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By: Jessica Hefes

Date: 9/8/10


In 2005, the Burden of Lung Disease Project showed that respiratory diseases are the top cause of mortality and hospitalization in Hong Kong. It is the cause of 28% of deaths and 16% of all inpatient bed days. Respiratory diseases now make up the largest share of the local healthcare burden. [1]


When looking at the effect of pollution in Hong Kong it is worth keeping in mind that most of the current evidence on air pollution and health in Hong Kong is based only on short-term effects, which are likely to underestimate the total health impact of air pollution on the population. [2]


In order to survive, the average adult requires approximately 13.5kg of air every day.[3] Human lungs have a surface area approximately the size of a tennis court. The lungs are the first targets of inhaled environmental pollutants. [2]


Air pollution has a direct effect on the body. Air pollution damages body tissue, especially the eyes, nasal passages, lungs, blood vessels and heart. [2]


The acute effects of air pollution are irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. [4] Short-term exposure to high levels of pollution can aggravate or trigger existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. [4] It also increases susceptibility to infection, the development of atherosclerosis in blood vessels, and interferes with the normal neuro-electrical control of the heart. [5]


Long term exposure to air pollution increases the likelihood of developing chronic respiratory and cardiopulmonary problems and increases the risk of lung cancer. [5]


Long term exposure to air pollution also causes severe illness episodes and shortens life expectancy. [5]


More recently the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that air pollution levels in major U.S. cities pose a health risk comparable to second hand smoke. [6] Another American study has shown that prolonged exposure to higher levels of the pollutants found in car exhaust fumes and industrial air pollution can lead to hospitalization for pneumonia in adults aged 65 and older. [7]



Footnotes

  1. Experts symposium on air quality, Experts Symposium, THE AIR WE BREATHE: a public health dialogue, 9 January 2009 - last accessed 9/8/10
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 The impact of air pollution on population health, health care and community costs, Department of Community Medicine, HKU, 27 November 2006 - last accessed 7/8/10
  3. The air that we breathe, CLSA, April 2005 - last accessed 7/8/10
  4. 4.0 4.1 FAQ, Pollution and health, Hedley Index - last accessed 5/8/10
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The impact of air pollution on population health, health care and community costs, Department of Community Medicine, HKU, 27 November 2006 - last accessed 7/8/10
  6. Geography and your Children’s Health: a Worthy National Topic of Debate, May 2010 – last accessed 11/8/2010
  7. Air pollution linked to hospitalizations for pneumonia in seniors, 30 Dec 2009 - last accessed 9/8/10

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