriously tackle the urgent issue of air pollution in the city and how it affects over seven million people everyday.

Hong Kong could become so progressive in legislating hybrid cars and vehicles on the streets and in the meantime building electric charging stations so that the next phase could be electric cars on the roads.

Instead the city is scaring off residents and expats who are looking for cleaner places to live while the rest of us have to put up with the choking pollution that no one with the authority cares to fix.

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