Causes of air pollution in the Philippines

The causes of air pollution in the Philippines are the same in various other countries as the issue of air pollution is a global problem but, what is unique about the Philippines is the occurrence of Volcanic eruption which is a major contributor to air pollution.  

Air quality refers to the condition of the around us. Good air quality refers to the degree that the air is clean and the atmosphere is clean. It is the degree to which the air is free from pollution including PM 2.5 and PM 10.

Good quality air needs to be checked and balanced between humans and the environment. This is because some changes in our air quality affect human health, plants, animals and natural resources conditions.

Air pollution refers to the release of pollutants into the air that is detrimental to human health and the planet as a whole. Air pollution occurs when harmful or excessive quantities of substances including gases, particulates, and biological molecules are introduced into the earth’s atmosphere.

MANILA, Philippines — On rainy days, a dense haze would surround the expansive metropolis of the Philippine capital, obscuring the metropolitan skyline. Unfortunately, Filipinos have become accustomed to the city’s pollution.

So much so that many people were startled to realize that the majestic Sierra Madre mountain range could be seen from the heart of the metropolis when air quality improved during the COVID-19 shut down in March 2020.

Clear skies, magnificent sunsets, and the Sierra Madre as a backdrop to the huge city went viral just a week after the government banned public transit and non-essential enterprises in an attempt to contain the virus’ spread. Inadvertently, the Philippine government helped reduce air pollution in Metro Manila by following in the footsteps of other countries fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Various organisations presented data indicating precisely how drastic the improvement in air quality was just two weeks after the government implemented its so-called Enhanced Community Quarantine or ECQ.

Based on Airtoday.ph’s monitoring station in Quezon City in the northern part of Metro Manila, Dr Mylene Cayetano of the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) said that fine particulate matter or PM2.5 levels decreased by 40% to 66% during the first 6 weeks of the ECQ compared to the month of January.

Particulate matter with a diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometres and less than 10 micrometres are referred to as PM2.5 and PM10, respectively.

Air monitors distinguish between two types of contaminants. Both have detrimental health effects, but Dr Cayetano believes PM2.5 is more dangerous because of its small size, which allows it to penetrate the lungs. PM2.5 has been linked to heart and respiratory problems. “PM2.5 is a major cause of lung cancer worldwide, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer,” Cayetano stated.

According to Cayetano, who is also the technical adviser of Airtoday.ph, an air monitoring project of the Rotary Club of Makati and the Lung Center of the Philippines, average PM2.5 levels decreased 19% to 54% during the first six weeks of the ECQ compared to February.

PM2.5 levels plummeted to 7.1 ug/m3 during the first week of the lockdown, down from 20 ug/m3 two weeks prior and well below the World Health Organization’s long-term safety limit of 10 ug/m3, according to data from Airtoday.ph.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) monitored similar results, reporting a drop in PM2.5 levels in the southern portion of Metro Manila from 28.75 ug/m3 and 27.23 ug/m3 on March 10 to only 10.78 ug/m3 and 14.29 ug/m3 on March 22 due to some of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines.

When comparing the last week of April to the period before the lockdown, Clean Air Asia, which began monitoring air pollution in the capital city this year, found a 51% to 71% decrease in PM2.5 levels in three districts of Manila. The majority of the improvement in air quality was linked to a reduction in the number of motor vehicles on the roads, according to all monitoring organisations.

According to the DENR, motor vehicles were among the main causes of air pollution in the Philippines. contributing to 80% of the country’s air pollution in 2016, while stationary sources including factories and open burning were responsible for 20%. Other variables creating and altering pollution, according to UP IESM professors Cayetano and Dr Gerry Bagtasa.

Of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines, the weather is a contributor, and open burning is the other. For the second half of March, Bagtasa, which monitors pollution in the Philippines using data from the Himawari satellite’s aerosol optical depth (AOD), observed a “substantial decline” in pollution in the National Capital Region and its nearby province of Bulacan.

In comparison to the same period in prior years, or the introduction of the intensified community quarantine in Luzon. “However, due to burning, portions of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Cagayan Valley saw more pollution,” he stated.

Due to aerosol particles such as dust, smoke, and pollution, AOD determines how much sunlight is reflected or able to reach the ground. While the sensors used by Airtoday.ph and DENR are more accurate, Bagtasa claims that satellite AOD measurements may cover a far larger area – in this example, the entire Philippines – rather than just a single spot.

Bagtasa said the increase in air quality is visible when comparing current AOD data and satellite photos to the same period in prior years. He claims that comparing statistics to past years is more reliable because seasons have an impact on air pollution. He claims that dry seasons, such as summer, result in greater air quality.

