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Is Hong Kong's pollution driving expats away?

Leah Hyslop Telegraph 01/13/2012 04:07
Is Hong Kong's pollution driving expats away? - Hong Kong - society - pollution - environment

According to a report published in The South China Morning Post earlier this week, air quality in Hong Kong was 10 times worse last year than in 2005, with pollution levels recorded at three roadside monitor stations above the “very high” mark more than 20 per cent of the time.

Such heavy pollution has obvious implications for the health of Hong Kong’s residents, who it is feared are at an increased risk of everything from respiratory problems to cancer, but also casts a shadow over the city-state's future as a top international business centre.

Hong Kong is home to thousands of expat workers, many filling crucial positions in its thriving banking and finance sector, but the relentless grey haze which hangs over the former British colony could be increasingly driving those who can afford it to settle elsewhere.

Last year, a report from office supplier Regus revealed that an astonishing three-quarters of companies in Hong Kong saw pollution as a problem in recruiting and retaining international talent, while a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that nearly half (48 per cent) of its members knew of professionals who had left to escape the contaminated air.

Sylvia, a British banker who did not wish to give her full name, claims to know many expats who have returned to their home countries because of pollution, or asked for transfers to other major Asian hubs such as Singapore – largely, she says, due to health concerns.

“A friend of mine used to get plenty of headaches and migraines when he lived in Hong Kong for a few years; when he returned to the US the migraines stopped overnight," she explains. "Another friend's husband has a job here in Hong Kong but since his wife and daughter have asthma, they live in Singapore and he commutes here during the week.”

For those expats who choose to remain in Hong Kong, the desire to escape the smog often dictates where they live. Teacher Linda Kernan, originally from Kent, has ended up seeking refuge on one of Hong Kong's outlying islands, where there are no cars. Even so, on some days from her flat she can barely see the high rise buildings just a few miles away over the sea.

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