A polluted day of lunar festival goes unnoticed

Hong Kong experienced the hottest Mid-Autum Festival in 13 years yesterday. And the heat was not the only thing that could have killed you. It was the choking air as well. I was out in the Western District, and I felt eye irritation and hard to breath. When walking home at about 7:30pm, my breathing quickened, and my legs wobbled, in the wrap of hot and chocking air. 

No surprise! I later found that in the Central/Western District, the concentration of pollutants RSP ( Respirable Suspended Particulates), NO2 (nitrogen dioxide), SO2 (sulphur dioxide) and O3 (Ozone) were well above 100 at 7pm, regarded as very high pollution level, even according to the backward Hong Kong Air Pollution Index produced by the Environmental Protection Department of the Hong Kong Government (see the table at the bottom). 

This index is backward, because it is based on an air quality standard made 20 years ago, which now lags behind the world health organisation safety benchmark. That means that what is regarded under the Index as low or medium level of pollution, can also pose severe health hazards, not to mention high or very high level.

This index is backward, also because of the abundance of air pollution an average person like me feels acutely walking in the street, while the index maybe just give you a set of data, telling you the level of pollution, with most of the time telling you that it is low to high, and hence easily lowering your guard against any possible heath risks. 

Of course, yesterday when the city celebrated the Mid-Autum Festival with moon cakes and lanterns, no one would want to talk about air pollution. Not the government, neither the media. Say South China Morning Post, which used “Revellers brave heat to go moon-gazing” as its headline. Heat was the focus, not the pollution. 

No wonder that the Hong Kong Greenpeace has made its own index, to remind the world about the truth of Hong Kong air pollution. 

I will talk in the next post about the reasons behind Hong Kong’s deeply polluted air, with some largely ignored by the public, and misled by the government/media.

Central/Western (source: Hong Kong Air Pollution Index, Hong Kong Environnmental Protection Department; 101-200 regarded as “very high”)

Date & Time                 RSP     NO2     O3      SO2     CO

2008-09-14 19:00        128.2 110.7 113.7 111.4   —

2008-09-14 18:00        125.0   90.2    156.2   95.6    —

2008-09-14 17:00        124.7   62.0    216.6   70.5    —

2008-09-14 16:00        120.6   67.7    203.6   64.5    —

2008-09-14 15:00        114.6   55.3    206.8   50.0    —

2008-09-14 14:00        110.3   51.5    200.9   50.8    —

2008-09-14 13:00        106.6   53.4    175.6   41.9    —

2008-09-14 12:00        106.4   62.2    140.3   31.7    —

2008-09-14 11:00        104.1   72.2    85.7    35.4    —

2008-09-14 10:00        92.3    63.4    58.8    27.2    —

2008-09-14 09:00        83.3    47.8    63.9    18.1    —

2008-09-14 08:00        83.3    54.9    46.8    17.8    —

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