London is no longer “The Big Smoke”. That title can now be bestowed on Hong Kong. No good? What about the “Smokey Pearl of the Orient”? OK, you come up with a better one then.

Two and a half years ago Hong Kong suffered from record air pollution with API (Air Pollution Index) readings over 300 (severely polluted). Levels even topped 400 at some reading stations. Hong Kong’s already poor air quality was exacerbated at that time by sandstorms originating in northern China moving southward with the northeast monsoon.

pic: John Roberts (Flickr CC)

To put things into perspective, API readings from just 50-100 are considered “high”. Those with heart or respiratory problems are advised to stay indoors when readings top 100. This applies to the general public when readings are over 200.

The API is a system used to measure pollution in mainland China, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Hong Kong, which was recently ranked as one of the cities with the worst air quality in the world, is again experiencing some seriously bad air, with API levels at their worst since the March, 2010 sandstorms. The sick and elderly are being urged to stay indoors and Hong Kong’s famous skyline is at present a bit difficult to make out through all the smog.

Besides the sandstorm glitch, which could be described as a “perfect storm” of man-made and natural causes, this recent poor air quality is the worst recorded since Hong Kong began keeping API records back in 1999.

Though the highly developed, densely packed island city is not exactly a place you’d expect to find good air, it’s not entirely the fault of Hong Kong itself.

From Reuters:

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

The influence of Typhoon Saola, which recently hit Taiwan, could also be contributing to the poor air quality in Hong Kong by bringing sun and heat, increasing ozone levels in the city.

A Clean Air Network campaigner blamed most of Honk Kong’s air pollution on vehicular traffic, especially cars, trucks and busses that use old, dirty engines.

From AFP:

The government announced revisions to its air quality objectives for the first time in 25 years in January, after University of Hong Kong research showed pollution-related illnesses killed more than 3,000 residents a year.

pic: Sharon Drummond (Flickr CC)

New government measures will reportedly include phasing out older, more polluting vehicles and promoting electric and hybrid cars as well as the use of natural gas.

Perhaps some day Hong Kong’s residents can all breathe one big collective sigh of relief without breaking into a fit of coughs that shake the great city’s very foundations.