Hong Kong roadside pollution soars to record highs

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The Independent Online

Hong Kong's roadside pollution soared to record highs in last two quarters, official data showed Tuesday.

Roadside pollution was "very high" or "severe" for 14 percent of the time between January and March, and 24 percent of the time in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to statistics from the Environmental Protection Department.

The six-month period was the most polluted in the city since the department started releasing quarterly findings in 1999.

A survey of people in more than 150 countries last month found Hong Kong residents were the most dissatisfied with their air quality.

The poll, by the consultancy Gallup, revealed that 70 percent of the financial hub's inhabitants were unhappy with the city's air.

In March, Hong Kong recorded its first "severe" roadside pollution warning in a decade, when a toxic soup of particulates fuelled by a massive sandstorm in Beijing shrouded the city's famed skyline for several days.

"Severe" pollution means the concentration of pollutants exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre of air. The warning advises the public to stay away from areas with heavy traffic.

Air pollution has become an increasing public health and economic headache for the authorities in the city of seven million, as green groups warned that the problem would force talented professionals to leave.

Last month, Hong Kong's leading authority on air pollution, Anthony Hedley, announced that he was leaving the city for the Isle of Man in Britain to find clean air to try to keep his respiratory problems under control.

Clean Air Network, an environmental campaign group, said it was "a sad irony that one of those most committed to alleviating Hong Kong's air pollution now has to leave the city primarily for that reason."

Emissions from the factory belt in southern China over Hong Kong's northern border combined with local emissions from power plants and transport have generated a thick blanket of haze over the city in recent years.

The government said it has stepped up efforts to cut vehicle emissions, including tax breaks for users of environmentally-friendly hybrid cars.

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