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