Urban pollution in Hong Kong has jumped sixfold in the past four years, but experts say local vehicles are more to blame than smog blown in from southern China's manufacturing belts, a newspaper reported on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
In recent years, Hong Kong's image as a financial hub has suffered from poor air quality, with its iconic harbour shrouded in a thick chemical smog at times. Officials have often blamed pollutants blown in from China's industrial heartlands in the neighbouring Pearl River Delta and Guangdong province.
But the closure of scores of Delta factories during the global financial crisis and efforts to clean up Guangdong power plants by installing sulphur scrubbers are seen to have diminished this effect, with the levels of pollutants above street level in Hong Kong found to have fallen by more than half in recent years.
Down on street level however, an analysis of air pollution at three roadside monitoring stations in urban Hong Kong found a sixfold increase in "health-threatening pollution levels" in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2005, the South China Morning Post reported.
Experts attributed most of the rise to local traffic clogging up Hong Kong's congested roads, rather than contaminated air carried from southern China, the paper reported.
"It is undeniably a local pollution problem at street level. All we need is a lot more and urgent measures to address vehicular pollution to protect public health," Alexis Lau, an expert at the University of Science and Technology, was quoted as saying.
Hong Kong's Environmental Protection Department, however, blamed regional air pollution from China, saying key pollutants emitted by motor vehicles had in fact fallen, the paper reported.
To ease the region's longstanding pollution woes, the Guangdong and Hong Kong governments agreed in 2002 to implement emission reduction targets by 2010, including cuts of 40 percent for sulphur dioxide emissions, though green groups remain skeptical such goals will be met.