Air Pollution Harms Us All
Air pollution means premature death for several thousand of people in Hong Kong each year. It strikes hardest at those who need our care most – children, the elderly and people who are already sick.

What happens when you inhale pollutants? Tiny particles and gases move deep into your lungs and into your bloodstream. The insides of your lungs can become damaged and inflamed. This damage also makes it easier for you to get sick. Over time, air pollution can cause permanent changes to your lungs, just like smoking.

Worried about your children breathing dirty air? You have good reason to be. Their lungs are still developing, and since they breathe faster and tend to spend more time outdoors being active, air pollution affects them much more.
  • Children living in areas with heavy traffic have more chest problems, such as chest infections and asthma, than those living in cleaner environment;
  • During days with high air pollution, more people with asthma, chronic lung diseases or heart diseases have to see their doctors or are admitted to hospital because their disease get worse. Some may even die;
  • A small increase in lung cancer risk has also been reported as a result of living in heavily polluted cities;
  • Shorter life expectancy of people living in polluted areas compared with those living in cleaner environment by 2 to 3 years.

Specific air pollutants – mostly from combustion of fossil fuels
Pollutants Where they are from? Health and other effects
Respirable suspended particles (RSP) Fuel from traffic- mostly diesel Construction and road dust Incineration Causes inflammation of the lungs and airways Most harmful to health among pollutants
Sulphur dioxide Industrial combustion of fossil fuels Transportation – small amount only Irritates airways and induces airway narrowing
Oxides of nitrogen Fuels for transport, heating and power generation Triggers attacks of asthma
Ozone Photochemical reaction between oxides of nitrogen and reactive hydrocarbons Causes irritation of the eyes and impairs lung function
Toxic hydrocarbons Industrial and traffic combustion and Industrial process involving solvents Carcinogenic
Green house gases eg. carbon dioxide Industrial and traffic combustion Global warming

In Hong Kong , the major source of particles is from vehicle emissions, especially those using diesel. In 1997, 52 % of all particles came from diesel vehicles. There are 146,000 diesel vehicles in Hong Kong and account for 70 % of the total distance travelled on the roads.

Short term actions that can reduce pollution in Hong Kong
  • Increase fine of smoky vehicles from $400 to $1000, with progressive increase in fine with each offence up to $5000 for the third offence;
  • Use of ultra low sulphur diesel with sulphur content of 0.005%. Current diesel used is 0.05%;
  • For taxis to convert to LPG fuel;
  • Fitting particle traps to diesel vehicles;
  • No illegal diesel to be sold or used

How to protect yourself and your children during air pollution episodes
  • Be aware: listen and watch for media and government smog advisories;
  • Reduce exposure by decreasing time spent outdoors;
  • Reduce your level of physical activity outside;
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables to increase antioxidants in your body;
  • If you think dirty air is affecting your health, consult your doctor.

Material modified from “Clearing the Air” David Suzuki Foundation

For more information:

Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong website:
World Health Organization website:
David Suzuki Foundation website:
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