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Roadside pollution worsened in Hong Kong’s Central district last year as vehicular emissions helped send nitrogen dioxide concentrations to near-record levels, an environmental advocacy group said.
Citywide levels of the pollutant, linked to damaged lung function, were the second-highest on record, according to Clean Air Network Ltd.. Particulate matter levels at all monitoring stations exceeded World Health Organization guidelines by two to three times, the group said in a report yesterday.
Hong Kong’s legislators yesterday approved HK$11.4 billion ($1.5 billion) in funding to replace old diesel vehicles. Aging buses and trucks have led to a worsening in air quality since 2007. Nitrogen dioxide levels are getting worse because of local emissions, rather than from China’s Pearl River Delta region, the environmental group said.
“As you can see from the air quality in 2013, end-of-pipe solutions are not enough considering the time it takes,” Sum Yin-Kwong, chief executive officer of Clean Air Network, said in a statement. “To speed up the improvement in air quality, we hope to see the government look into the problem from a comprehensive transport management perspective in this year’s policy address.”
The city will use the approved subsidies to phase out 82,000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles in a program that will begin on March 1, according to an e-mailed government statement citing the Environmental Protection Department. The plan should lead to a cut in levels of respirable suspended particulates and nitrogen oxides by 80 percent and 30 percent respectively, the department said.
Hong Kong has three roadside pollution monitoring stations in the busy districts of Central,Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. The Central monitor, sandwiched between the Asian headquarters of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and a Tiffany & Co. outlet, recorded nitrogen dioxide concentration levels of 126 micrograms per cubic meter last year, according to the environmental group report.
The Central roadside gauge stood at 6, the highest level in the “moderate” health risk range, at 3 p.m. today. The reading at the Causeway Bay roadside station, located in a busy shopping area, hit 7, considered to pose a high health risk, according to data posted on the department’s website.
Hong Kong introduced an air quality index on Dec. 30 pegged to pollution-induced hospital admission risks. Readings on the index are calculated based on health risks from inhaling concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Air pollution in the city contributed to 3,183 premature deaths last year, according to the group.
To contact the reporter on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hwee Ann Tan at email@example.com
If you don’t like the frequency of your air-quality alerts, you don’t have to keep them. That is the message that the Chinese government has made loud and clear as Bloomberg reports, Shanghai’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the pollution – it cynically adjusted the threshold for “alerts” to ensure there won’t be so many. In a move remininscent of Japan’s raising of the “safe” radioactive threshold level, China has apparently decided – rather than accept responsibility for the disaster – to avoid it by making the “safe” pollution level over 50% more polluted (up from 75 to 115 micrograms per cubic meter) – almost 5 times the WHO’s “safe” level of 25 micrograms.
As the smog that has choked Shanghai for much of the last week reached hazardous levels, the city’s environmental authority took decisive action to address the frequent air-quality alerts: It adjusted standards downward to ensure that there won’t be so many.
It was a cynical move, surely made to protect the bureau’s image in the face of unrelenting pollution that only seems to grow worse, despite government promises to address it.At this advanced stage in China’s development, nobody in the country (or elsewhere) — not even the loyal state news media — seems to believe that the problem is solvable, at least not any time soon. Even worse, nobody — not the state and certainly not the growing number of middle-class consumers (and car buyers) — seems ready to take responsibility for the mess.
If you can’t fix it, you might as well try to avoid responsibility for it, the thinking seems to go. It therefore comes as no surprise that Shanghai’s Environmental Protection Bureau decided to lower the benchmark for alerting the public about pollution risks. It will now issue alerts only when the concentration of the most dangerous particulates in the city’s air, known asPM2.5 (particulates smaller than 2.5 micometers in diameter) reach 115 micrograms per cubic meter. The previous standard was 75 micrograms per cubic meter. (The World Health Organization recommends not exceeding 25 micrograms per cubic meter in a 24-hour period.)
The state-owned English-language China Daily explained the decision in tone that almost obscured the absurdity of the maneuver: “The bureau said it believes the original standard is too strict, given that haze is common in the Yangtze River Delta region in winter.”
“On social networks like Weibo and Wechat, Beijingers now show photos of blue skies and white clouds as if they’re on vacation.” This show-off behavior left a bad taste, he concedes, before concluding with a final sentence that ought to serve as a rallying cry in China: “I really hope that someday people will resume reacting to blue skies and white clouds in a ‘normal’ manner.”
That’s a hope that probably won’t be fulfilled in this decade or even the next.
Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction Friday as China’s financial hub suffered one its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen metres, delaying flights and obscuring the city’s spectacular skyline.
The financial district was shrouded in a yellow haze, and noticeably fewer people walked the city’s streets. Vehicle traffic also was thinner, as authorities pulled 30 per cent of government vehicles from the roads. They also banned fireworks and public sporting events.
“I feel like I’m living in clouds of smog,” said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her six-month-old son at home. “I have a headache, I’m coughing, and it’s hard to breathe on my way to my office.”
‘Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness…’– Alan Yu, chef
Shanghai’s concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic metre Friday afternoon, an extremely hazardous level that was the highest since the city began recording such data last December. That compares with the World Health Organization’s safety guideline of 25 micrograms.
The dirty air that has gripped Shanghai and its neighbouring provinces for days is attributed to coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns, and is a stark reminder that pollution is a serious challenge in China. Beijing, the capital, has seen extremely heavy smog several times over the past year. In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October, when the winter heating season kicked off.
Pollution levels unusual for Shanghai
As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but recent weather patterns have left the city’s air stagnant. On China’s social media, netizens swapped jokes over the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, saying the financial hub was catching up with the capital in air pollution.
Alan Yu, a chef in Shanghai, satirized the air on his microblog as though he were sampling a new vintage of wine.
“Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness, and upon careful distinguishing you can even feel some dust-like particulate matter,” Yu wrote.
The environmental group Greenpeace said slow-moving and low-hanging air masses had carried factory emissions from Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces to Shanghai. But it said the root problem lies with the excessive industrial emissions in the region, including Zhejiang province to the south.
“Both Jiangsu and Zhejiang should act as soon as possible to set goals to reduce their coal consumption so that the Yantze River Delta will again be green with fresh air,” Huang Wei, a Greenpeace project manager, said in a statement.
- China to unveil £180 billion anti-pollution plan. (telegraph.co.uk)
- China to spend $275 billion to combat pollution (smartplanet.com)
- China to spend $300 billion tackling pollution as coal consumption grows (abc.net.au)