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Under the ashen sky, Lucas grabbed the candy from his mother’s hand and grinned. At the age of six, he is no different from other boys his age. He likes candy, enjoys playing with toy cars, likes to run and jump, and plays tennis. But in contrast to his youthful face, he speaks with a thick nasally voice due to his allergic rhinitis.

Lucas, a volunteer for Citizen Science Research on Hong Kong Air Quality project, smiling at the camera. ©Chung Wai Lok / Greenpeace

Lucas’ mother, Margret, discovered Lucas’ condition when he was three years old. Since then, nasal congestion and runny nose have been his constant companions. What’s worse, Lucas’ allergic rhinitis is slowly thinning his nasal membrane, causing him to have a nosebleed almost every day. “This one time, he was bleeding for over an hour. But because we couldn’t stop it, we called an ambulance. As his mother, I’m always worried about Lucas and his condition,” said Margret. 

Each evening, Lucas uses a nasal spray before going to bed, but this is not a permanent solution. Doctors have pointed out that Lucas’ condition is very likely due to air pollution. Margret and Lucas’ apartment faces a road with extremely heavy traffic, so even on a good day, the air quality is extremely poor.

A highway in Hong Kong, congested with traffic. ©Suki Yuen / Greenpeace

Margret wipes the windows at least three times a day. “I’ll wipe the windows at 7 PM, and they’re black again two hours later. We never dare to open any of the windows in the apartment,” explained Margret. 

Concerned about her son’s allergic rhinitis and the air pollution’s impact, Margret and Lucas participated in Greenpeace Hong Kong’s Citizen Science Research on Hong Kong Air Quality, hoping to have a better understanding of the air they’re breathing every day. The research – which consisted of installing tubes in public locations around the city to collect air samples and test for nitrogen dioxide(NO2) – involved volunteers like Margret who chose to take action to find a solution to a chronic problem affecting the community. “Using the data from this research, we can tell the government that the air we breathe is really bad, and something needs to be done quickly to fix this problem,” said Margret.

Citizen Science Research on Hong Kong Air Quality volunteers installing tubes in public locations around the city. ©Fung Pik Yee / Greenpeace

Two Citizen Science Research on Hong Kong Air Quality volunteers taking notes during the tube installations around the city. ©Fung Pik Yee / Greenpeace

Nitrogen dioxide has the potential to cause numerous health issues, much like Lucas’. This concerning pollutant may irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract, while hindering the respiratory system development and causing respiratory diseases in the long run.

Last year, nine out of 16 air quality monitoring stations in Hong Kong recorded an annual NO2 average that exceeded the national standard. The government must immediately strengthen the measures to protect the public’s health by addressing the air pollution problem. As vehicle emissions are one of the main sources of NO2, one of the first steps the government must take is to slow down the growth rate of private cars and electrify public transportation.

Chung Wai Lok is a Communications Officer at Greenpeace Hong Kong.