An environmental investigation into the living conditions of those living in subdivided flats in the Kwai Chung District

Findings show that the lack of ventilation and high levels of carbon dioxide and particulate matters in these undesirable housing is far below the acceptable levels for standard of living. According to the Hong Kong Poverty Situation Report 2016, the district of Kwai Tsing is ranked second in poverty after Sham Shui Po. In response to this, the HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre Group and Community Work Unit, in partnership with World Green Organisation (WGO) recruited over 100 volunteers to survey 134 households living in undesirable condition and housing in the Kwai Chung District. Further investigation and analysis conducted by Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Department of Building Services Engineering found that the excessive levels of carbon dioxide and particulate matters, as well as the extreme temperatures due to lack of windows and ventilation are dangerous and hazardous for the residents in multiple ways. This investigation is prompting the government to take an even more proactive role in improving the quality of life of these poor households.

50% of interviewees found that the lack of ventilation and the unbearable heat in their subdivided flats to be intolerable

Although 94% of the surveyed households had windows, only 40% had 1-2 useable windows; 18% of households were unable to use the windows due to the harsh conditions of the neighbourhood, 73% were unable to use the windows due to the noise and odour outside, 13% were unable to use the windows due to safety reasons. This means that a majority of the time having a window is the same as having no window. The lack of windows, in addition to the multiple rooms in each unit, contribute to the poor ventilation in the apartment (readings were below 0 which was below the detection limit of the equipment). Surrounding areas were also in the same state (readings were also below 0 in 67% of units). 61% noted the lack of air circulation in the flats. 35% even stated that they had ‘difficulty breathing’ in the flat. Air circulation is essential to physical health. The air circulation helps evaporate sweat, reduce body temperature, improve respiratory health, and reduce concentrations of particulate matters in the air. In addition to this, the lack of ventilation makes the flat act like an oven. The temperature inside the apartment are on both extremes. 46% felt that the temperatures were too high, while 5% felt that the temperature was too cool. Overall, 45% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the uncomfortable temperature.

In addition, the poor ventilation, as a result of the lack of windows, also lead to an accumulation of harmful chemicals in the air. Studies have found that a concentration of 1,000 ppm or more of carbon dioxide can cause fatigue in people. According to the American Society of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (ASHRAE), a concentration of 700ppm causes residents to feel the effects of air pollution. 68% of the houses had a carbon dioxide concentration level of 700ppm or more [1]. In addition, if you are exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide for more than 8 hours, it can seriously cause harm to your physical health. 24% of households were found to have a carbon dioxide concentration of over 1,000 ppm or more. In fact, the highest level recorded in these houses was 2,152ppm. The average level was 888.61ppm.

According to the World Health Organisation and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are fine particulate matters (PM), for example PM2.5, in the air that are very deadly as it penetrates deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered. Analysis showed that the concentration of PM2.5 recorded in the subdivided apartments were all 35μg /m3 or above. 30% of residents was found to have at least 56μg /m3 or more of PM2.5. Out of all the surveyed households, the highest amount of PM2.5 .found was 125μg /m3 and the average was 56μg /m3. The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department suggest that the amount of PM2.5 should not exceed more than 35μg /m3. The World Health Organisation has stated that for every increase of 10μg /m3, mortality rate increases by 2-11%, which increases among the demographics that are more susceptible to illness such as children, the elderly or patients that are suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

More than 80% of the apartments’ luminosity are below the recommended levels, affecting adults and children’s acuity of vision.

About 83% of households had a reading of below 300lux. The low levels of luminosity in these household causes adults and children, especially those that go to school and have homework, to develop eye problems. Many households cannot afford expensive electricity and elect to reduce electricity by minimizing the lights in the apartment. This means that even though many of the households have synthetic lights, many do not use it in fear of high bills.

Different people have expressed their own solution to this problem.

Ms. Nora Wong Fuk Nga, Unit in-charge, Group & Community Work Unit of the HKSKH Lady MacLehose Centre, said,

The results from our investigation has shown the low air quality, extreme temperatures, excessive levels of carbon dioxide and particulate matters, and the low luminosity in these subdivided apartments to be all below the acceptable safety levels. Currently, Hong Kong has no housing standards and regulations (e.g. number of windows, the height of the building, indoor ventilations, PM2.5 levels). Therefore, we suggest that the government should push the relevant authorities to refer to the existing building construction planning regulations in order to create a ‘Best Practice Model’ for all non-regulated units. Through this, we can ensure that basic living conditions of Hong Kong people are safe.

Dr. William Yu, Chief Executive Officer of WGO, also said,

Through the investigation, we now have clear evidence of the lack of ventilation, low air quality, and poor lighting in these apartments. Many of these apartments are very narrow which means that with the lack of ventilation, PM2.5 will accumulate in the air, increasing the carcinogenic risk of those residing in them. As a result of this, we are looking into different ways to improve the undesirable living conditions of these apartments. One way to do so is to provide energy efficient light bulbs that will improve the lighting situation and help relieve their electricity bill. We are also recommending that the government consider providing financial assistance to these households to improve the air quality in their apartment so that we can increase their health and reduce future medical costs.

For inquiries:

CEO, Dr. William Yu
Assistant Manager, Marketing Communication, Noel Wong


[1] The at-risk demographic include: 1) Children; 2) The elderly; 3) Those suffering from cardiovascular diseases; 4) Those with chronic respiratory diseases; 5) Diabetics; 6) Pregnant women, and; 7) the obese.