How would you like to wear a gas mask? You don’t think so? Consider this.
Every day, millions of Filipinos, most probably including you, brave the danger of having to breathe heavily polluted air. We could take our pick from a long list of diseases associated with dirty air — from headaches and visual impairment, asthma and chronic bronchitis, decreased lung functioning and premature death. Air has become a silent killer and we have but ourselves to blame for it. Countless smokers, plants and factories, cars, buses, and jeepneys – smoke-belchers, all these contribute to the sad state of our air as these are widespread across the country.
Air pollution kills, with an estimated 230 to 390 deaths in Metro Manila, as reported in the Department of Health’s June 2004 publication, “Public Health Monitoring: A Study under the Metro Manila Air Quality Improvement Sector Development Program”.
Suddenly, wearing a gas mask seems like a wise thing for us to do. And while we’re at it, we could help the government in saving the air.
The government, through the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), has long recognized the problem we have in air pollution, and has enacted Republic Act 8749, or the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 to solve it, so that the country would achieve and maintain a quality of air safe and clean enough for us to breathe. Clean Air Act is our weapon as we fight for clean air, as we fight for life. And, if we could just allow ourselves to make some sacrifices for cleaner air, wearing a gas mask would not even need to be an option.
So, what has the government done for us so far?
Air Quality Monitoring. From being one of the most polluted cities in Asia in terms of suspended particulates, Metro Manila has attained a remarkable improvement in air quality.
Done through the Metro Manila Airshed Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Network, air quality is monitored by EMB-DENR to generate necessary information in formulating a comprehensive air pollution management and control program for the country. Having started its operations in October 2003, the Monitoring Network consists of ten automatic stations that measure real time concentrations of Particulate Matter 10 (PM10) – small solid and liquid particles suspended in the air and include dust, smoke, metallic and mineral particles, soot, mist, and acid fumes. The Network also measures both criteria pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and ozone) and non-criteria pollutants (benzene, toluene, and xylene).
Emissions testing of motor vehicles prior to registration. The requirement for motor vehicles to pass an emission test prior to registration has been implemented in January 1, 2003. Since then, Certificates of Conformity for new motor vehicles are being issued by EMB-DENR to manufacturers or importers of motor vehicles to signify compliance with the numerical emission standards set by the IRR of the CAA. EMB-DENR also issues certificates for emission test equipment to ensure that the equipment of Private Emission Testing Centers (PETCs) and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) emission testing centers conform with the specifications of the CAA. In 2004, the 377 PETCs nationwide tested a total of 3,064,141 motor vehicles. Of all of the PETCs monitored in Metro Manila, 76% have been recommended for cancellation of authorization. To date, DENR has suspended the operations of 25 unscrupulous PETCs, all of which had been caught red-handed issuing “no show” emission testing certificates.
Anti-Smoke Belching. Remember crossing EDSA and not being able to breathe? Buses and cars line up in traffic filling the whole stretch of EDSA with smog. Along EDSA, smoke literally gets in our eyes.
In September 2003, the DENR, with other government agencies and NGOs launched the Smoke-Free EDSA Campaign which aims to reduce the TSP level along EDSA by 20 percent at the end of 2003. The LTO reported a total of 20,261 apprehensions in 2003. In November 2004, the DENR intensified the Linis Hangin Program with components on Bantay Tambutso, Bantay Tsimineya and Bantay Sunog Basura which seek to address the three major sources of air pollution: motor vehicles, factory, and area sources. A total of 37,391 diesel vehicles have been apprehended for smoke belching in 2003 and 2004.
In 2004, there has been a 12% increase in compliant vehicles, and this year, from January to July, 36% out of the 10,556 flagged down vehicles passed the emission standards set in the CAA.
Emission test of stationary sources. It is not just motor vehicles that emit air pollution. Not too seldom have we known people, particularly children, complaining of health diseases out of the pollution emitted by factories in their respective communities. In 2004, the DENR conducted emissions testing of 213 stacks in 103 different facilities in the Metro Manila Airshed.
The Bantay Tsimineya component of the Linis Hangin Program intensified the monitoring of industries especially along CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela). Of the 74 stack sampling tests conducted in the area, 50 have been issued Notices of Violations (NOVs) and four Cease and Decease Orders (CDOs). Nationwide, 5,996 firms have been monitored, 602 stack sampling tests have been conducted, and 839 NOVs were issued in 2004. This year, from January to June, a total of 7,650 firms have already been monitored, with 570 NOVs issued by the DENR.
Airshed designation. The DENR has designated a total of 16 airsheds in the country including the four geothermal airsheds. This is in support of the country’s Air Quality Control Action Plan, to come up with a system in terms of air quality management. At present, sixteen airsheds have been designated: the Metro Manila airshed, which covers 17 cities and municipalities in Metro Manila, Region III Central Luzon (excluding Nueva Ecija) and Region IV-A (excluding Quezon province); the Northeastern Pangasinan airshed which covers Binmaley, San Fabian, Lingayen, San Jacinto, Calasiao, Mangaldan, Binalonan, Malasiqui, Laoac, Mapandan, Pozorrubio, San Carlos City, Sison, Sta. Barbara, Urdaneta City, Dagupan City, San Manuel, and Manaoag; the Metro Tuguegarao (PIESTTA) airshed; the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) airshed covering Baguio City and the municipalities of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, and Tuba (BLIST); the Iloilo City airshed; the Naga City airshed; the Metro Cebu airshed, covering the municipalities of Naga, Minglanilla, Cordova, Consolacion, Liloan, Compostella, and the cities of Talisay, Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu Lapu; and the Geothermal airshed which covers the geothermal areas in Leyte, Southern Negros, Bacon-Manito.
