People's Domain

PH’s outdated air quality standards may worsen air pollution-related deaths, health risks – groups

Environment groups Greenpeace Philippines and Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) today called on the national government to speed up efforts to protect Filipinos from the worsening air pollution exacerbated by the country’s dependence on coal, which was responsible for over 1,000 premature deaths in 2019 [1].

The groups said that as the government focuses on economic recovery efforts from the COVID19 pandemic, programs to control air pollution must not be sidetracked. These programs include raising stringent standards to control emissions from coal power plants, adding more air quality monitoring stations, investing in low-carbon transport, and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

“The threat of air pollution to human health – and the external costs associated with long-term exposure to it – increases with growing dependence on fossil fuels. In addressing this problem, robust monitoring capacity across the country is vital for not only understanding the scale of the health threat to Filipinos, but also ensuring that the right standards and solutions are pursued to control air pollution as quickly as possible,” CREA Analyst Isabella Suarez said.

Greenpeace Philippines Campaigner Khevin Yu said the government must first address the outdated air quality standards and the lack of capacity to monitor PM2.5 [2], especially in provinces with coal plants, to ensure that measures to protect Filipinos from health risks are in place.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau is required to conduct a review of standards for stationary sources every two years and revise for further improvement. However, the National Emission Standards for Source-Specific Air Pollutants have not been updated since they were set in 1999.

At present, the Philippines only has a fleet of 55 government-owned PM2.5 monitoring stations. Twenty two are stationed in Metro Manila, while some are not strategically located in areas with high PM2.5 concentrations, such as major highways and coal plants. Bataan, which houses major megawatt-coal plants, has a lone PM2.5 monitor for the whole province.

“Now more than ever, the government needs to ensure stringent air pollution mitigation because the surge of air pollution that may arise from the reopening of our economy increases our vulnerability to COVID19 [3],” Yu said. “The number of deaths due to coal-induced air pollution will only rise if the government continues to force us to breathe blindly. We need policy developments to uphold our right to clean air by first providing needed information on air quality to the public.”

The groups believe that improving country-wide air quality monitoring will enable local governments to take measures to mitigate the impacts of air pollution originating from coal plants and heavily polluting facilities.

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[1] CREA released a report in 2020 analyzing how the existing coal capacity of 10 GW in the country is responsible for many negative health impacts, including 630 air pollution-related deaths in 2019. https://energyandcleanair.org/publications/

[2] PM2.5 — the most dangerous pollutant to human health due to its small size and ability to travel over great distances — is inhaled deep into the lungs and bloodstream, causing damage to the entire human biological system. It is linked to chronic respiratory and cardiovascular disease, decreased lung function, and premature mortality.

[3] According to a study published by Cardiovascular Research, an estimated 15% of global Covid cases could be attributed to long-term exposure to air pollution.

Media contact: Angeli Cantillana, Communications Campaigner, Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines, angeli.cantillana@greenpeace.org | +63 998 595 9733 or +63 995 419 1496

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