There has been mounting public concern about the deterioration of air quality in Hong Kong.
Most people blame the mainland for the smog in our city. Due to the wind direction, PM2.5 particles travel across the border from manufacturing plants in the Pearl River Delta.
As such, according to this thinking, there is nothing we can do about it because it is outside our jurisdiction.
Many people in Hong Kong constantly monitor the air quality. The Environmental Protection Department’s website aqhi.gov.hk, which provides timely information not just on the air quality in Hong Kong but also on the health risk it poses, is useful in this regard.
True, PM2.5 particles have proven harmful to the human body and the subject has received a lot of public attention.
But in terms of near-term risks to health, it is nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone gas (O3) in the air that we should be truly concerned about.
And NO2 and O3 in the air originate from within our city, not the mainland, as these mostly result from motor vehicle emissions.
Our government should be held accountable for the accumulation of NO2 and O3 in the air, particularly in areas with the heaviest vehicular traffic such as Central, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Kwun Tong, Sham Shui Po and Kwai Chung.
This problem is largely due to poor urban planning and is therefore avoidable.
Since our government allows multiple buildings, both residential and commercial, to be built in close proximity to one another without allowing for substantial air flows among them, the harmful substances emitted by cars simply pile up at the ground level and result in high concentrations of NO2 and O3 in the air.
What we should do is demand better urban planning from the government and seek tougher regulation over the proximity of newly-built buildings in order to enhance air flows in the urban areas.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 22
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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