Filipinos are breathing dirty, unsafe air – report

MANILA (Philippines Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Filipinos are breathing dirty and unsafe air, according to a recently released report on air quality worldwide.

While the Philippines has ranked lowest among Southeast Asian countries for the concentration of particulate matter (PM), its levels still showed that Filipinos are breathing dirty and unsafe air, according to a recently released report on air quality worldwide.

The country’s annual mean for PM2.5—a pollutant widely regarded as most harmful to human health — was pegged at 17 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) last year.

This was higher than the safe level set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which placed the exposure threshold at 10 ug/m3.

Data published in the 2019 World Air Quality Report, compiled by Swiss-based company IQAir, were sourced from ground-based monitoring stations across the globe.

The report said that new datasets showed elevated air pollution levels globally due to climate change events, such as wildfires and sandstorms, as well as pollution from the rapid urbanization in regions such as Southeast Asia.

In this region, none of the nine countries managed to lower their PM2.5 levels to the safe standard set by the WHO.

Indonesia tops the list, with an annual mean of 51.7 ug/m3, followed by Vietnam (34.1 ug/m3) and Myanmar (31 ug/m3).

Most polluted capitals
For the first time, the cities of Jakarta and Hanoi overtook Beijing as among the world’s most PM2.5 polluted capitals.

“While the new coronavirus is dominating international headlines, a silent killer is contributing to nearly 7 million more deaths a year: air pollution,” said Frank Hammes, IQAir chief executive officer, in a statement.

Globally, the Philippines ranked 57th out of 98 countries in terms of average PM2.5 concentration last year.

But last year’s levels were higher than 2018, where it was pegged at 14.6 ug/m3.

Compared to other particles in the air, these tiny pollutants are considered deadlier as they can easily travel deep into the respiratory tract.

Environment groups said the excessive pollutant levels shown in the report underscored the need for urgent steps to address the quality of air in the country.

They said the numbers in the report reflected only data from existing monitoring stations, therefore only providing a “small snapshot” of the actual threat of air pollution.

“Monitoring air quality has been a perennial challenge,” said Gia Ibay, climate and energy program head of World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines.

“With the Philippine Clean Air Act and the standards contained therein being more than 20 years old, [this report] should instead bolster the urgent need to improve our air quality monitoring systems, update our air quality standards and ensure that these are properly implemented,” she added.

While the report also listed four Philippine cities as among the cleanest in Southeast Asia, the groups said further studies must be made in order to verify these numbers.

These cities include Calamba in Laguna province, which ranked first out of 15 cities; Carmona in Cavite (3rd); Legazpi in Albay (10th); and Balanga in Bataan (11th).

Monitoring devices needed
“Since last year, we have not seen an increase in air quality monitoring in these areas,” said Khevin Yu of Greenpeace Philippines, noting that in Calamba, only one monitoring station was installed for the entire city.

“We need local governments and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to provide more monitoring devices to verify these findings and to enable us to address the root cause of air pollution more effectively,” Yu added.

In a similar report showing the pollutant levels for 2018, Calamba also topped the list of regional cities with the cleanest air. Ten other Philippine cities, including seven in Metro Manila, were also included.  
 

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