LCQ4: Air quality in Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (November 18):


     It has been reported that air pollution has been classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a "human carcinogen" (i.e. Group 1) which is definitely carcinogenic to humans. Over the years, the Government has implemented a number of measures to reduce air pollution. Although the concentrations of major air pollutants recorded in 2014 on the roadside at busy districts in Hong Kong were lower than those in 1999, the levels of nitrogen dioxide went up instead of going down. It has been reported that on average, 3 000 premature deaths are attributable to air pollution each year, and the annual associated economic loss is as high as $40 billion on average. A number of environmental groups have therefore called on the authorities to step up efforts to improve roadside air quality. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has assessed the effectiveness of the various policies implemented by the authorities in the past five years to improve roadside air quality; if it has, of the outcome; whether it has studied the causes for the levels of roadside nitrogen dioxide going up instead of going down in recent years; whether it has identified the type of roadside air pollutants for which immediate improvement measures are most required, and whether it has explored new measures to reduce the levels of various types of roadside air pollutants;

(2) as it has been reported that the first super atmospheric automatic monitoring station on the Mainland, which will soon be completed in Changchun, can automatically analyse whether the ambient pollutants come from coal combustion, tail pipe emissions of motor vehicles or fugitive dust and hence can greatly help the authorities take corresponding measures, whether the Government will conduct studies on the introduction of such kind of system for real-time monitoring of the sources of various types of air pollutants, particularly the level of fine suspended particulates (PM2.5) which may be harmful to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) given that the authorities introduced last year a set of new Air Quality Objectives (new AQOs) which are more stringent than the previous ones, but the new AQOs will be broadly attained only by 2020, and they are less stringent than WHO's air quality guidelines (e.g. the 24-hour average concentration limit for PM2.5 under the new AQOs is 75μg/m3, which is three times of that under the WHO guidelines, and the new AQOs allow nine exceedances per year, which are six more than those allowed under the WHO guidelines), whether the Government will expeditiously revise the new AQOs to align them with the WHO guidelines and formulate more ambitious air quality improvement measures, with a view to attaining such objectives as soon as possible; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



(1) The HKSAR Government is committed to improving the air quality to safeguard public health. We have been implementing a series of measures to reduce emissions from major air pollutant sources and strengthening regional collaboration. Since 2005, we have been operating the Pearl River Delta (PRD) Regional Air Quality Monitoring Network jointly with the Department of Environmental Protection of Guangdong Province to monitor regional air quality. The data collected have provided us a good basis for analysing regional air pollution and formulating air quality improvement measures. As for improving roadside air quality, we implemented the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) taxi programme in August 2000 and have progressively tightened statutory emission standards for vehicles and fuel quality standards. The current emission standards of newly registered vehicles and fuel quality are at Euro V level. Our air quality improvements measures targeting at roadside air pollution in the past three years include:

(a) Phasing out around 82 000 pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles (DCVs). Since its introduction in March 2014, the ex-gratia payment scheme has received very good response. By the end of this October, over 40 per cent of the eligible vehicles were retired under the scheme; and about 90 per cent of eligible pre-Euro DCVs had been phased out.

(b) Completion of a subsidy scheme in replacing catalytic converters and oxygen sensors of some 17 000 LPG taxis and light buses last year to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds. Starting from September 2014, we have strengthened the emission control of petrol and LPG vehicles by deploying roadside remote sensing equipment.

(c) Retrofitting some 1 400 Euro II and III franchised buses with selective catalytic reduction devices to reduce their NOx emissions. The retrofit programme is expected to complete by the end of 2016.

     The above measures have borne fruit. Compared with 2005, the concentrations of the major air pollutants in 2014 recorded at roadside air quality monitoring stations of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have decreased. During the period, concentrations of respirable suspended particulates (PM10), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and NOx have decreased by 33 per cent, 59 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, whereas the roadside nitrogen dioxide (NO2) remained at a relatively high level mainly due to the increase in regional ozone (O3) concentration.

     To further improve roadside air quality, we will set up three franchised bus low emission zones at busy corridors in Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. We are also making preparations to tighten the emissions standard for newly registered motor vehicles to Euro VI and will consult the Panel on Environmental Affairs of this Council on November 27. We will also continue to collaborate with the Guangdong Government in tackling regional air pollution, including the regional ozone problem.

(2) EPD has a territory-wide air quality monitoring network which comprises twelve general and three roadside stations. These stations collect and disseminate to the public ambient and roadside air pollutants concentrations information real time, including fine suspended particulates (PM2.5), PM10, SO2, NO2 and O3. We have also analysed the chemical composition of PM2.5 since 2000 to better understand its major emission sources.

     Moreover, we have launched an air quality supersites programme since 2011 to provide in-depth analysis of the formation and sources of particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) and photochemical pollution (ozone), develop related policies and measures and assess their effectiveness. Under the programme, monitors have been installed to automatically analyse the composition of PM2.5 in the Yuen Long general air quality monitoring station. To enhance the supersites programme, we are now setting up a background station in Hok Tsui which will be equipped with automatic monitors for analysing chemical composition of PM2.5 and photochemical pollution.

(3) The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that different regions when formulating their air quality standards, should consider carefully their own circumstances and take into account their local air quality situation, practicable technologies, as well as economic, political and social factors. The WHO Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) also sets interim targets for governments to reduce air pollution in a progressive manner and achieve the ultimate air quality targets. Based on WHO's recommendations, we updated the AQOs which took effect on January 1, 2014. PM2.5 was included as one of the parameters in the new AQOs.

     As revealed from studies, about 70 per cent of Hong Kong's suspended particulates come from regional emission sources. When setting the AQO of PM2.5, we have taken into account the fact that our PM2.5 level is under strong regional influence and therefore the ultimate WHO AQGs level of PM2.5 can unlikely be attained in the near future. The setting of the AQO of PM2.5 at AQG's interim target level is thus a pragmatic approach and in line with WHO's recommendations.

     Hong Kong has been working closely with the Mainland to improve the air quality in the PRD region. In November 2012, we reached an agreement with the Guangdong provincial government on a set of emission reduction targets for 2015 and 2020. Achieving these targets will help Hong Kong broadly attain the new AQOs by 2020 and in the long run, reduce substantially the concentration levels of air pollutants, including PM2.5.

     It is a statutory requirement to conduct a review of the AQOs at least once every five years. We are making preparation for the review which will assess the effectiveness of those recently implemented air quality improvement measures, emission trend in the PRD region, development of emission reduction technologies, risk of air pollution to health and proposals to further improve the air quality. We will report the work plan to the Panel on Environmental Affairs of this Council and the Advisory Council on the Environment early next year.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Issued at HKT 18:19