Compared to most regions of the United States, the air quality in Hong Kong is quite poor, with major practical and health implications. Fortunately, the situation has improved in recent years.
Compared to most regions of the United States, the air quality in Hong Kong is quite poor, particularly in high-traffic areas like Central, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. This has major practical and health implications, including decreased visibility, increased risk of cardiac-respiratory illnesses and the exacerbation of chronic conditions such as asthma.
Fortunately, the situation has improved in recent years, and the government has taken proactive measures to address the issue. The Hong Kong and Guangdong governments have been working together to improve the air quality of the Pearl River Delta region and drive down smog levels. Domestically, Hong Kong’s efforts to improve air quality are on target, but roadside pollution remains a serious problem. In addition, due to rising economic and population growth, Guangdong will also need to introduce further measures to achieve the targets on improving air quality.
Hong Kong’s warm, humid climate encourages the growth of flora and fauna, including bacteria, mold and mildew.
On high-pollution days, the elderly, children and those with underlying heart or lung diseases are vulnerable. Even the normally “healthy” often experience upper respiratory symptoms or infections, allergies, headaches or asthma. Hong Kong’s warm, humid climate encourages the growth of flora and fauna, including bacteria, mold and mildew. Plants are in bloom throughout most of the year, adding to the misery of people with allergies.
Living in an elevated area, such as the Peak, or close to one of the New Territories’ large country parks can help.
Many use air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and air filters or purifiers to help with air quality. To reduce dust and mold, air conditioners need to be cleaned regularly, not just in summer months. Many people now wear surgical masks on days with poor air quality. Living in an elevated area, such as the Peak, or close to one of the New Territories’ large country parks can also help.
Air Quality News and Apps
Daily reports on pollution are broadcast on television and radio news programs. In addition to the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department’s AQHI app, there are many excellent websites and apps produced by independent organizations, including:
- AirVisual – An international air quality app with data from around the globe and a seven-day air quality forecast
- HongKong Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) – This website (also available as an app) from the World Air Quality Project reports air quality based on the Air Quality Index scale as defined by the US-EPA 2016 standard
- Plume – PlumeLabs’ app has easy-to-digest hourly pollution forecasts and offers tips on whether different outdoor activities are safe
- PRAISE-HK – Developed by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, this app (which stands for Personalised Real-Time Air Quality Informatics System for Exposure – Hong Kong) uses big data and user-provided health information to create a personalized, location-based assessment of air pollution risks
Smoking, including e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products, is prohibited in all indoor public places and indoor workplaces in Hong Kong, including escalators, restaurants, bars, malls and karaoke venues. Smoking is also banned on public transportation vehicles, at transportation interchanges, public beaches and swimming pools, and outside schools.
In recent years, e-cigarettes and vaporizers have gained international popularity. Vaping products that do not contain nicotine are not regulated, but nicotine e-liquid is essentially illegal in Hong Kong (it is classified as a pharmaceutical product and cannot be sold without a license, which has never been granted).
Official government sources maintain that Hong Kong’s water supply complies with the World Health Organization guidelines for drinking-water quality.
The Water Supplies Department monitors water quality throughout the treatment, supply and distribution system.
Despite these efforts, the quality of tap water depends on the condition of pipes in your building, which may not be up to standard. Not only can sediment cause discoloration and produce an unpleasant taste, but older pipes may enable bacteria to grow.
As it is generally difficult to ascertain the quality of the pipes supplying the water to one’s home, most people in Hong Kong avoid drinking water straight from the tap. In the morning it is advisable to allow tap water to run for a minute or two before using it for cooking or drinking; many people also boil water for drinking and store it in a water-filtering pitcher system.
As it is generally difficult to ascertain the quality of the pipes supplying the water to one’s home, most people in Hong Kong avoid drinking water straight from the tap.
For greater convenience, you may attach special filters to your kitchen and bathroom taps, or splash out on a whole-house filter that is fitted to the main drinking water supply pipe into your apartment. Although an investment initially, the filters guarantee a great quality of drinking water. Whatever type of filter you choose, look for one that is capable of filtering out heavy metals and chemicals. Wing On, Fortress and Broadway all sell water filters, or you can purchase online (WaterLinks is one popular option).
