Less dirty, but improving?

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By Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

Speaking Out

Sunday, March 16, 2014


RECENT news reports that particularly caught my attention were about the two most polluted cities in the world. I am relieved that Metro Manila was not one of them – yet.

The news pertained to Beijing and New Delhi.

Here are news bits on the two cities as gathered from various online reports:

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Beijing

The state-owned China News Service (as reported by the South China Morning Post) has acknowledged that “Beijing’s severe pollution is much worse than the average level… and the environment is far from meeting the (safety) standards.

The report added that pollution in the Chinese capital is “close to extreme” and makes the city of 20 million “barely suitable” for living.

The Associated Press, for its part, reported: A period of pollution in January saw density readings of PM 2.5 particles exceeding 500 micrograms per cubic meter… That density is about 20 times as high as the 25 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organization.

Other reports stated:

- Beijing authorities have issued an “orange” alert – the second-highest in the four levels of urgency. “Orange” prompts health advisories and bans on barbecue, fireworks and demolition.

- Hospitals were overrun by the young and old, suffering from respiratory problems.

- People have been warned to stay indoors. Those who venture outside were asked to wear protective marks as they navigate the smog-filled streets.

- Sales of air purifiers for homes – as well as face masks – rocketed and some stores simply ran out.

But not is all bad as far as a high-ranking Chinese military officer is concerned.

He made the brilliant observation that the heavy smog provides a shield against US satellite surveillance!?*

New Delhi

A report carried by the Hindustan Times, an Indian Daily, claimed that New Delhi had “earned the dubious tag of being the world’s most polluted city. The Hindustan Times was quoting the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a report put out by Yale and Columbia Universities.

In its own investigation, the New York Times indicated that “the Indian capital’s fine particulate matter has, on average, been worse than Beijing in the first two weeks of the year.”

Technicalities aside, here is how a man-on-the-street describes the situation in New Delhi: “….a city blanketed by an indistinguishable mix of fog, dust and toxic heavy particles. Parents may not be sending their kids to school in gas masks, yet, but it is not a fine day to jog.”

Having said that, what is the current situation in Metro Manila?

The Environmental Management Bureau uses two measures to gauge the air pollution level – 1) Total Suspended Particulates or TSP and 2) Particulate Matter 10 or PM 10.

TSP measures solid pollutants such as dust and soot in the air. PM 10 measures smaller particles, small enough that they can be inhaled.

Using both measures, the EMB reports that air pollutants continue to EXCEED the reference values of 90 micrograms per normal cubic meter for TSP, and 60 micrograms per normal cubic meter for PM 10.

EMB emphasizes, however, that present levels are down from 1995 levels prior to the enactment of the Clean Air Law.

Translation for every Juan and Maria: Compared to 1995 levels, the air in Metro Manila is now Less Dirty.

But the law was not entitled Less Dirty Air Law. We are supposed to have Clean Air.

We refuse to believe that we cannot have Clean Air.

And therein lies the continuing challenge for the national government, the local government units, the private sector, the environmentalists, the ordinary Juans and Marias – all of us.

Opinion

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