“We were actually in a different season during the first week of March,” Bagtasa explained, adding that the summer season arrived about the same time that the lockdown was implemented in the second half of March.

The haze from biomass burning in the Indochina region caused increased pollution in the first half of April, but the second half of April showed “generally decreased pollution across much of Luzon.”

“So there was clearly a shift, particularly in Metro Manila. The reason for this is that autos are expected to contribute 60 to 80 per cent of the pollution in Metro Manila “According to Bagtasa, who spoke to ABS-CBN News.

During the lockdown, though, Bagtasa believes there may be additional causes of air pollution in the Philippines (biomass burning) outside of Metro Manila. “It appears that there is more fire in Central Luzon and the Cagayan Valley,” he stated. While motor vehicle pollution is prevalent in cities, his prior research found that open burning is responsible for a third of pollution in rural areas. According to Bagtasa, the DENR should investigate this.

 Causes of Air Pollution in the Philippines

Below are the causes of air pollution in the Philippines.

  • Vehicular Emissions
  • Power Plants, Oil refinery, Industrial Facility and Factory Emissions
  • Agricultural Activities
  • Volcanoes

1. Vehicular Emissions.

Vehicular emission is one of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines. The city of Manilla is continually blanketed in smog, 2.2 million cars cause traffic congestion, and pedestrians wear handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses. Manila rush hour traffic moves slower than everywhere else in Asia, with an average speed of only 7 km/h.

When you add this figure to the total of all other preexisting and unregistered modes of transportation in the region, such as motorcycles and jeepneys, you have a lot of traffic, a lot of vehicle emissions, and a lot of pollution.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that lead levels in the air in Manila are more than three times the recommended safe limit, and suspended particulate matter concentrations are also dangerously high. Other contaminants have yet to be quantified.

According to statistics from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Philippines’ present air quality does not meet the Clean Air Act’s requirements. While the incidence of air pollution has decreased by 20%, it is still far from ideal. Vehicle emissions are the most significant source of air pollution.

It is responsible for 69 per cent of the air pollution in Metro Manila. Rene Pineda, President of the Partnership for Clean Air, notes that the problems arise from overcrowding, increased traffic congestion caused by more vehicles on the road, and high-rise structures and infrastructure that trap air pollution on the ground rather than dispersing it.

The Philippines is ranked third in the world for the number of people who have died as a result of air pollution. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data from May 2018, air pollution caused roughly 45.3 fatalities per 100,000 people. The Philippines is also ranked second in the Asia Pacific for indoor air pollution.

The priority legislation could be passed in as little as two months, and it would phase out the use of leaded fuel in 18 months, reduce industrial emissions, promote recycling, phase out vehicles older than 15 years, prohibit incineration, and dramatically increase fines for polluting vehicle owners.

“The critical concern is whether this legislation will be successfully enforced,” said Dr Steve Tamplin, WHO regional adviser on environmental health.

Dr Tamplin believes that increasing investment in overhead light rail systems, which currently span only a 30 km stretch, is the best approach to reduce traffic congestion, which is one of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines.

“About 90% of my patients have respiratory sickness, and we’re seeing newborns as young as two months suffering from asthma,” said Dr Miguel Celdran, a paediatrician at Makati Medical Center. This was unheard of twenty years ago.”

In a recent poll conducted by the Philippine Paediatric Society, doctors were asked to name the most prevalent ailments they treat, and they all said diseases of the upper respiratory tract. Urine samples from children living and begging on the dirty streets revealed that at least 7% had elevated lead levels.

Dr Celdran added that his mostly middle-class clientele kept their children indoors to improve air quality, using air ionizers and filtered air conditioners, but that this resulted in other issues owing to a lack of activity.

According to the United Nations, by the year 2000, half of the world’s population would be living in cities, and the worldwide fleet of automobiles will number more than 800 million.

“Megacities could well face rises in their air pollution concentrations of levels as high as 75-100 per cent over the next decade,” according to a WHO research, Urban Air Pollution in Megacities of the World.

2. Power Plants, Oil refineries, Industrial Facilities and Factory Emissions

Power plants, oil refineries, industrial facilities and factory emissions are some of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines.

According to a new study from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, air pollution from fossil fuels—primarily coal, oil, and gas—is responsible for an estimated 27,000 premature deaths per year in the Philippines, and can cost the country up to 1.9 per cent of GDP in economic losses each year.

The paper, “Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels,” was co-published with the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) and is the first of its kind to examine such prices.

