Intensify drive vs air pollution, LGUs urged
Even as seasonal winds bring pollution from mainland China to the northwestern Philippines, local governments must step up efforts to check locally generated pollution, such as open burning, according to a Filipino scientist.
Dr. Mylene Cayetano, who leads the Environmental Pollution Studies Laboratory of the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (UP IESM), made the appeal as she disclosed results of a study early this week that a third of particulate matter collected in Burgos, Ilocos Norte province, had traveled all the way from China.
The study, which also involved Cayetano, noted local sources of air pollutants, such as biomass burning, which accounted for more than a third, or 33 percent, of total concentration of PM2.5, or particulate matter that are 2.5 microns in diameter.
Naturally occurring particulates, such as sea salt and soil, made up the final chunk, or 33 percent, of the concentration.
Local air pollutants
In the countryside, car emissions are the least of its problems, unlike in Metro Manila and other urban areas where vehicles are to blame for nearly 88 percent of total emissions.
“Those in the provinces cannot claim that their air is clean just because they don’t have lots of cars. The practice of open burning continues, including the use of solid fuels in cooking that contributes to indoor air pollution, which is among the leading cause of deaths,” Cayetano said.
She said the local air pollutants in the rural areas came primarily from rampant burning of solid waste and rice straws.
The 1999 Clean Air Act exempts traditional small-scale methods of community or neighborhood burning, or “siga,” but the Ecological Waste Management Act of 2000 explicitly prohibits open burning of solid waste.
Citing previous studies, the study team, which included main author Dr. Gerry Bagtasa also of the UP IESM and Chung-Shin Yuan of the Institute of Environmental Engineering of Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University, said the Philippines had been identified as “a source of biomass burning emissions ubiquitous in Southeast Asia.”
A 2009 study estimated an annual open field burning of 10.15 teragrams of rice straws from 2002 to 2006 in the country.
While the “unpleasant visitor” from China may be harder to keep away, the strict enforcement of the country’s own laws can help address the local problems on environmental pollution, Cayetano said.
“If we clean up our local pollution, it will still have a sizeable impact,” she said. “But since these are traditional practices, it really needs a behavioral and mindset change among the people.”
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