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Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Pollution reached its highest recorded level in Hong Kong during the first week of the New Year as low winds and dirty air from the mainland left the area cloaked in smog. The air pollution index at Tung Chung in north Lantau was 161 at 1 pm -- the highest in the territory since first readings that were taken four years back. The previous record was 159, also set at Tung Chung, in August.

Rapid economic growth and the population boom are reasons behind such degradation. "It is the only high-income place in the world that is acquiring a Third World environment," says William Barron of the Center of Urban Planning and Environmental Management at the University of Hong Kong. Fortunately for Hong Kong, the days of lax laws and official complacency regarding the environment are over because pollution is starting to cost the residents a tidy sum of money every year ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 16).

Citizens Party chairperson Christine Loh Kung-wai said, "Hong Kong is not going to become a world city if we don't do something fairly urgently." She said Hong Kong had a wake-up call last winter when pollution blanketed the city in January. "This year, it's just staring us right in the face again. We don't have that much time."

Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long were also hit by poor air quality with the index remaining above 140 for most of the day. The index, compiled since 1995, measures air quality from 0 to 200. People with heart and other respiratory diseases are advised to cut back on outdoor activities when the index tops 100. Raymond Leung Pak-ming, principal environment protection officer, said the poor air quality to the west of Hong Kong was due to the nearby Pearl River Delta. Nitrogen dioxide pollutants and suspended particles were being brought in by a northerly wind, he said.

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