By Corina Oliquino

MANILA –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 said the 2019 Air Visual Report by Swiss-based air monitor IQAir underscores the need to “upgrade the country’s obsolete air quality standards, as well as the fundamental duty of the government to make information on air pollution available and easily accessible to the general public.”

According to the report, air quality in the Philippines last year was considered polluted and unsafe for Filipinos due to the presence of particulate matter at 17 ug/m3 of PM2.5.

PM2.5 is a small, inhalable pollutant with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which can enter the respiratory tract and cause asthma, lung cancer and heart disease in humans

According to the report, the fine pollutant accounts for 29 percent of all deaths and disease from lung cancer, 24 percent of all deaths from stroke and 43 percent of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In a report by GMA News, a study made by World Health Organization (WHO) showed the safe level of air quality ranged from 10 ug per cubic meter or PM2.5 or below.

The report places the country in the 58th spot out of 98 countries with locations from where air quality data were collected.

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

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines has the lowest concentration of PM2.5 while Indonesia placed first with a PM2.5 annual mean of 51.7 ug/m3. This was followed by Vietnam and Myanmar, with 34.1 ug/m3 and 31.0 ug/m3, respectively.

IQAir recognized the region’srapid industrialization, with the cities of Jakarta and Hanoi overtaking Beijing in the polluted capital cities ranking.

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).

In the local setting, only Carmona (9.1 μg/m3) and Calamba (4 μg/m3) had air quality within the WHO’s standards while 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.

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In another report by ABS-CBN News, recent Greenpeace Southeast Asia report estimates that“toxic emissions can cost Filipinos as much as 1.9 percent GDP loss and 27,000 premature deaths.”

Greenpeace is also urging Duterte to “declare air pollution as a national issue and to order all line agencies involved in air quality monitoring and regulation to prioritize this issue” by updating the Clean Air Act and the issuance of a moratorium on all Permits to Operate Air Pollutant Installations, especially for proposed coal plants.

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.”

In another report by The Manila Standard, 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 harmful health risks.

“This report is helpful in as much as it reveals the levels of one dangerous air pollutant, PM2.5, in the country. PM2.5 is a very dangerous air pollutant but so are others like PM10, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide, etc., that are not covered by the report,” Health Care Without Arm health energy initiative campaigner Paeng Lopez said.

“It fails to present a whole-of-nation situation on the air quality of the country,” PMCJ national coordinator Ian Rivera seconded.

This might be misleading for a country that the report puts in a relatively high rank compared to others but the instrumentation and methodology do not really indicate the real situation of what is happening on the ground, particularly in areas around coal-fired power plants,” Rivera added.