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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chan Chang-chuan is vice dean of the College of Public Health at National Taiwan University and director of the university’s International Health Center.
Translated by Julian Clegg
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
As Taiwan is engulfed in worries about Chinese infiltration, news reports have revealed that power inverters made by China’s Huawei Technologies Co are used in the solar panels on the top of the Legislative Yuan’s Zhenjiang House (鎮江會館) on Zhenjiang Street in Taipei. However, what is even more worrying is that Taiwan’s new national electronic identification card (eID) has been subcontracted to the French security firm and eID maker Idemia, which has not only cooperated with the Chinese Public Security Bureau to manufacture eIDs in China, but also makes the new identification cards being issued in Hong Kong. There might be more
All lives eventually come to an end. Over the years, my friendship with former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had its ups and downs. Lee’s passing was a heavy blow and has left me deeply saddened. We experienced a lot together and the memories have come flooding back. Lee was born several months earlier than me. During World War II, he was studying at Kyoto Imperial University, but halfway through his studies, he was forced to change his name and enter military service. I was studying at Tokyo Imperial University, but went into hiding to avoid military service, and I was later