Science and Environment

Pollution levels alarm advocacy groups

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines —  Concerned groups on Tuesday raised the alarm following recent reports on poor air quality in the country.  

A global report launched this week showed that air quality in the Philippines contains PM2.5 pollution levels that significantly exceed the safety limits prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The groups – Greenpeace Philippines, Clean Air Asia, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, Health Care without Harm, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, and the World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines – called on the Philippine government to revamp and improve current air pollution monitoring systems in order to provide more reliable information on whether the air in communities is still safe for daily living.

The recent 2019 Air Visual report places the Philippines in 58th spot out of 98 countries with locations from where air quality data were collected. But the groups emphasized that while available Air Visual data did not place the Philippines among the countries with the worst air quality, the data nevertheless showed that the country still has very polluted air. 

Year-on-year data also showed that the country’s air quality is getting worse. Average PM2.5 pollution levels in Air Visual sites increased from 14.6 micrograms per cubic meter in 2018 to 17.6 µg/m3 in 2019. The safety limit set by the WHO is 10 µg/m3.

The groups also noted that the report only looks at PM2.5 pollution, and does not include other pollutants such as sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide, ozone and other contaminants that carry deleterious health risks.  

A report released by Greenpeace Philippines earlier this month showed that these and other toxic emissions can cost Filipinos as much as 1.9 percent of gross domestic product loss and 27,000 premature deaths. 

The groups are calling for better air pollution standards in the Philippines, including improved monitoring, transparency and analysis. In the case of the 2019 Air Visual report, the quantity and placement of air monitors from which data were collected provide only a snapshot of the threat of PM 2.5 air pollution. 

To be effective, Greenpeace said that the government should monitor places close to main sources of air pollution, such as coal-fired power plants and high traffic areas of motorized vehicles.

“President Duterte should declare air pollution as a national issue and to order all line agencies involved in air quality monitoring and regulation to prioritize this issue,” the groups said.

At the same time, they cited the need to enhance transparency and expedite the review and update of the air pollution standards under Republic Act 8749 or the Clean Air Act of 1999.

They added that it is also important to fully prepare and implement a National Plan on the Reduction of GHG (greenhouse gas emissions), as mandated by Section 31 of the Philippine Clean Air Act.

The groups said it is important to address the root cause of air pollution in the country by implementing a transition plan away from the use of coal energy and fossil fuels in the transport sector.

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