POSTSCRIPT / October 27, 2015 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Give APEC summiteers masks for air pollution

AT THE RATE the air quality in Manila has been deteriorating, we as hosts may have to give protective masks to the world dignitaries, including US President Barack Obama and other heads of government, coming for the APEC summit next month.

Even without the added problem posed by the noxious haze from forest fires in nearby Indonesia, air pollution in Metro Manila has been exceeding critical levels with the slow-motion government unable or unwilling to moderate the health hazard.

President Noynoy Aquino cannot tell visitors complaining of the dirty air “But you’re still alive, ain’t you?”. Nor can his Anointed One Mar Roxas boast to foreign experts that our air pollution, like the traffic mess, is an indicator of economic progress.

As of noon yesterday, the real-time Air Quality Index for Manila stood at 153 µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter), which is way above world standards and the 90 µg/Ncm per year healthy value set by the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.

It may be providential, no thanks to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that the prevailing wind direction in the region is generally east to west. The smoke from the Indonesian forest fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra tends to be wafted westward to Malaysia and Singapore.

Still, compared to Manila’s 153 AQI reading yesterday, Kuala Lumpur had 65, Hong Kong 73, and Singapore 163.

In neighboring cities shrouded by the haze, local authorities give daily advisories to residents likely to be affected – something that DENR does not do. The government should include pollution levels in the daily weather report.

Foreigners better informed on Manila pollution

THE SHODDY monitoring by the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau of real-time air quality in the national capital and other population centers does not elicit as much confidence as that of global and regional monitoring entities.

It does not speak well of the Aquino administration that concerned Filipinos have to check reports collated and analyzed abroad to know the pollution level in Manila and other urban centers.

The EMB installed at great cost early this year a network of monitors in every locality of Metro Manila, but until now the bureau cannot produce real-time reports on air pollution and publish daily health advisories like neighboring countries do.

Not satisfied with its bungled job, the EMB is now excitedly preparing for the purchase from its “suki” supplier of 37 full reference air quality monitoring stations for P355 million.

In the bidding terms of reference, the bureau has inserted a requirement that the equipment use an ambient air quality monitoring system called the Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy or DOAS – that only its favored supplier identified as Electrobyte has!

We are waiting for what insiders call the “mafia” in the EMB’s Air Quality Monitoring Section to invoke the haze “emergency” to buy piles of N95 masks for residents of localities deemed as at risk.

Or in the guise of upgrading their spotty system, they might also order from their “suki” supplier hundreds of portable air pollution monitors to install in places still without on-site equipment.

Is DENR sure of its ‘no worry’ advice?

INSIDERS at the DENR were aghast the other day with EMB-Region 12 announcing that based on their monitoring, pollutants especially the particulate matter (PM) are still below the critical level. That is assuming the figures are correct.

The PM level reported as of Oct. 21 was 50.50 µg/m3 in Cotabato City and 62.62 µg/m3 in Koronadal City. The EMB-R12 said the air pollutants were of tolerable level and should not be a cause for alarm.

The insiders said: “This very irresponsible statement puts to shame these environmental ‘experts’. That haze being visually observed, an abnormal condition, should have prompted them to do some PM trending as PM2.5 is the best indicator for the haze. Trending should have started a month ago to monitor any increase in PM2.5. (FDP: PM2.5 are particles fine enough to be inhaled into the bronchial tubes and cause respiratory and other diseases.)

“If the reading is below the critical level, as an imposed guideline value, it does not mean that the public should not worry at all. That it is near the critical level, then something should be done like public education or information. Singapore’s National Environment Agency health advisory states that once PM2.5concentration levels reach above 40µg/m3, residents should start taking precautions such as reducing prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

“If we convert the above mentioned concentration to AQI calculations of US EPA, it will read: Cotabato City: 138 which is UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS; and Koronadal City: 155 UNHEALTHY.

“That the City Health Office reported an increase in respiratory-related cases should have alarmed the ‘experts’ from EMB-Socsargen. Otherwise, more air quality training and workshops are needed for them to be more responsible in their official statements. Or better yet, require a check if the air quality monitoring equipment are working as they should.

“The EMB is not in a position to argue with or comment on the observations of PAGASA regarding the wind activity and wind pattern as this would backfire on them. Does EMB have data on the wind direction and speed, or do they have weather stations?

“The EMB air quality monitoring station is supposed to be equipped with weather sensors that could have helped in analyzing data. But it seems they do not even know how to relate the pollution with the wind direction and speed as these were not mentioned in the EMB-Socsargen statement on haze.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 27, 2015)

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