Mon, Dec 04, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Data should lead the way to improved air quality

By Young Chea-yuan 楊之遠

The government’s efforts to raise the nation’s role in fighting climate change and its ambition to improve diplomatic ties with other nations through collaboration on global environmental issues are praiseworthy.

Nonetheless, Taiwanese and local environmental groups are less concerned with climate change than with air pollution, which has a more immediate effect on people’s health.

On Thursday, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) vowed to resign next year if air pollution in the nation does not drop by 20 percent by May 20.

In the past few years, the agency has installed monitoring equipment and defined PM2.5 standards in response to increased public awareness about fine particulate matter. It has also introduced control measures.

Despite these measures, the nation’s improvement in air quality has not met expectations.

These are the main reasons for this situation:

First, national land planning is unsatisfactory. Western Taiwan is densely populated and residents have long been suffering from air pollution from industrial parks.

Second, topography and climate restrict the dissipation of pollution. Every winter when the northeasterly monsoon rolls in over central and southern Taiwan, the area — Kaohsiung and the Pingtung County area to the west of the central mountain range in particular — is leeward of the mountains and the downdraft stabilizes the air, causing pollution to accumulate.

Third, Taiwan lacks sufficient theoretical knowledge of air quality control. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that building sustainable and cost-effective controls to improve air quality requires unambiguous scientific evidence.

Industries in Taiwan’s different air quality areas and the character of their pollution sources differ — and so must the air pollution prevention policies.

When air quality deteriorates, there is never any scientifically verified local data to determine the pollution source. Factories can be required to reduce operational loads, but there is no way of knowing whether to implement controls on cars and scooters, how much factory loads should be reduced, what volume restrictions should be applied or what the cost would be.

This is why controls introduced by the government never improve the air quality index.

Finally, Taiwan lacks sufficient weather and air quality forecasting and analysis capabilities. For example, the weather changed on Wednesday last week and a sudden wind drove the pollution in the center and south northward, causing the air quality in the north to deteriorate.

This kind of event is beyond the EPA’s forecasting capabilities. To effectively improve air quality, the agency should quickly establish advanced monitoring stations that provide real-time analysis of airborne particulate matter.

As the air quality deteriorates, such monitoring would allow the EPA to provide the government with the composition and source of the air pollution so that the authorities could take timely and effective action to control the pollution at the source.

To respond appropriately to air quality data and to understand what controls to apply when air quality deteriorates — including lowering factory loads and temporarily banning the use of cars and scooters — the agency could conduct an experiment during the winter in central and southern Taiwan to examine pollution source controls and air quality monitoring.

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