Op-ed Article

Hong Kong’s polluting fireworks may backfire, rather than draw tourists

Despite the end of the Covid-19 epidemic in Hong Kong last year and the easing of related restrictions, economic woes persist. In a bid to boost tourism, the government announced plans to host a monthly firework display at Victoria Harbour. It is a wonder that this idea managed to make it past the drawing board.

After all, fireworks release large amounts of particulate matter. A US study found that the 24-hour average concentration of fine respirable particulates (PM2.5) rose by 42 per cent – 5 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3) across the nation immediately after the Fourth of July fireworks. For sites close to the fireworks, the average concentrations went up by as much as 370 per cent (48 μg/m3). Fireworks also release air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and the metal salts responsible for the coloured flames.

Ambient air pollution is estimated to have accounted for 4.2 million premature deaths globally in 2019. In Hong Kong, it may contribute to leading causes of death, such as pneumonia, heart and cerebrovascular diseases, and dementia.

The financial secretary said the fireworks would retain visitors for an additional night, but Chinese studies show that poor air quality makes for a poor tourist attraction. The economic benefits that the fireworks may potentially bring would also be offset by the long-term healthcare cost of exposure to excess air pollution – and we have not even gone over the noise and water impacts.

The government should embrace eco-tourism and showcase Hong Kong’s natural beauty to attract a diverse range of visitors. With about 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s land dedicated to country parks, seven marine parks and the Hong Kong Unesco Global Geopark, the government should encourage tourists to explore the countryside and experience the green side of Hong Kong. This will not only diversify their travel experiences but also enhance Hong Kong’s green image internationally.

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