According to the report, air pollution from fossil fuels is responsible for nearly 4.5 million fatalities worldwide each year, as well as estimated economic losses of USD2.9 trillion, or around 3.3 per cent of global GDP making it one of the major causes of air pollution in the Philippines and also in the world.

“Fossil fuels are terrible not only for the climate but also for our health and our economy,” said Khevin Yu of Greenpeace Philippines’ energy transition campaign. “Every year, fossil fuel pollution kills millions of people, raises our risk of strokes, lung cancer, and asthma, and costs us trillions of dollars in economic damages.”

Filipinos have long been the victims of climate change, as well as the health and economic consequences of polluted air. It is obvious that the country must switch to renewable energy sources and phase out coal-fired power facilities.”

The report’s key results demonstrate that an estimated 40,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday as a result of exposure to PM2.5 pollution from fossil fuels, with the majority of deaths occurring in low-income nations.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), a result of fossil fuel combustion in automobiles, power plants, and factories, is connected to around 4 million new instances of asthma in children each year, with approximately 16 million children living with asthma owing to NO2 pollution from fossil fuels worldwide.

In terms of productivity, it is estimated that air pollution from fossil fuels causes over 1.8 billion days of work absence due to illness each year around the world, amounting to approximately USD101 billion in yearly economic losses. Coal-fired power plants account for the majority of air pollution in host areas in the Philippines.

3. Agricultural Activities

Agricultural activities are one of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines. In the Philippines, there are heat-trapping carbon emissions from the agricultural sector. Agricultural fires are one of the leading causes of air pollution.

At the start of winter, farmers in the surrounding areas of the capital burn the straw or crop stubble left over from their rice harvest. As a result, farmers set their crop stubble on fire to clear the fields more rapidly.

Every year, all of the stubble fires in those locations produce a large cloud of smoke. As a result, the smoke from stubble fires combines with urban pollution, generating a deadly haze that hangs above the metropolis. When you combine all of these factors, you have the most dangerous air pollution in almost any location.

4. Volcanoes

Volcanoes are one of the causes of air pollution in the Philippines. According to the United States geological survey, there are approximately 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide, this also includes the ones present in the Philippines. Increased sulphur dioxide from volcanoes as well as wind direction usually contributes to the haze that envelopes metro manila in the Philippines.

There is the potential for extensive destruction whenever a volcano erupts, yet volcanoes are also responsible for the creation of fertile soil, and new land-places such as Hawaii would not exist if it weren’t for volcanic activity.

Volcanoes can have a significant impact on air quality depending on the type of volcanic activity. Volcanic ash may spread hundreds to thousands of kilometres downwind from a volcano, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Fresh volcanic ash is abrasive, caustic, and grainy. Although ash is not poisonous, it can cause problems for infants, the elderly, and people who have respiratory problems. When it’s windy, ash can also get into people’s eyes and scratch them.

By blocking or ruining machinery, ash can be dangerous to grazing livestock and can harm or compel the shutdown of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. The weight of deposited ash on building rooftops, particularly when wet, can be quite dangerous.

Due to safety concerns about ash from an Icelandic volcanic eruption in 2010, 20 European countries closed their airspace to commercial aviation traffic. Aside from the problems caused by volcanic ash, certain chemicals emitted by volcanoes can also have an impact on the ecosystem making it one of the major causes of air pollution in the Philippines.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) issued an advisory at 6 a.m. on Monday, June 28, 2020, stating that the volcanic smog, or vog, is caused by the main crater’s ongoing sulfur dioxide (SO2) release.

“High amounts of volcanic sulfur dioxide or SO2 gas emissions, as well as steam-rich plumes as high as three kilometres high, have been detected from the Taal main crater for the past two days,” Phivolcs stated.

On Sunday, June 27, the emission of SO2, a significant gas component of magma, averaged 4,771 tons per day. This, combined with atmospheric conditions, caused vog, which “introduced a significant haze over the Taal Caldera region,” according to Phivolcs.

Last March 9, the Taal Volcano was upgraded to Alert Level 2 owing to “increasing unrest.” On Monday, Phivolcs warned the public that “sudden steam- or gas-driven explosions” and “lethal accumulations or expulsions of volcanic gas” could occur under Alert Level 2, posing a hazard to areas near Taal Volcano Island.

The agency stated, “Venturing into [Taal Volcano Island] must therefore be highly restricted.”Phivolcs also reported two volcanic earthquakes in the last 24 hours in a separate advisory issued at 8 a.m. on Monday. Since April 8, “low-level background tremor” has been detected.

“Magmatic instability continues to occur at shallow depths beneath the building,” according to the parameters. According to Rapper. The Taal Volcano last erupted in January of 2020.

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