2014 New Year air pollution in Metro Manila is triple last year’s

Pia Ranada

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The amount of harmful particles in Metro Manila air during the first hours of 2014 was 10 times more than than safe levels

TOXIC REVELRY. During the first few hours of the new year, air pollution in Metro Manila skyrockets

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Air pollution in Metro Manila after New Year celebrations this year was 3 times worse than the air pollution recorded on the same occasion last year, said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The agency found that the average reading for particulate matter 10 microns and below in diameter (also known as PM10) in Metro Manila in the hours after New Year’s Eve celebrations was 1,550 ug/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter of air). This is almost 3 times more than the amount recorded on the same day last year which was 537 ug/Ncm.

PM10 is an important measurement of air pollution. It measures the amount of particulates or tiny solid or liquid matter floating in the air.

Being 10 microns or smaller, these particulates can penetrate the lungs when inhaled. Thus, the PM10 measurement is an important gauge of health risks posed by air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, the safe PM10 measurement for air quality is 150 ug/Ncm. This means the amount of harmful particles floating in Metro Manila air during the first hours of 2014 was 10 times more than safe levels.

Dire measurements were recorded in different parts of the mega city. Here are the maximum hourly PM10 levels in certain areas measured in the early hours of January 1:

  • San Juan City – 2,000 ug/Ncm
  • Ateneo de Manila University area, Katipunan Avenue – 1,990 ug/Ncm
  • EDSA-Timog Avenue area – 1,450 ug/Ncm
  • Valenzuela City – 1,160 ug/Ncm
  • Taguig City – 1,150 ug/Ncm

Holiday air pollution

Air pollution typically skyrockets during the holiday months of December and January due to more vehicles on the road, more economic activity and the all-night (and sometimes, multi-day) igniting of fireworks, said the DENR.

According to data from the DENR’s Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Station, the average PM10 in Metro Manila at the end of 2012 was 74 ug/Ncm. By March 2013, the figure was only 44.86 ug/Ncm.

NEW YEAR SMOG. Smog carrying toxic particles and metallic compounds submerge Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City the morning after New Year's Eve. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler

Toxic celebrations

Aside from fatalities and blown-off body parts, fireworks can cause damage to the lungs and respiratory system. 

A staple at most New Year celebrations in the Philippines, fireworks contain a large amount of tiny toxic particles and heavy metal compounds that are released into the air when they are set off. These toxic particles easily enter the lungs and affect people with asthma and other similar ailments. 

Gunpowder fuels the flight of fireworks while metallic compounds give them their flamboyant colors. Though a pretty sight, they can have ugly effects on the environment.

Many of the chemicals released by fireworks stubbornly stay in the environment instead of breaking down into less harmful particles.

Thus, these toxics find their way into bodies of water, making them acidic. They end up in the soil, depleting its nutrients and possibly poisoning animals, plants and other organisms.

In an effort to lessen air pollution caused by fireworks, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said he strongly supports the proposal of Health Secretary Enrique Ona to ban the individual use of firecrackers. Instead, only accredited groups should be allowed to ignite fireworks from safe areas designated by local governments.

“While the DOH proposal is to reduce the impact of firecrackers on people, this will also benefit the environment in terms of reducing air pollution as the DENR could help in finding the right places for the activity,” he said. – Rappler.com

Fireworks image from Shutterstock

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.