The worsening conditions caused the Hong Kong government to warn of a “very high” health risk, particularly for the elderly, children and those with existing respiratory conditions.
The level of PM2.5 pollution, the fine particulates that pose the greatest danger to health, exceeded 190 micrograms per cubic meter on Sunday in Hong Kong, and the high levels continued into Monday. The World Health Organization recommends daily exposure of no more than 25 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter, and levels above 150 are considered “unhealthy.”
Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department blamed shifting weather patterns for the pollution, as sunny and dry conditions on Sunday essentially trapped haze over the region.
“Hong Kong is being affected by an airstream with higher background pollutant concentrations,” a department spokesman said. “The light wind hinders effective dispersion of air pollutants. The sunshine enhances photochemical smog activities and the formation of ozone during the daytime, resulting in high pollution in the region.”
Nearby Chinese provinces including Guangdong and Hainan also had unhealthy levels of pollution.
By contrast, Beijing was starting to get a slight reprieve after an extended bout of filthy air, although pollution levels there and in other northern Chinese cities remained high.
On Friday, the Chinese minister for environmental protection, Chen Jining, told reporters in Beijing that air quality had generally improved but that it would take a while to wean the Chinese economy from relying on heavy industry and fossil fuels that cause the smog. He also said that the unusually static air across northern China recently had contributed to the buildup.
“Cleaning up atmospheric pollution can’t be done in an instant,” Mr. Chen said, according to his ministry’s website. “Cleaning up atmospheric pollution is a war of offense, but it’s also a war of endurance.”
The pollution in Hong Kong includes emissions from China’s industrial heartland in the Pearl River Delta, as well as coal burning in the winter and vehicle emissions from the city’s heavy traffic. Recent measures have helped reduce pollution levels over the last year, including minimizing the number of diesel-powered commercial vehicles and requiring ships docked in the city to rely on low-sulfur fuel while berthed there.
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