What You Need to Know About Hong Kong Air Pollution

Hong Kong - Kowloon View with Smog

Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty Images

Hong Kong air pollution has become a critical problem in the city. It's affecting resident health, causing expats to abandon ship for Singapore and often sinking the city into a haze of smog reminiscent of Victorian London. Aside from demands for full democracy, Hong Kong pollution has become the city’s hot-button issue. It’s something you need to be aware of whether you’re moving to Hong Kong or just planning a visit.

Below is an easy-to-follow guide to the city’s pollution. If you want to get to grips with all the ins and outs, the Clear the Air lobby has an excellent page detailing Hong Kong air pollution.

Where Does the Pollution Come From?

Ask the government and they’ll tell you Guangzhou and the factories in the Guangdong area, and while this is true to an extent it doesn’t really tell the full story. Hong Kong has the world’s highest traffic density as well as coal-burning power plants which contribute an estimated 50% to the total level of pollution. That said, pollution from China is a major problem. The worst days of air pollution in Hong Kong are usually caused by wind blowing the smog in from China.

How Bad Is the Problem?

It’s bad and getting worse. The University of Hong Kong conducted a study which showed that pollutants in the Hong Kong air were three times higher than New York and double that of London. Pollution levels generally vary from medium to high, although the biggest problems are at roadside levels in built-up areas like Causeway Bay, Central, and Mongkok. Conversely, the New Territories, Lantau, and Lamma usually have low levels of pollution.

The air pollution in Hong Kong is certainly a major health problem for those who grow up in the city and has been convincingly blamed for rising levels of respiratory diseases and asthma. Around 1/5th of the Hong Kong population claims the problem is so bad that they have considered leaving the city.

That said, the picture given by the media can often border on the hysterical. It would be alarmist to say that a short visit to the city is going to have any long-term impact on your health, although asthma sufferers may encounter problems.

If you’re planning on moving to the city, you may want to investigate more thoroughly the effects the pollution may have on you during your stay in the city.

How Do I Know How Bad the Air Pollution Is?

One of the major problems is that the Hong Kong Government’s own Air Pollution Index (API) is outdated and based on twenty-year-old research. This means the daily bulletins the Hong Kong government issues which are based on the API are not accurate, at least according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). So while the Air Pollution rating may not be dangerous by Hong Kong Government standards, it certainly is by WHO standards.

The Hong Kong API is based on a rating of low to severe and can be checked at the API Government website daily. Alternatively, you can check the Greenpeace Hong Kong website, which is based on the WHO rating for a more accurate, if depressing, picture of the day’s pollution.

What Should I Do About the Pollution?

As a visitor to Hong Kong, the air pollution shouldn’t be too much of a concern. On days when the pollution rating is high, you might want to avoid walking at roadside level for long periods of time in the city’s most built-up areas. You may also wish, as many locals do, to wear a face mask to help with breathing.

You’ll also find that high pollution days aren’t good for trying to see the city’s famous skyline. Visibility can be extremely poor so give the Peak a miss until clearer days float through.

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