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Every breath you take: How clean is DB’s air?

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With Discovery Bay often lauded as one of Hong Kong’s less polluted areas in which to live, it’s easy to become complacent about air quality both here and across Lantau. Kate Farr reports.

A recent announcement by the Hong Kong Clean Air Network stated that the city as a whole experienced just 19 ‘clear air days’ during the first three months of 2018. Defined as days where all 13 urban monitoring stations recorded levels of five key pollutants that fell within World Health Organisation guidelines, this data was sourced from the independent Hedley Environmental Index. Set up by Professor Anthony Hedley – a key figure who worked tirelessly to highlight Hong Kong’s air pollution issues – the index is managed by the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, and offers what many believe is the only accurate picture of the city’s all-too-often stifling air.

But where does this pollution come from in the first place? While many people insist that our neighbour to the north bears the brunt of the responsibility, in actual fact roadside pollution accounts for a significant amount of Hong Kong’s dirty air, with levels remaining at around twice the WHO standards over the past 20 years. Of course, here in DB, we are fortunate in that private cars are banned, however our local monitoring station, Tung Chung, often records alarmingly high levels of pollution, which also affects our community.

A Lantau-wide problem

Tung Chung regularly records the highest levels of pollution in Hong Kong – more even than traditionally industrial areas such as Kwun Tong. According to Merrin Pearse, chair of the Living Islands Movement, there are a number of reasons for this concerning fact.

“You have got polluted air coming down from the Pearl River Delta (PRD) getting caught against Lantau and aggregating there, as well as the issue of the aircraft,” Merrin explains. “But it is not just the airport, it is more the way that the air builds up in that area with the air coming down from the PRD.

“Tung Chung is between two major shipping channels, so there is also the issue of ships and boats creating air pollution,” Merrin notes.

Add traffic from the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge into the increasingly toxic mix, and Lantau is left with a very dirty problem indeed. This is likely to be further compounded by construction of the Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD) new Integrated Waste Management Facility, which is slated for completion by 2024. Known locally as the ‘megaincinerator,’ the project will be the largest of its kind, and will be situated just off the coast of South Lantau on a newly constructed artificial island south of Shek Kwu Chau.

With an initial capacity of around 3,000 tonnes of waste per day, critics are concerned that the facility’s incinerator will release dioxins and airborne particulate matter – both of which have been linked to asthma, heart disease and cancer – into the air around Lantau, resulting in a significant impact on air quality across the island and greater health risks for its population.

The construction also carries cost implications – originally estimated to cost around HK$18 billion, the final contract awarded to Keppel Seghers Hong Kong and Zhen Hua Engineering Co. for construction of the project amounts to HK$31 billion – money that many believe would be better spent on promoting and improving recycling facilities and waste-reduction initiatives within the SAR instead.

Call to action

Back in January, DB schools were forced to cancel all outdoor activities and play as pollution levels hit worrying levels. The level of PM2.5, which are tiny particulates that bury themselves deep inside the lungs, reached well over 200. However, while third-party monitors such as the Hedley Environmental Index and Air Quality Index – who independently collate air quality data from around China – were showing the air as ‘unhealthy,’ the EPD’s own measures declared it simply ‘moderate.’

With this in mind, more residents than ever are relying on independent websites, apps and widgets to provide them with up-to-date and, most importantly, trustworthy air quality information.

So what can we do to ensure that our community doesn’t end up choked with smog? While many families rely heavily on home air purifiers to improve air quality, it’s worth bearing in mind that they too are produced in polluting factories, many of which are situated just over the border in China. Believe it or not, selecting the correct variety of houseplant (for instance Ficus, Spider Plant or Bamboo Palm) can result in a significant improvement in household air quality, with some even ridding the air of formaldehyde and benzene – common indoor pollutants in recently renovated homes.

Of course, using public transport is already an integral part of DB life for most residents, however committing to reuse, reduce and recycle now may help to reduce the volume of waste that makes its way to the mega-incinerator later. And signing up to volunteer on behalf of campaigning organisations such as Hong Kong Clean Air Network and Living Islands Movement can help to raise awareness that will hopefully result in significant change and improvement for the next generation of Lantau residents.


FIND IT:

• Air Quality Index, aqicn.org
• Environmental Protection Department, www.epd.gov.hk
• Hedley Environmental Index, hedleyindex.hku.hk
• Hong Kong Clean Air Network, www.hongkongcan.org/hk
• Living Islands Movement, www.livingislands.org.hk


Photo by Andrew Spires

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