POSTSCRIPT / October 13, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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DENR air pollution monitoring useless

WHAT is the point of installing devices measuring air pollution in Metro Manila when the information collected, assuming it is correct and in real time, remains mere dead data locked in a server of the Environmental Management Bureau?

This was one of the questions raised by a concerned employee of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who wrote President Noynoy Aquino last Oct. 5 to report alleged anomalies in the EMB’s purchases of equipment and its managing of the pollution problem.

We were given a copy of the letter after we called attention last Tuesday to the deadly brown cloud of dirty air hanging over the national capital and suggested that the daily weather report include hourly readings of air pollution in Metro Manila and all urban centers.

Why cannot we have something like the daily Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) of Singapore whose air quality is being degraded by the haze from forest fires in Sumatra? Its PSI integrates measurements of sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

Our EMB system measures only PM2.5, PM10 and TSP (Total Suspended Particulates). The PM2.5  are small enough to enter the bronchial tubes and cause severe respiratory diseases; PM10 are small enough to enter the upper esophagus; and TSP are big enough to get caught in the nostrils.

That modest EMB system may be good enough for a start, but it has no practical value, because the data collected is not relayed in real time to the public that continues to suffer the consequences of severe air pollution, especially in traffic-choked Metro Manila.

Is the government waiting to see people collapsing, gasping for air, on EDSA and other busy thoroughfares where noxious air particulates have risen to alarming levels?

Insider blows whistle on EMB ‘mafia’

SINCE March, all the 16 cities and one town in Metro Manila are supposed to have air quality monitoring stations, each costing P3 million ($68,000). At that time, only 12 of them automatically send hourly data to the EMB office in Quezon City, while five still had their data physically transferred weekly.

But the DENR whistle blower told the President that a “mafia” in the EMB’s Air Quality Monitoring Section (AQMS) insists on using an “e-log” that sends the raw data to the cloud through the OPSIS in Sweden ostensibly for quality assurance and quality control before it is relayed to the AQMS server that nobody except selected hands may open.

The subscription for the cloud used for storing and retrieving files entails a separate annual expense. This cost is tied up with the services of OPSIS.

The insider gave the names of the supposed AQMS “mafia” members, but we leave their identification and investigation to Malacañang, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, or the Commission on Audit to work on.

The AQMS group, the insider said, had tailored the specifications of the monitoring equipment so that only a favored supplier that he identified as the Electrobyte Environmental Concerns Corp. (EECC) can qualify.

The informant disclosed an alleged plan by the AQMS to enter into a contract for an annual maintenance service costing P2 million per monitoring station sold by ECCC to EMB. The plan reportedly calls also for increasing to 137 the number of monitoring stations – resulting in a P274 million annual maintenance contract with a five-year life.

The insider deplored that the AQMS has violated the concept of real-time monitoring by using a circuitous route that results in a big time gap between the collection of the pollution data and its projected live reporting.

The discrepancy can be easily checked, he said, by comparing simultaneously the data on the monitoring device on site and the report on the EMB website. In a real-time process, they should be displaying the same reading.

Readers hit deterioration of air quality

SEVERAL readers reacted to our Postscript on air pollution and our suggestion that pollution levels be included in the daily weather report.

Reader ankurnarain emailed: Manila pollution overall has increased tremendously in the past years. While we drove away industries to nearby provinces, we established LTFRB, the pollution machine. None of their accredited vehicles conform to any pollution standard.

I believe they are also exempt from the yearly emission testing. You will find thick black smoke from all yellow plates. Trucks are rampant in violating pollution control laws, one only needs to stand at the corner of Mindanao and Congressional avenues in the evening to see how the particulate matter condition worsens once these trucks’ numbers increase.

Private vehicle emission testing is now a scam, one does not even have to go there anymore to get a real check done, just pay P400 to get a fake one printed for your car license plate.

Knowing above, my solution to Metro Manila traffic is very simple: Make emission testing strict and you will see at least half of the vehicles on road GONE, literally, never to come back as they are too old/expensive to repair to comply..

VIC ANINO emails from Ontario: These are our Air Quality Health Index Categories and Values: 1-3: Low risk; 4-6: Moderate risk; 7-10: High risk; and +10: Very high risk.

It will take a lot of investment to build the monitoring stations to be able to monitor the actual pollution index in real time. Our province has 39 stations to cover the area much larger than the whole Western Europe and it will show in its website the real time Air Quality health index updated every hour. It is not as simple as asking the government to add it to its reports.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 13, 2015)

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