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  Channel NewsAsia 29 Apr 07
Hong Kong mulls new pollution alert

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is considering a new pollution alert system as critics say the present gauge is hopelessly out of date and gives artificially low readings, media reports said Sunday.

A colour-coded alert system similar to one used to warn citizens of approaching thunderstorms, has been proposed in a paper to go before legislators.

Each colour code will correlate to a specific warning and action plan. For instance, the code for high pollution days may warn people with breathing and heart problems to stay at home and suggest companies reduce use of vehicles.

A government panel, the Council for Sustainable Development, believes the present system - whereby pollution levels are expressed in figures - does not encourage people to take action to avoid health problems caused by smog.

The issue has become more pressing as the city's pollution has soared to near-dangerous levels.

A recent survey said one in every three days witnessed pollution levels that were bad for health. The worsening smog has also prompted complaints from tourists who bemoan the regular disappearance of the city's famous harbour and spectacular skyline beneath a blanket of brown smog.

Business leaders warn it is one of the biggest threats to the financial city's future prosperity, and executives are refusing to base here for fear their health will suffer.

As if to prove the point, the city's orchestra conductor, maestro Edo de Waart, announced that he has moved his family out of the southern Chinese territory to avoid the pollution.

"We have a four-year old son who has some asthma problems," De Waart told the Sunday Morning Post newspaper. "The air quality is terrible in Hong Kong. I don't know what it does to the little kids who grow up there and we just don't want to take the risk," he added from his new family home in Wisconsin, in the United States.

Environmentalists have long called for an overhaul of the alert system, complaining it is based on criteria set in the mid-1980s which give a misleading indication of the severity of each day's pollution. - AFP/yy

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