Environmental Protection Department Fails Hong Kong In Record Pollution

Air pollution cast a grey haze over the city yesterday.

It is best if you do not go outdoors. If you need to, try not to breathe. Record levels of air pollution were recorded yesterday in Hong Kong. We’re also in the middle of a long, strong heat wave.

And while the Hong Kong Observatory has a world-best public advisory system in place, the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department is failing the citizens of Hong Kong. Air pollution is at record levels and public health is at jeopardy, yet there is little done to provide timely updates and information.

Back in 2003 the Hong Kong suburb of Mongkok hit a record high API (Air Pollution Index) of 182. This index is monitored by the government. API is explained on the Environmental Protection Department’s website:

“The Air Pollution Index (API) is a simple way of describing air pollution levels. In Hong Kong, the API converts air pollution data from several types of pollutants into a value ranging from 0 to 500.” (API & You)

That 182 record from 2003 falls into the category of ‘Very High’ (EPD: What does the API tell us?). Then in 2011 the API crept higher and higher in February and May. Always the numbers were in the ‘Very High’ category.

And then there was yesterday. For the first time in over a decade, Hong Kong recorded API above 200 – rated as the ‘Severe’ category. In Central air pollution registered 212 on the API.

Yet for the general public, there remains little easy data to access – and no public advice system. The Environmental Protection Department does a deplorable job at presenting the data (see detailed explanation below).

In direct contrast, the Hong Kong Observatory is a well-oiled machine. The public advisory system has become institutionalised across the country. Typhoon Warning signals are publicly displayed on roadside signs and in office building lobbies. Those with an iPhone can download the HKO App. At 06:45 this morning my phone flashed the latest advisory – Very Hot Weather Warning (temperatures above 33 degrees Celsius).

Yet the public health consequences of severe pollution are as bad if not worse for the public health, according to one chart found on the EPD website:

People with existing heart or respiratory illnesses (such as coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, asthma and chronic obstructive airways diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema) may experience significant aggravation of their symptoms.

There may be also widespread symptoms in the general public. These include eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing, phlegm and sore throat.

Compare the laborious process below with the Heldey Environmental Index provided by The School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong. This simple to understand chart makes air pollution fast and friendly for all to access, and to share on Facebook:

Heldey Index for 3 August 2012

Contrast that with the system below, and you’ll agree with me:

The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department is failing to provide timely, understandable information to the people of Hong Kong.

Antiquated and Failing:
EPD API Information Buried from Public

On a day of new records, care to know the current API? Follow me…

Go to the Environmental Protection Department home page

Look down the left side menu for the Air Pollution Index

That brings you to a chart for the API at that moment:

Air Pollution Index for 3 August at 9:10 am

But that doesn’t show the record. So click on the left menu “Past 24 Hours Pollutant Concentration”

EPD API Past 24 hours

Here you’re supposed to choose your suburb to get detailed information. Let’s go with Causeway Bay:

EPD API Causeway Bay for 2-3 August 2012

Some of these numbers look quite high. Yet there is no explanation, no information, no education. Is an NO2 reading of 328.1 at 2012-08-02 22:00 bad? Or is a CO reading of 1656.0 at 2012-08-02 more of an issue? The Environmental Protection Department is creating a detailed log for scientists and researchers.

The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department is failing to provide timely, understandable information to the people of Hong Kong.



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