Air pollution levels in Hong Kong were the worst ever last year, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday, a finding that may further undermine the city's role as an Asian financial centre as business executives relocate because of health concerns.
Worsening air quality in Hong Kong caused by vehicle emissions and industrial pollution from the neighbouring Pearl River Delta is already forcing many in the financial community to move to Singapore.
Readings at three roadside monitoring stations in Hong Kong's Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok commercial districts showed that pollution levels were above the 100 mark more than 20 percent of the time, the newspaper said, citing the city's Environmental Protection Department.
This was 10 times worse than in 2005, when very high readings were recorded only 2 percent of the time, it said.
The station in Central business district, home to the Asia headquarters of global banks such as HSBC Holdings Plc and Goldman Sachs Group Inc, showed the worst figures, with excessive readings a quarter of the time, the report said.
Hourly readings are taken at the roadside stations throughout the year on major pollutants such as respirable suspended particles and nitrogen oxides. A reading above 100 means at least one pollutant fails air quality objectives.
Environmentalists renewed their calls for the immediate introduction of new air quality objectives, claiming that the government had deliberately delayed their introduction to ease the way for major infrastructure projects, the newspaper said.
The department blamed the figures on unfavourable weather conditions, worsening background pollution and the number of ageing vehicles on streets.
The newspaper quoted the government as saying a number of measures were being considered to help improve air quality, and new air quality objectives would be discussed by Hong Kong's legislature soon.
(Reporting by Charlie Zhu; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Chris Lewis)