As expected, polluted air marred the start of 2024. According to the measurements done by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the early morning of January 1, several Metro Manila cities have poor air quality with some reaching “acutely unhealthy” levels.
By early evening, air quality improved. While the air has cleared, the pollution problem is not over. Where will all those pollutants go? For sure, they will not disappear in thin air. They will fall into the ground and waterways where they will continue to wreak havoc long after the festivities are over.
According to earth.org, when fireworks burst into their colorful lights, chemical debris is left scattered across the ground. Perchlorate is one of them. This chemical compound is often added to fireworks, working as an oxidizer to facilitate their upward propulsion. It remains in the environment for long periods, easily absorbed by plants. When it ends up in waterbodies, it can also affect fish development. This chemical can affect the function of the thyroid gland in large amounts.
Other pollutants like particulate matter (PM) or very fine dust, sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide, can stay in the atmosphere for a longer duration, causing these contaminants to be carried over to different places. When PM, nitric oxide, along with sulfur dioxide are transported by wind and then mixed with oxygen, water, and other chemicals, acid rain is formed.
Fireworks can also contribute to microplastic pollution in water. These plastic particles which are 5mm in diameter and less can be ingested by marine animals. As proof, the River Thames in England had an enormous increase in microplastic content following the New Year’s Eve firework show.
It is sad to think that a few minutes of entertainment will carry with it months, or even years, of suffering.
Environment wise, what are we looking at for 2024? For one, it would be interesting to know how companies covered by Republic Act 11898, or the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Act of 2022, complied with the 20% reduction of their plastic waste in 2023. They are supposed to report to EMB on their compliance. For this year, they need to recover 40%.
Will the senate do their part in passing the bill that will create the Department of Water Resources? The House of Representatives has already done their job. The upper house still has sufficient time. However, next year is an election year and lawmakers will be very busy with their re-election campaign. Filing of certificates of candidacy is this October.
In the international arena, will the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee formed by the United Nations beat the deadline and come out with an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution before the end of 2024? Let’s hope for the best.
Finally, I hope El Niño that is projected to last till the first half of 2024, will end sooner and not cause further damage. This phenomenon contributed to setting consecutive warmest months since June last year, and consequently the warmest year in recorded history.