Bottled Water Delivery
Another option is to use bottled water (although the mountains of plastic waste generated every year in Hong Kong may give you pause). Companies like Bonaqua and Watsons deliver spring, mineral or distilled water to your home or office. Keep in mind that distilled water lacks minerals and fluoride, so if that ends up being the only water supply you drink from, make sure to speak with your doctor or dentist about fluoride or other mineral supplements.
Beach Water Quality
The quality of swimming water and beaches in Hong Kong used to be the subject of scrutiny due to pollution in the Pearl River Delta. The situation has improved in recent years, although marine trash remains a challenge, especially during the typhoon season.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) monitors the water quality at public beaches at least three times a month. Water is tested for E. coli and other bacteria, and current beach gradings are available on the EPD website.
Heavy rainfall can also contaminate seawater and increase water pollution as a result of surface level pollution washed into the sea. It’s best to avoid swimming for a few days after a heavy rain, and to check the EPD website before taking the plunge.
In addition to pollution risks in local waters designated for swimming, sharks can pose a serious threat, although attacks are extremely rare. Shark nets have been installed at government-run beaches, and shark warning flag systems are in place to indicate risks and alert swimmers.
Food Quality and Safety
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) regulates Hong Kong’s food quality. The department issues licenses to all food-related businesses, including restaurants, fresh food markets and supermarkets, and regularly carries out inspections for sanitation standards.
The quality of food from licensed establishments is generally high from a safety standpoint.
The FEHD implements policies to ensure food safety and environmental hygiene in Hong Kong. It safeguards public health by implementing safety standards of food for human consumption, licensing and inspecting food premises, and providing public cleaning services.
The FEHD is also responsible for inspecting produce imported into Hong Kong. Random checks are carried out on imported food items at wholesale markets; vegetables, for example, are sampled for harmful substances such as pesticide residue, parasites, or the possible use of human feces as fertilizers.
A source of concern in food safety derives from seafood that may be tainted with heavy metals from industrial waste dumped into the harbor. Also, in some cases, live fish stocks kept in tanks at restaurants may be prone to bacterial infection if the tanks or water are not properly managed.
Sporadic outbreaks of the avian flu virus spread by live poultry in mainland China continue to cause concern in Hong Kong. Although the risk of infection in humans is still low, there are fresh worries about mutation of the virus, and Hong Kong’s government continuously monitors the city’s supply of live poultry and promotes prevention measures among the public.
Exercise caution when patronizing cooked food vendors or hawkers on the street, as some vendors selling cooked snacks at street stalls are neither licensed nor sanctioned by the FEHD.
Fresh meat, fish and produce sold at major supermarkets in Hong Kong are generally of high quality and require no special preparation before storage or cooking. Meat, poultry, dairy and seafood (some frozen) from the United States, Australia and New Zealand are also readily available.
Fresh meat, fish and produce sold at major supermarkets in Hong Kong are generally of high quality and require no special preparation before storage or cooking.
As a general practice, thoroughly rinse any fruits or vegetables at least twice before consumption. To ensure residual pesticides have been removed, allow produce to soak for at least 10 minutes, and then rinse it once again.
The Centre for Food Safety provides food safety tips and issues alerts if there are any instances of food or pesticide poisoning.
Hong Kong’s labeling law requires nutritional information to be listed on all pre-packaged foods. The law mandates a labeling system different from those commonly used in Western countries (from which most of Hong Kong’s prepackaged foods are imported). Labels must include the following information: the value of energy, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium. Hong Kong’s law requires this information to be listed per 100g.
The Hong Kong Government places strict requirements for certain nutritional claims. For example, unlike US standards, for a product to qualify for a no-trans-fat claim in Hong Kong, it must also be low in saturated fats. And for a product to qualify for a low-fat claim, it must contain 3g or less of fat per 100g.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is responsible for animal and plant quarantine, controlling plant diseases, regulating and inspecting livestock farms, testing diseases and chemical residues in food animals, and controlling veterinary drug use in livestock.