Mexico City declares air pollution alert as smoke blankets capital

Marje Pelayo   •   May 15, 2019   •   1804

Courtesy : Reuters

MEXICO –  Authorities declared an environmental emergency on Tuesday (May 14) for metropolitan Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous megalopolises, as smoke from nearby wildfires pushed pollution to levels deemed potentially harmful to human health.

Environmental authorities advised residents to avoid outdoor activities and exercise, remain indoors with windows and doors shut, and for especially sensitive groups, including infants, the elderly and sick, stay at home.

The city’s Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis came under pressure to act after visibility in the city began dropping sharply last week due to ash and smoke in the air.

Dry weather has played a role in a spate of fires around the city.

Fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 hit 158 micrograms per cubic metre of air at the Nezahualcoyotl measuring station at 5 a.m.

The World Health Organisation recommends a daily mean air quality guideline below 25. Annual averages above that amount are associated with higher long-term mortality risks.

Mexico City’s air, once infamously lethal, saw a steady improvement through the late 1990s. In recent years however, there have been renewed signs of deterioration.

The environmental authority also asked residents and businesses to do their part in helping to reduce emissions, such as by using cars less, while authorities fight the numerous blazes raging in Mexico City and surrounding states. (REUTERS)

Air quality in Beijing improves due to coronavirus lockdown

UNTV News   •   April 6, 2020

As the whole world is struggling to fight the coronavirus pandemic, one of the unexpected outcomes for Chinese people is more clean skies.

China had a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities like Beijing during February, when factories and streets were closed as authorities attempted to stop the spread of the virus, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus satellite image.

Analysis by Greenpeace shows that the pollutant emissions in Beijing and its surrounding areas dropped by more than 40% year-on-year in February.

Compared to previous years, the air in the capital has seen a big improvement during the outbreak. Streets and landmarks are no longer covered in smog.

Beijing resident Liu Chuan takes this as a potential health benefit, saying that he could even see stars at night after work.

“It feels like the air is overall much less polluted than it used to be. It also improves people’s mood, and indirectly strengthens the immunity. It’s good for fighting the virus,” added Liu.

However, expert warns the air pollution and carbon emissions may soon reappear as Chinese factories are ramping up output in an effort to offset the economic hit of coronavirus.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that it may cause air pollution frequently if a large scale of high-polluting industries resume production,” said Lyn Liu, a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner. (Reuters)

(Production: Irene Wang, Shubing Wang, Joyce Zhou, Natalie Thomas)

Scientist calls for action as China’s dirty air reaches Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Marje Pelayo   •   July 15, 2019

A Factory in China at Yangtze River. (Photo by Wikimedia user, High Contrast)

MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino environmental scientist discovered that there is dirty air prevailing over Burgos, Ilocos Norte that comes from China and South Korea.

Dr. Gerry Bagtasa of the University of the Philippines Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology collected air samples from 2015 to 2017 to determine whether fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) other than those native in the Philippines are affecting the area.

“Una naming ine-expect na manggagaling siya sa Taiwan kasi malapit lang ang Taiwan. (We expect the air to come from Taiwan as Taiwan is near to us.) It’s just 500 km. away,” explained Bagtasa.

“Pero after two years of measurement, ang nakita natin nanggagaling pala siya sa (we discovered that the air originated from) further north which is nasa Northern East Asia,” he said.

They discovered that the air coming from China and South Korea contains pollutants.

Fine particulate matter is an air pollutant so tiny that it can penetrate human respiratory airways and even to the deepest part of the lungs and other organs.

“May mga PM2.5 na hindi naman masama tulad ng asin. May mga asin na pinong-pino na pwede nating malanghap pag nasa beach tayo. Ok lang iyon, (There are PM2.5 that are not harmful like salt. There are fine salt that we inhale when we go to the beach. That’s okay),” Bagtasa said.

“May mga PM2.5 like iyong usok ng tambutso ng bus. PM2.5 din iyon (pero) masama naman siya pag nalanghap natin, (There are PM2.5 that come from bus exhaust. That’s also PM2.5 but harmful when inhaled),” he added.

According to Dr. Bagtasa, pollution from other countries can be determined through the metals present in the air.

They decided to choose Burgos because the area usually has clean air quality during normal weather.

