Public policy think tank Civic Exchange today noted that dust from a giant sandstorm in northern China has caused record levels of air pollution. However, the greater harm comes from living in a persistently high pollution environment, and there is an urgent need to reduce the pollution Hong Kong generates itself. Toxic emissions from motor vehicles in particular remain a persistent and far greater threat to public health.
“Even though the dust storms have created record levels of particulate emissions, we must not lose sight of the fact that roadside pollution remains the single biggest threat to public health in Hong Kong”, said Mike Kilburn, Environmental Programme Manager, Civic Exchange.
According to the “Hedley Environmental Index” the dust cloud has caused levels of particulate matter to exceed 700 micrograms per cubic metre. This is more than 14 times higher than the annual level of 50 micrograms per cubic metre proposed in the World Health Organization’s Air Quality Guidelines.
The giant dust cloud bears witness to serious overgrazing leading to desertification in increasingly wider areas of northern and western China, but the dust, and the potential impact on public health will be gone in a few days. However roadside pollution has caused serious long- and short-term health impacts in Hong Kong for decades, and there are still no effective measures in place to address the problem.
Since roadside pollution is generated exclusively in Hong Kong the Hong Kong SAR Government is fully empowered to address it. Last week, in a meeting of the Legislative Council Subcommittee for Improving Air Quality, Civic Exchange urged legislators to support a proposal from the Environmental Protection Department to progressively increase licence fees for owners of the most polluting vehicles.