Thu, Nov 26, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Air pollution requires urgent action

By Chan Chang-chuan 詹長權

Since late last month, air pollution has spiked in Taiwan, including a high density of PM2.5 — fine particles measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

This is especially true of the central and southern regions, where fossil-fuel power stations and petrochemical industry zones are concentrated.

The main cause of such pollution is chimneys that continually emit large quantities of fine suspended particles, as well as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides.

A recent lack of wind has caused PM2.5 levels where such power plants and factories are located, such as Yunlin County’s Taisi (台西) and Mailiao (麥寮) townships, to soar to levels that put human health at serious risk.

PM2.5 PARTICLES

When winds pick up, the high concentrations of PM2.5 are carried to central and southern counties and municipalities that lie downwind of the power plants and factories.

In the daytime, urban areas in municipalities and counties like Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, Changhua and Chiayi, which experience busy traffic, suffer even worse PM2.5 pollution because of the combination of industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust emissions.

NO IMPROVEMENT

From now until spring, the nation is unlikely to experience an improvement in pollution levels.

The problem of air pollution involves a high degree of environmental injustice.

For decades, the concentration of coal-fired power stations and factories in central and southern regions has caused a geographical distribution of air pollution — higher levels in the south and lower levels in the north — so people who live in central and southern regions suffer PM2.5 levels that are between two and four times higher than in the north.

This north-south divide causes a higher number of people in central and southern areas to suffer respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer and other related health issues, resulting in higher mortality rates from such illnesses.

Thus, environmental injustice leads to health injustice.

As well as causing increased levels of PM2.5 pollution, the coal burned by the coal-fired Taichung Power Plant, Formosa Petrochemical Corp’s naphtha cracker plant in Mailiao, and petrochemical and steel plants in Kaohsiung must also be the focus of efforts to cut carbon dioxide emissions and reduce greenhouse gases.

NATURAL GAS

One way to reverse a phenomenon of environmental injustice and health inequality starts with phasing out coal-fired power generation and converting to natural gas, in addition to widespread installation of solar and wind power generation facilities.

Although it appears obvious that coal-burning power stations and factories have a damaging effect on air pollution, the issue has never been high on the nation’s political agenda.

Consequently, it has never been possible to implement effective policies to reduce pollution.

UNJUST SITUATION

Recent discussions related to air pollution issues have started to awaken the public to how poor the air quality is in central and southern regions, and how unjust this situation is.

Any developments regarding air pollution that occur in the run-up to January’s presidential and legislative elections are likely to strengthen the public’s voice in demanding concrete action to tackle the issue.

At last, political parties and leaders will have to respond to public opinion that calls for closing down coal-fired power stations, eliminating smog and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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