Also designated are the Agusan del Norte airshed, which covers Buenavista, Cabadbaran, Carmen, Jabonga, Kitcharo, Las Nieves, Magallanes, Nasipit, Santiago, Tubay, and Remedios T. Romualdez; the Naga City airshed, covering Abella, Balatas, Bagumbayan Norte, Lerma, Liboton, Bagumbayan Sur, Pacol, Sta. Cruz, Concepcion Pequeña, Sabang, San Isidro, Dayangdang, Dinaga, Triangulo, Del Rosario, Tabuco, Cararayan, Panicuason, Tinago, Igualdad, Peñafrancia, Clauag, San Felipe, and San Francisco; the Cagayan de Oro City airshed, which covers the whole city and municipalities of Jasaan, Villanueva, Tagoloan, Opol, and El Salvador; the Zamboanga City airshed has been designated, covering the North-East-West Coast areas of the city; the Davao City airshed; the North Cotabato geothermal airshed; and the South Cotabato airshed.
Emissions Standards. The EMB set the maximum Hydrocarbon (HC) emissions from motorcycles and tricycles at 7,800 parts per million (ppm) for those operating in urban centers and 10,000 ppm for those operating in rural areas or outside of the urban centers [DENR Administrative Order (DAO) No. 2003-25]. The Bureau also issued revised emissions standards for in-use gasoline-fed and diesel vehicles (DAO 2003-51). At present, the DENR is working for the development of a new Carbon Monoxide and Hydrocarbon emission standard for motorcycles and tricycles, upon recommendations to harmonize the Philippine emission regulations for motorcycles with the standards of other countries.
Fuels. In 2003, aromatics and benzene in gasoline have been reduced to 35% and 2% by volume, and sulfur content of automative diesel fuel to 0.05% by weight in 2004. A Technical Committee on Petroleum Products and Additives was created by the Department of Energy, formulating standard specifications for diesel, two-stroke (2T) lubricating oil, and Coco-Methyl Esters (CME) for blending with diesel.
Alternative Fuels. The use of alternative fuels such as the biodiesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), alcogas, al-gas, at alco-diesel are being pushed by the government, through the Clean Air Act. These fuels are environment-friendly, controlling smoke emissions from motor vehicles. These days, oil price hikes are becoming more and more rampant, making the use of alternative fuels a very wise move to make. In fact, government vehicles were required to use diesel fuel blended with 1% CME by the Malacañang Memorandum Circular No. 55
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Elimination Program. Advancement in science has brought about convenience for us in the fields of agriculture and medicine, and even in the business. However, these conveniences took a high price. The accumulation of chemical substances in the market has been proven to have an adverse effect to us and to the environment.
The Philippine Senate through Senate Resolution No. 106 ratified the Stockholm Convention on POPs on February 2, 2004. The resolution was submitted to the Stockholm Convention Secretariat on February 27, 2004 and became legally binding on May 27, 2004. The Convention is our avenue to manage and eventually eliminate POPs.
LGU Initiatives. The effectiveness of all government projects lies upon the proper implementation of the local governments. Best practices in terms of air quality management include the interest-free loan project of the City Government of San Fernando in La Union to operators of two-stroke tricycles for them to replace their two-stroke tricycles with four-stroke. The city of Makati has banned smoking in all public areas since 2003. Marikina City has dedicated 1.36 kilometers of its roads for bikeways using local funding and a US$ 50,000 grant from World Bank. This initiative is now being replicated all across the metropolis.
Tax Incentives. DENR extends assistance to industries installing pollution control devices or retrofitting of existing facilities with mechanisms that reduce emissions with the issuance of DAO 2004-53. This is aside from the Voucher System being implemented by EMB, intended to help fund for the Refrigeration and Aircon Service Shop Owners in the country for them to purchase the necessary equipment which would ensure proper handling and maintenance of aircondition and refrigeration equipments in homes and motor vehicles.
Air Quality Management Fund. The Air Quality Management Fund (DENR-Department of Budget and Management Joint Circular No. 2004-1) is a special account in the National Treasury to finance containment, removal, and clean-up operations of the Government in air pollution cases, guarantee restoration of ecosystems, and rehabilitate areas affected by CAA violators. The Air Quality Management Fund is also needed to support research, enforcement, and monitoring activities and capabilities of, as well as, to provide technical assistance to relevant agencies.
Public Awareness. The Public Affairs Office (PAO) of the DENR and the Environmental Education and Information Division (EEID) of the EMB, in cooperation with selected partners from the air-related institutions, developed multi-media materials and conducted training courses and fora on clean air. They also spearheaded the launching activities for the Smoke-Free EDSA Campaign in 2003 and the intensified Linis Hangin program in 2004. These are just some of the public awareness campaigns the government has undertaken to promote the importance of maintaining and having to breathe clean air. Information materials are readily available at the EMB office, and lectures and symposia are regularly conducted by the staff to ensure sustainability in terms of people’s knowledge of the Clean Air Act.
We still have a long way to go as we clean our air. The government, as in all its projects, depends on the support of each and every one of us. Now that we know what the government has done, we only have two choices: to wear a gas mask, or, to help fight for clean air.
Now tell us, which would you choose?
How do you help fight for clean air? Share your comment below!