Based on the result of their study, the level of pollution in the area is still below critical at 20 micrograms per cubic meter as compared to that in Metro Manila which is at 30 to 50 micrograms per cubic meter.

This level, according to Dr. Bagtasa, is still within the standards of air quality in the Philippines which sets 50 micrograms per cubic meter as the highest pollution rate.

But based on the World Health Organization (WHO), the air is already harmful to human health when the particulate matter exceeds 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

The environmental scientist explained that when the level of particulate matter reaches 25 micrograms per cubic meter, the first to suffer are those with pre-existing ailments. Higher than that level, he added, means harm would be massive as more people will be affected.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is now validating the result of the study for confirmation.

Dr. Bagtasa said they collected the samples every after four months, specifically when the northeast monsoon or amihan was prevalent.

The expert noted that it takes three days for the air from northeast Asia to reach the Philippines.

“Mayroon din kaming measurement ng Habagat at tuwing habagat napakalinis ng hangin doon. So yung pagsukat nila, I think nagsusukat sila sa same location, habagat ngayon, ang mangyayari maba-validate yung habagat measurements from before, (We also have measurement for habagat and during habagat, the air is clean. I think they do the measurement on the same location. Habagat is prevailing now which will validate our habagat measurements from before,)” Bagtasa said.

Bagtasa explained that the result can be used to aid policy makers that’s why the group is calling for more extensive study on the prevalence of air pollution across the globe.

“It’s a global problem at ang solution diyan, i-measure natin globally. Saan ba yung mga apektado? Saan ba yung hindi? (the solution would be to measure it globally. What areas are affected? What areas are not affected?)” Dr. Bagtasa said.

“From there, pwede tayong gumawa ng mga hakbang tulad ng pagbawas ng emission na nakakadagdag dito sa mga pullutants na ito, (we could provide steps [to alleviate pollution] like reduce the emissions that add to the pollutants [in the air],” he concluded. – with details from Rey Pelayo

Smog-ridden Mexico City suspends school classes due to pollution

Robie de Guzman   •   May 17, 2019

Courtesy : Reuters

Mexico’s government ordered schools in and around Mexico City to be closed on Thursday (May 16) in an extraordinary step taken due to elevated levels of pollution in the smog-wreathed capital.

The education ministry said in a statement on Wednesday (May 15) that the measure applies to public and private schools in the Mexico City metropolitan area, which is home to well over 20 million people. It recommended that children avoid exercise, remain indoors and avoid using contact lenses.

Two of the city’s principal seats of higher learning, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the National Polytechnic Institute, also said they would suspend classes in the metropolitan area on Thursday due to the pollution.

On Tuesday (May 14) the city’s authorities declared an environmental emergency. They have come under pressure to act due to reduced visibility caused by smoke and ash in the air during an extended dry spell.

“The increase in the temperature will worsen air pollution in cities because the chemical that pollution carries is dependent on the temperature. A prediction that is materialising is that there are an increasing numbers of forest fires because there is more drought, higher temperatures,” said the Environmental Consultant for the Mexico City Government.

“We have already seen this in the United States in California. We’ve had a very clear example of this in recent years,” it added.

Smoke from nearby wildfires has pushed pollution to levels deemed potentially harmful to human health.

“There are winds over Mexico City that are bringing with them particles that are setting off fires in different areas of the metropolitan area of the Mexico City valley area. Also, we’ve been informed that hopefully, this changes by the end of the week,” said Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.

“I have a one-and-a-half year old baby and I am looking to protect myself from getting sick, so as not to have the medical expenses and from feeling bad. It (mouth mask) is more preventative and for my baby,” said Pamela Barajas, a local resident.

“As citizens there are issues that we don’t know about, for example, with the particles (in the air) that are affecting breathing. We are affected because we suddenly feel that our eyes and nasal passages are irritated so in this respect it is alarming. And for children, there was a child that got a haemorrhage (from the pollution). So, I want to think that this (school closure) is because of the pollution and heatwave, combined with the heatwave it (pollution) is a more serious problem,” said Natividad Malpica, a local resident.

The Federal Environment Department said Wednesday that 3,800 firefighters are combating an average of about 100 fires a day in brush, scrub, agricultural and forest land throughout the country. Fire risk is highest in the spring for much of Mexico because the summer rainy season has not yet started. (REUTERS)

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