Hong Kong suffers from very substantial air pollution or, using the government’s more common lexicon, poor ‘air quality’. This pollution harms the health and quality of life of every person who is exposed to it—almost every person in Hong Kong. In recent years, roadside levels of respirable suspended particles (RSPs)—tiny particles of pollution that can be inhaled into the lungs, reducing lung function and increasing the risk of asthma and cardiovascular illnesses—have been so high that on most days air pollution in Hong Kong exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) standards and outdoor exercise involves health risks (Hong Kong University School of Public Health 2010). The impact of air pollution on people who suffer asthma, shortness of breath or emphysema, and of course on those who die prematurely from respiratory and heart illness as a result of exposure to air pollution, is greater still (Hong Kong University School of Public Health 2010). In 2010, Hong Kong’s roadside air pollution was the highest since 1999, when recordkeeping began, and official government health warnings were in place 12.6% of the time (Duce 2010).
Hong Kong’s air pollution problem is also something of a puzzle. Air quality is generally much better in affluent countries. As their economies have become richer, most governments have responded to public demands for cleaner air. Hong Kong has defied this tendency. Although average income in the territory is high, in 2010 Hong Kong people expressed the highest level of dissatisfaction with air quality anywhere in the world (English 2010). Hong Kong’s air pollution is far worse than that of most American or European cities, and its roadside air quality continues to deteriorate (Duce 2010).
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