POSTSCRIPT / October 22, 2015 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Rotarians to monitor air pollution in Metro

WITH the continued failure of the government to monitor air pollution in the national capital and post real time advisories on its threat to public health, the Rotary Club of Makati has decided to help the Department of Environment and Natural Resources do the job.

Eduardo H. Yap, president of the Rotary Club of Makati, said yesterday that his group is set to launch an “air quality monitoring and reporting system” in Metro Manila as its 50th anniversary milestone public service project.

He said the Rotary will procure, set up and operate the monitoring system in key sites in the capital and tie up with the mass media for the daily dissemination of the day’s pollution reading coupled with advisories on what people can and should do.

Some issues back, Postscript suggested that air quality readings gathered in real time by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau be included in the daily weather bulletins that the mass media relay to their audiences.

Yap pointed out that the air in the very capital of the country is heavily polluted during most days, much of it coming from smoke-belching motor vehicles choking the thoroughfares. A dark cloud of dirty air hangs over Metro Manila every day.

A few days after arrival in Manila, many balikbayans, such as those from the United States, Canada and Europe, start coughing for no apparent reason. Upon consultation, it is often found that they develop the symptom because of the intolerable air pollution.

What is being done about it? Yap did not say it (we did), but it appears that the pollution problem is being used as an excuse for corrupt officials to make money purchasing equipment from favored suppliers for monitoring and abating air pollution.

But since March when a network of pollution monitors was installed at great expense in all the cities and town of Metro Manila, the data-gathering has not produced the touted real time reports and the timely advising of the threatened public.

Air pollution has been pinpointed as the major reason why respiratory disease has been among the top three health concerns in the country, particularly Metro Manila where close to 20 million people live, work or visit. The same scourge has been creeping up on other urban centers.

The Lung Cancer Center in Quezon City recently installed an air quality monitoring system in its premises. Yap said the report covering Aug. 1-31 indicated 467 out of 733, or 64 percent of total readings, exceeded WHO air quality standards. That meant poor air quality for the vulnerable.

Yap noted that unlike in many cities abroad, the Metro Manila population is not informed of the air quality through daily bulletins. Instead, the EMB releases an annual average reading which is misleading, and useless, as air quality varies from day to day and even at different times.

He said the Rotary’s air quality monitoring system (AQMS) will be independent of the government. “It intends to address this critical information gap to build public awareness of the hazardous condition of the air over Metro Manila,” he added.

The project will initially install air quality analyzers in at least three “strategic and geographically dispersed” locations to measure air quality and to transmit the Air Quality Index daily to participating recipients for dissemination. Focus will be on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) small enough to enter bronchial tubes and cause respiratory diseases.

Among recipients of the data are mass media and other project partners such as schools, hospitals and LED billboard operators. A mobile phone application will be developed.

Yap said the project aims to build public awareness of daily pollution level and prod government agencies and public health authorities to take steps to curb carbon and other toxic emissions.

When pollution hits a hazardous level, vulnerable people such as the elderly and those with respiratory and cardiac conditions, should be advised to take precaution, such as staying indoors. Yap said people cannot rely on anecdotal or visual evidence of pollution.

EMB ‘mafia’ still at work, insider says

EFFORTS continue at the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau, meanwhile, to cover the tracks of what insiders called the “AQMS mafia”.

Insiders said the Commission on Audit recently examined several equipment bought by the EMB from Electrobyte Environmental Concerns Corp. Negative findings were reported, but the worried auditor now wants to be transferred to a “less controversial agency”.

The same sources said that in a 2013 report, Electrobyte delivered DOAS monitors to EMB, but that until now, the agency has not published any air quality results from the monitors. The source described it as another “white elephant” of the AQMS “mafia”.

Another issue raised is the full reference air quality monitors set for bidding. In 2003, a source said, the same monitors had an Asian Development Bank funding of $1 million each. Today, based on the terms of reference, the equipment will cost only $400,000 per monitor.

Despite a letter of a DENR employee to President Noynoy Aquino, the Department of Budget and Management is setting the bid for P355 million air quality equipment whose specifications had been reportedly tailored for Electrobyte.

For the huge sums being poured into what looks like a “last two minutes” project of DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, we should have had by now a modest version of the daily Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) of Singapore.

Every day we see Singapore’s PSI trending, an indication of people’s concern about the air they breathe. The PSI integrates measurements of sulphur dioxide (SO2), particulate matter (PM10), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3).

The EMB system measures only PM2.5, PM10 and TSP (Total Suspended Particulates). The PM10 are bigger than the fine PM2.5, but are small enough to enter the upper esophagus; while TSP are big enough to get caught in the nostrils.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 22, 2015)

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