20 February 2019
High-rises are bathed in a think haze as night falls on Victoria Harbor. Pollutants from north of the border often permeate the city. Photo: Bloomberg
High-rises are bathed in a think haze as night falls on Victoria Harbor. Pollutants from north of the border often permeate the city. Photo: Bloomberg

Does HK export smog? No, we’re on the receiving end

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying drew some flak earlier this month with his common sense-defying retort when asked about his administration’s failure to tackle pollutants from across the border in a radio phone-in.

Leung said when Hongkongers point their finger at Guangdong for the haze that permeate the city, they should not forget that locally generated emissions from Hong Kong can also be a culprit for pollution in Guangdong if the prevailing wind direction is southerly.

Is Leung aware of the mismatch in size and emissions between Hong Kong and Guangdong?

Does he genuinely believe that his city, with a tiny territory of 1,100 square kilometers, a modest vehicle population of 650,000 and virtually no manufacturing sector, has the capacity to pollute the vast 598,800 sq. km. Guangdong, an industrial powerhouse with no less than 13 million cars running on roads on any given day?

Even Guangdong cadres will agree the province has no one else to blame for its deteriorating air quality but the irony is that the Hong Kong leader is so compassionate that he volunteers to make his own city a scapegoat for problems north of the border.

At least when Singapore is choking when peasants in Indonesia burn trees and shrubs to clear land for palm oil and rubber plantations, its top leader won’t tell Singaporeans that their city fumigates neighboring countries as well.

Smog that constantly shrouds Hong Kong is also weighing down the city’s overall livability and competitiveness rankings, with local professionals and expats ranking air pollution one of the major push factors when they consider emigrating overseas.

Yet, what is patent is that without the mainland’s cooperation, Hong Kong can do little to make its air a little bit cleaner.

‘Mayday’ air

Since this week, Hong Kong has once again been engulfed by thick smoke, after a filthy, gargantuan mass of dust and industrial exhaust fumes enveloped virtually the entire mainland.

High-rises along the Victoria Harbour could barely be seen against the nebulous sky on Wednesday, with Kowloon across the harbour totally invisible, after the smog from the north finally came over Hong Kong.

The Environmental Protection Department recorded higher than normal pollution levels: at 11 a.m. Wednesday, its air quality health index at many monitoring stations reached 8 or above, meaning “very high” health risk.

Districts like Tung Chung, Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun that are closer to the Pearl River estuary are among the hardest hit.

The department said in a press release that Hong Kong is under an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations from Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta. The sunshine has enhanced photochemical smog effect and formation of ozone and fine particulates as well, particularly in parts of the urban areas and at roadsides.

Locally, the weather is mainly fine and hot with light winds, which hinder effective dispersion of pollutants: higher than normal levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulates were recorded territorywide.

Experts say it’s not common for Hong Kong to experience any smog of this magnitude in its warm season, as such pollution typically occurs in winter when seasonally Hong Kong is in China’s downwind.

Real-time readings at, a website that tracks air pollution worldwide, show Hong Kong’s concentration of PM2.5 – fine airborne particulates with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, deemed to be the most dangerous as they can enter a person’s lungs and stay there – was at 129 as at 4 p.m. Wednesday, meaning 129 micrograms per cubic meter, more than five times the World Health Organization’s recommendation of no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

Hongkongers will still have to inhale heavily polluted air for a few more days as a ridge of high pressure over the northwestern Pacific is extending westwards to southeastern China, which will blow more pollutants to Hong Kong. It’s forecast that general PM2.5 index will hit as high as 250 on Friday.

Air pollution indices at some general and roadside monitoring stations may remain on the “serious” level.

Children, the elderly and people suffering from heart or respiratory illnesses should reduce strenuous physical activities outdoors, like jogging in the open air, especially in places with heavy traffic.

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Read more:

China wrestles with the economics of smog

Japanese complaints about pollution from China to get louder

Emission cheats need more than rap across knuckles

A tourist takes a photograph amid heavy smog while standing in front of a structure covered with an image of the Hong Kong Island skyline. Photo: Bloomberg

View of Wanchai and Admiralty from Central in dense smog. Photo: HKEJ

Tsim Sha Tsui could hardly be seen from Victoria Peak Wednesday afternoon when the local air pollution index hit "serious" level. PM2.5 reading was at 129. Photo: HK Observatory

Air pollution readings in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta cities at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Haze will stay for a few days until next week. Photo:

EJ Insight writer

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