No more haze, only pollution
Ghio Ong, Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) - October 28, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Winds have blown away haze from Indonesian forest fires, so if visibility is still poor in Metro Manila, it must be regular air pollution.

As of yesterday morning, the Philippines was “clear from haze from Indonesia,” according to Esperanza Cayanan, chief of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA)’s weather division.

PAGASA assistant weather services chief Robert Sawi said the light haze observed in Metro Manila in the past days could be due to pollution emitted by motor vehicles, not Indonesian forest fires.

Earlier in the day, PAGASA said the prevailing northeast monsoon or amihan continued to blow the haze from Indonesian forest fires away from the country.

Cayanan said the northeasterly and easterly winds would prevail in the country in the coming days. But the haze could still recur as long as there are forest fires in Indonesia and if a weather system such as a cyclone carries it toward the Philippines.

“Thick smaze” (smoke and haze) reached parts of Mindanao and Visayas last week due to Typhoon Lando (Koppu).

But Cayanan said no weather system is expected to bring the haze toward the Philippines in the coming days.

PM2.5 is a fine particulate matter found in smoke and haze that can be directly emitted from sources such as forest fires or may form when gases emitted from power plants, industries and vehicles react in the air.

Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health problems.

But the Department of Health (DOH) and the Environment Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Northern Mindanao assured residents that the haze brought by Indonesian forest fires is no cause for alarm.

As of Monday, the PM2.5 level had dropped to only 30 micrograms per normal cubic meter (g/Ncm).

“We only consider the level of particulates a danger to persons at risk when this exceeds 154 g/Ncm,” said Dr. David Mendoza, head of the Regional Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit of DOH Region 10.

“It is only when the PM2.5 level breaches the 155 mark that we issue an advisory for people at risk (like those with cardiac/pulmonary conditions) to wear protective mask when going outdoors. And it is only when the level reaches 354 g/Ncm that we advise all people to wear masks,” he explained.

Jaime Montoya, director of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, said the haze does not carry infectious pathogens that could be considered life-threatening. “However, haze contains foreign bodies that may cause discomfort and must be expelled. Thus, persons with asthma and other respiratory illnesses could be the ones directly affected by haze but only temporarily.”

‘Asthma caused death of 2 men in GenSan’

Health Secretary Janette Garin said the two men earlier reported to have died from haze in General Santos City actually perished due to asthma.

In a press briefing yesterday, Garin noted the diagnosis on the patients was “status asthmaticus” or sustained asthma attacks wherein their airways were constricting, making it difficult for them to breath.

“We looked at their records. The time and day when they had (asthma) attacks did not take place when the PM2.5 and other particulates of solid matters given by the Environmental Management Bureau (coming from haze was high). So it did not match,” she said.

“It so happened that they were in the hospital in critical condition when the haze came out but it was still on low level,” she added.

One of the victims is a 49-year-old male electrician from General Santos City who had asthma and hypertension. The other is a 52-year-old male from Ozamis City who happened to be in General Santos City when he suffered asthma attacks.

The DOH is monitoring the situation in areas reached by haze.

Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez called on concerned government agencies to consider imposing price ceilings on N95 facemasks, anti asthma medications and other lung-ailment drugs after prices of facemasks in Cebu doubled due to strong demand caused by the haze.

DOST on guard against forest fires

Meanwhile, the DOST is on guard against possible outbreak of forest fires in the country as the prevailing El Niño is causing dry soil in tropical forests.

“It’s possible and we’re already taking steps to closely monitor the situation,” Raymund Liboro, assistant secretary for plans and programs of DOST, told The STAR.

Liboro said that the DOST has developed the light image detection and ranging (LiDAR) mapping technology through their Project DREAM (Disaster Risk Exposure and Assessment for Mitigation) that can help identify high-risk areas that can be monitored.

Isolated rains expected in parts of Luzon

For now, the northeast monsoon will bring partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated light rains over the regions of Ilocos, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon until today.

Metro Manila and the rest of the country will have partly cloudy to cloudy skies with isolated rain showers or thunderstorms.

But PAGASA said no tropical cyclone is expected to enter or develop inside the Philippine area of responsibility until the weekend. - With Gerry Lee Gorit, Paolo Romero, Sheila Crisostomo, Rainier Allan Ronda

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