Air pollution is a complex issue that involves many factors impacting us all, and understanding its causes and effects can prove difficult.
How air pollution affects individuals depends on several factors. Besides the chemical properties of the pollutants, a person’s age and general state of health, their duration of exposure, weather conditions, and distance from emission sources effect the nature and extent of health effects observed.
Annibelle, a 36 year old corporate executive from the US living in Hong Kong says, “Ever since moving here I easily get a sore throat. It’s noticeable when I travel back to the city after being in, say, Tokyo or the US.”
Urban air pollution in Hong Kong is partly caused by emissions from motor vehicles, especially diesel vehicles. Emissions from power plants are also an important local air pollution source.
The World Health Organization provides a somewhat concise fact sheet on the topic.
“Most of the time over a year it’s just not… very good. Sometimes, yeah, you can tell. You can visibly see pollutants in the air” says Kevin, a 22 year old who was born and raised in the city.
This becomes apparent when taking the same photo, around the same time of day, over many days.
Looking from Kowloon West toward Hong Kong island on a clear day versus a day of poor air quality. Photos by: Justin Chatman
According to the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, a division of the Department of Health, studies based on local data revealed that there was a strong association between high pollution incidents and both hospital admissions and premature deaths for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the leading cause of death in Hong Kong for both men and women in 2016 is malignant neoplasms, and of those, the highest portion are types of lung cancers.
The third and fourth leading cause of death is the same between groups that year again, those being diseases of the heart and cerebrovascular diseases, respectively.
This associates three of the four leading causes of death for both men and women in Hong Kong with air pollution.
There are sixteen air quality monitoring stations around the Special Administrative Region, with three of those being on the street level in Hong Kong’s most densely populated areas, i.e. Central, Causeway Bay, and Mong Kok.
A map of locations is provided by the Environmental Protection Department in the results of their 2016 report.
There are many apps that you can download for all mobile operating systems, and they use a mix of standards depending on where they are based.
You may access real-time readings of the Hong Kong monitoring stations through the website AQICN.org, where they provide weather and air quality. They use the same measuring standards and WHO.
The screen grab below will give you an example of what you will find.