Worse than coronavirus: World, PH air quality needs improvement, groups say

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 04:05 PM

The skyline of Metro Manila is seen from Angono, Rizal early morning of the new year, Jan. 1, 2020. Air quality in Metro Manila was “hazardous” at the height of New Year's Eve revelries, as fireworks lit up the sky, the DENR said. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippines is among majority of countries in the world that do not meet air quality standards, a recent global report showed.

Ranking 57th out of 98 in IQAir’s “World most polluted countries” of 2019, the Philippines’s particulate pollution (PM2.5) levels was recorded at an average of 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), an increase from 14.6 μg/m3 in 2018. 

IQAir considers this “moderate” based on the United States Air Quality Index (US AQI). The health recommendation for such air pollution levels is that “Sensitive individuals should avoid outdoor activity as they may experience respiratory symptoms.”

The Philippines’ average pollution levels is also below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety limit of 10 μg/m3.

Particulate matter (PM) refers to the mixture of solid particles or liquid droplets in the atmosphere. These include water, dust and salt particles. PM2.5, which the IQAir measures, refers to particulate matters that have a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers or just 3 percent of the diameter of a human hair. High levels of fine particulate matter in the air can reduce visibility or make the sky look hazy. 

PM2.5 pollution accounts for 29 percent of all deaths and disease from lung cancer, 24 percent of all deaths from stroke, and 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to the report.

From the IQAir report
From the IQAir report

“While the new coronavirus is dominating international headlines, a silent killer is contributing to nearly 7 million more deaths a year: air pollution,” said IGAir CEO Frank Hammes in a statement.

Bangladesh (83.30 μg/m3) topped the list of most polluted countries, followed by Pakistan (65.81 μg/m3), Mongolia (62 μg/m3), Afghanistan (58.8 μg/m3) and India (58.08 μg/m3).

The report recognized Southeast Asia’s rapid industrialization, with the cities of Jakarta and Hanoi overtaking Beijing in the polluted capital cities ranking.

While the Philippines has the lowest level of pollution in Southeast Asia, most of its cities included in the study exceeded WHO’s safety limits. 

Manila has an average particulate pollution of 18.2 μg/m3, Meycauayan with 35.3 μg/m3, Dumaguete with 27.7 μg/m3, Bulacan with 26.9 μg/m3, Cavite City with 26.6 μg/m3, Batangas City with 12.9 μg/m3, Balanga with 11.4 μg/m3 and Legazpi with 11.3 μg/m3.

Only Carmona (9.1 μg/m3) and Calamba (4 μg/m3) had air quality within the WHO’s standards.

In a statement, local environmental groups called on the Philippine government to take immediate steps to improve the country’s air quality.

“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,” read a joint statement by Greenpeace Philippines, Clean Air Asia, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), Health Care without Harm, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines.

A recent report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia estimates that “toxic emissions can cost Filipinos as much as 1.9% GDP loss and 27,000 premature deaths.”

The group suggested that President Rodrigo Duterte “declare air pollution as a national issue and to order all line agencies involved in air quality monitoring and regulation to prioritize this issue.”

It also called for the updating of the Clean Air Act and the issuance of a moratorium on all Permits to Operate Air Pollutant Installations, especially for proposed coal power plants.

The groups said there is a need 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.”