MANILA, Philippines—The quality of the air that residents of Metro Manila breathe has worsened, prompting the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to launch a crackdown on smoke-belchers along one of the busiest thoroughfares in the metropolis.
Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said DENR tests on air quality in the first half of the year showed an increase in solid or liquid particles suspended in the air.
“In the first half of 2010, it increased to 163 micrograms (ug)/normal cubic meters (Ncm). It’s really alarming. We are redoubling our efforts,” Paje said.
In 2009, the total suspended particles (TSP) in the metropolis was 134 ug/Ncm, which was 48 percent above the normal standard. The normal standard is 90 ug/Ncm.
He said President Benigno Aquino III himself was personally monitoring air quality in Metro Manila, which has more than 11 million residents.
Paje said the data on emissions were collected from at least 12 areas in Metro Manila, including those on EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue), España Boulevard in Manila, Taft Avenue in Pasay City, and Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City.
Suspended particulates from vehicles consist of carbon monoxide and sulfur molecules that have mixed with dust.
Poor, commuters affected
Former Environment Secretary Elisea Gozon, now a director of the Earth Day Network, said the dire air quality in the city was adversely affecting the poor and commuters.
A 2007 World Bank report said air pollution was a major cause of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the Philippines, costing the country P7.6 billion annually, she said.
The World Bank report is bolstered by a study by the University of the Philippines’ College of Medicine, which showed that more than 50 percent of the medicines sold in
are for respiratory ailments.
As part of its efforts to clean the city air, the DENR eyes to cut down air pollution in the metropolis by 30 percent.
Paje said motor vehicles were the main source of pollution in the metropolis, accounting for as much as 80 percent of the pollution. The rest comes from industrial sources.
Paje said the increase in TSP could be attributed to the worsening traffic in Metro Manila. The longer a vehicle is stranded on jam-packed streets, the more pollutants it emits, he said.
The main pollutants are “jeepneys, buses, and tricycles,” as many of these vehicles are old models and have inefficient emission systems, he said.
The DENR did not have records on how many vehicles ply the city roads.
There are 5 million tricycles in the country of which 2.8 million are in Metro Manila, according to the DENR. Motorcycles contribute about 20 million cubic meters of pollution load every year, the agency said.
The DENR, private sector and local government units on Monday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to crack down on smoke belchers under the Ligtas Hangin project.
The first project for the Ligtas Hangin campaign is EDSA, Metro Manila’s main highway.
People who live 500 meters from major roads like EDSA are significantly at risk of asthma, lung diseases, heart attacks, strokes and cancer, the MOU read.
“Smoke belchers must not be allowed to run on the streets and pollute the air we breathe. A liveable Metro Manila starts with a smoke belcher-free EDSA,” said the MOU, signed by officials of the DENR, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), environment groups and local executives.
Paje said the campaigners would not spare government vehicles that pollute the main avenue.
He noted that the only vehicles exempted from scrutiny were ambulances, school services and armored vehicles.
Under the agreement, local governments would step up their efforts against smoke belchers and arrest motorists who violate the Clean Air Act.
Government agencies like the DENR and MMDA would be in charge with monitoring the air quality, while environmental organizations would help conduct free testing of emissions for public vehicles.
Aside from cracking down on smoke belchers, the DENR also issued stricter guidelines on vehicular emissions for vehicles entering the market in 2011.
The agency will also introduce electric tricycles in the Philippines to encourage operators and drivers to switch to the cleaner vehicle.
Kristine Alave, Phil. Daily Inquirer