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Thursday, January 5, 2017, 23:09

EPD: Air quality significantly improved in 2016

By Li Yinze and Luis Liu

EPD: Air quality significantly improved in 2016
A picture shows a clear blue sky over Victoria Harbour dividing Hong Kong island (foreground) and the Kowloon peninsular (background) in Hong Kong on Oct 27, 2010. (AFP PHOTO / Antony DICKSON)

Hong Kong had a year of better air quality in 2016 with the number of bad air days falling by 44 percent, Environmental Protection Department (EPD) statistics show.

Roadside detectors even recorded a 61 percent decline in the number of days of “high pollution”, according to the department’s annual report released on Thursday.

If calculated in cumulative high-pollution hours throughout 2016, the drop by 58 percent from that of 2015 was even deeper.

A pollution level of “high” means people’s health is being affected by air pollution , according to the EPD.

Almost all pollutants saw declines in yearly average levels, including particulate matter of 10 micrometers or less in diameter (PM10), dropping 15 percent, PM2.5 12 percent, sulfur dioxide (SO2) 10 percent, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) 4 percent.

The level of PM2.5, a particularly dangerous pollutant, had a continuous decline of 33 percent compared with that of 1999, according to EPD statistics.

However, carbon monoxide (CO) increased by 11 percent – making it the only increase this year. The reason for this is mostly emissions by road transport, according to the EPD.

Ozone is the major pollutant in the city, followed by SO2, PM 10, and PM 2.5

Mok Wai-chuen, Assistant Director (Air Policy) of Environmental Protection

Assistant Director (Air Policy) of Environmental Protection Mok Wai-chuen said ozone is the major pollutant in the city, followed by SO2, PM 10, and PM 2.5.

Hong Kong saw improvements in curbing regional ozone pollution, which still remained at a high level. An increase of sunny hours and total rainfall distribution might have also contributed to the significant improvement of air quality, Mok said.

Local air quality concern group Clean Air Network (CAN) affirmed the authority’s work in tackling air pollution. However, it argued that the Hong Kong government still has to make more effort to reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emission. This is a pollutant mainly from vehicle emissions.

CAN campaign officer Winnie Tse Wing-lam noted that the government had introduced a series of measures to improve roadside air quality. These included encouraging installation of anti-pollution devices, and setting up special zones for low emission buses.

The average level of NO2 recorded dropped by 2 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) to 47 μg/m3 compared with 2015, but the level still failed to meet the World Health Organization standard of 40 μg/m3.

She urged government departments to set up “emission profiles” by collecting information on pollutants emitted from different sources.

"The authority should formulate a transport management solution based on the data collected,” she added.

Meanwhile, according to the EPD, west New Territories, namely Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and Tung Chung, had worse air quality last year. This was mainly the result of pollutants from the Pearl River Delta.

In 2016, Hong Kong’s neighboring city Shenzhen recorded a yearly average level of PM2.5 at 27 μg/m3. This is the lowest among first-tier mainland cities. Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong province, documented 36 μg/m3 – down by 7.7 percent from 2015.

In 2012, along with other regional cities, Hong Kong signed the Emission Reduction Plan for the Pearl River Delta region up to 2020, which aims to reduce air pollution within the area.

Tse said it was still too early to evaluate the effectiveness of such cooperation with other Pearl River Delta cities on pollution reduction. This is because a comprehensive report will only be accessible in 2020.

EPD: Air quality significantly improved in 2016
Graphic by Alex Tang/China Daily
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