Hong Kong smothered in worst air pollution two years

HONG KONG Thu Aug 2, 2012 6:13pm EDT

Hotels and commercial buildings at Admiralty and Wanchai districts are seen from the 70th floor of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong November 30, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Hotels and commercial buildings at Admiralty and Wanchai districts are seen from the 70th floor of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong November 30, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - The worst pollution in two years smothered Hong Kong for a second day on Thursday, prompting warnings to the old and sick to stay indoors and obscuring one of the world's most famous views.

Pollution readings were "very high" in business and shopping districts such as Central, Western, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, air monitoring stations showed, surpassed only once in March 2010 when a sandstorm in northern China covered Hong Kong in dust.

"Bad air is trapped here. But even though external circumstances can't blow away the pollutants, the problem still lies fundamentally in vehicular emissions in Hong Kong itself," said Patrick Fung of Clean Air Network, a local pro-environment group.

The view of the cramped skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island and the Peak was obscured from across the harbor in Kowloon.

Air pollution in Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is a major source of worry for local citizens and foreign businesses, which increasingly see it as compromising the quality of life.

In a recent survey by human resources consultancy ECA International, Hong Kong distinguished itself as a place where its air quality was among the worst in the world.

The pollution comes largely from coal-fired power stations and traffic, though a significant contribution wafts down from the tens of thousands of factories in China's neighboring manufacturing heartland of the Pearl River Delta.

Under intense lobbying, the government has been gradually tightening its air-quality objectives and monitoring measures to meet World Health Organization standards, but these remain far short of global guidelines, green groups say.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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