Low standards do not result in high air quality

Press release - 2004-11-01
Greenpeace this morning presented a 'school' style report card to the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau (ETWB) to record their appalling performance in controlling Hong Kong's atrocious air quality. Hong Kong air quality has exceeded international safety levels by 200 percent and over during the past nine days. Some air pollutants found in the north-west New Territories even surpassed those found in the down town area.

Greenpeace campaigners in front of Central Air Quality Measuring Station

Greenpeace also presented the report to highlight the unacceptable levels of air quality that are permitted under the existing outdated Air Quality Objectives (AQO) which, in effect, hide the reality.

Wearing gas masks, two Greenpeace volunteers presented the report marked 'failed' to a representative from the ETWB in front of the Central air monitoring station near the 'Landmark'.

Edward Chan, assistant campaigner of Greenpeace, reported that over the past nine days Greenpeace had used World Health Organisation (WHO) and EU air quality standards to compare existing Hong Kong AQO. Results showed that for most of the period, air pollutants exceeded acceptable international levels by at least 200 percent. Respirable suspended particulates (RSPs) were the most significant pollutants recorded. "However, with the current loose and outdated AQO in Hong Kong, the public receive no warnings from the government to stay indoors". Chan said.

Chan cited 27th October as an example. "Monitoring stations in all districts showed that the content of RSPs were double to triple the EU safety levels. However, the Air Pollution Index (API) measurements announced by the government were all under 100 and no warning was issued to the Hong Kong public. Using the EU standard, the reading for Yuen Long should have been 308."

Greenpeace also found that rural areas like Tung Chung and Yuen Long showed unexpectedly high levels of RSPs while sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels in the north-west New Territories were even higher than down town areas like Central and Causeway Bay.

Chan blamed Hong Kong's coal plants, including CLP's Castle Peak, for most of the problem as they account for 90 percent of SO2 from local sources with Castle Peak being located near the north-west New Territories. Days with weak or even no wind aid the accumulation of SO2 in the area. Greenpeace urges the Environmental Department (EPD) and ETWB to play more of an active role in identifying, investigating and taking action against the parties responsible for poor air quality.

Chan also responded to Sarah Liao's recent argument that a tighter air quality standard would not help improve air quality. "If AQO serve only a certifying purpose instead of a reference for air conditions, why do we need the API as it doesn't help us to decide whether it is safe for us to breathe in the open air"?

Greenpeace urges the Government to immediately review and adopt stricter AQO, redefining the API so that it serves as a real air quality reference for the public to rely on. Greenpeace demands that the Government implement tighter regulations to control the major causes of bad air quality including cutting emissions from our coal burning power plants.