Hong Kong’s deteriorating visibility costs the community over HK$20 billion per year, according to health experts.
Professor AJ Hedley, an environmental and public health expert, said that “reduction of air pollution to the levels in other world cities such as London, Paris and New York would save many lives and large sums of money every year.” He also said that “there is now an urgent need to recognize the real community costs due to harm to health and lost productivity causes by air pollution.”
Using internationally developed modelling techniques a new study calculated that if Hong Kong wanted to achieve ‘good’ visibility compared to ‘average’ levels currently achieved, this would save 1,600 lives per year and avoid 64,000 bed days in hospitals.
In terms of costs, the study conservatively estimates tangible savings of HK$1.5 billion per year for health care costs, HK$0.5 billion per year in productivity savings and avoided intangible costs up to $19 billion per year.
Contrasting photographs of typical Hong Kong scenes such as Tsim Sha Tsui to Victoria Harbour on ‘poor’ versus ‘better’ visibility days, community health experts tracked pollution levels on these days.
Results showed that Hong Kong has poor visibility 45% of the time. In a research report, “Air Pollution: costs and paths to a solution – Understanding the connection between visibility, air pollution and health costs in pursuit of accountability, environmental justice and health protection”, published today, a collaborative team of experts from the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Civic Exchange, connects visibility, air pollution and related health and other costs.
The report states that Hong Kong’s roadside pollution levels are extremely high and constantly exceed local Air Quality Objectives (AQOs). Christine Loh, Chief Executive Officer, Civic Exchange emphasized that “Hong Kong needs to undertake comprehensive approaches to improve air quality including cleaner fuels for transportation and manufacturing”. Loh says: “although Hong Kong’s air pollution includes regional influences, Hong Kong’s transport pollution has a much more direct impact on the health of citizens at ground level, and much can be done to improve this.”
TW Wong, Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong, highlights that “Hong Kong’s AQOs are based on 1987 WHO Air Quality Guidelines for Europe and have not been revised since. They are clearly outdated and offer no protection to the health of Hong Kong’s citizens. The WHO has proposed new guidelines which will come into effect in September 2006 and the HKSAR Government needs to revise its AQOs to take these new findings into account, as other countries throughout the world have already done”.