06/09/2006, 00.00

Pollution causes 1,600 deaths per year

Air pollution, which is worse than in all the big western cities, is also the result of industrial development in Guangdong's coastal area.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Chronic air pollution in Hong Kong causes at least 1,600 deaths per year mostly from heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and other lung diseases. This was the outcome of a study conducted by three universities in the city and by Civic Exchange, an institution that is an expert on the problem.

The study revealed that air pollution was 40% higher than in Los Angeles, America's most polluted large city. In 2004, Hong Kong recorded an average of 62 micrograms of respirable suspended particulates per cubic metre, compared with 30 in London and 22 in New York. For 45% of the year, there is "poor visibility" and for more than 50 days, it is impossible to see beyond a distance of 8km.

Anthony Hedley, an environmental and public health expert at the University of Hong Kong, said: "Air pollution is a major threat to our health and our economy… This is a medical emergency" that leads each year to 6.8 million family doctor visits, 64,000 hospital bed-days and economic losses of 20 billion Hong Kong dollars (2.6 billion US dollars).

The crisis has grown in recent years, and this is not only due to the city itself (vehicle exhaust is strictly controlled) but above all because of the ongoing urban and industrial growth of the Pearl River Delta, as the facing coast of Guangdong province is called.

In recent years, the governments of the city and of Guangdong have sought several times to fight pollution. In 2002 (when "only" 800 deaths per year were reported, and damage estimated at 1.7 billion local dollars), they promised to slash 1997 levels by 55% by 2010. Instead, the situation has worsened drastically.

Apart from damage to health, pollution also threatens to adversely affect the city's tourism and business sectors, with international chambers of commerce becoming increasingly critical.

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