The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) came under fire yesterday for failing to provide details of a sandstorm now afflicting Taiwan.
Officials from the EPA advised those suffering from respiratory and cardiac diseases to avoid outdoor activities today after the sandstorm from China began reducing air quality at noon yesterday.
Northern and northeastern areas would be most affected by the sandstorm, the EPA said, and air quality around the nation would not recover until noon today.
The pollution standards index (PSI), a measure of the quality of the air, could reach as high as 200, the EPA warned. Air quality is considered "very unhealthy" when PSI readings rise above 200. The PSI reading in Taipei at the end of last week was between 90 and 100.
Doctors stressed that asthma and conjunctivitis could be triggered by poor air quality and suggested that people suffering from these conditions wear gauze masks or glasses if they have to go outdoors today.
However, members of the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation (
"This [the sandstorm] is not just a news event. People have the right to demand details so they can take measures to protect themselves," said Eric Liou (劉銘龍), secretary-general of the foundation.
Liou said that China has categorized sandstorms into five intensity levels according to wind velocity and visibility. Liou said the EPA should have informed residents in Taiwan of the probability of their area being affected by the sandstorm and what the intensity might be. Then people living in relatively unaffected areas could go about their daily lives without worrying.
Environmental officials said yesterday that they generally agreed with the environmentalists that existing monitoring systems could be improved with better technology.
"We will be able to provide people with details of sandstorms, possibly from next year, once a database collecting raw data about all sandstorms recorded since 1994 has been set up," said Young Chea-yuan (楊之遠), director-general of the EPA's Bureau of Environmental Monitoring and Data Processing.
Young said that the database included not only air-quality information but also follow-up studies about the relationship between sandstorms and the number of hospital visits of patients with nine common respiratory and cardiac diseases.
Young said that the study of sandstorms from China had only begun recently because recent global climate change and man-made activities in China had accelerated desertification.
So far, Young said, the EPA was satisfied with the sandstorm warning system it has set up to alert residents 24 to 48 hours in advance.
According to China's Xinhua news agency, Chinese meteorologists said that the increase in sandstorms since the end of the last century in northern China indicates a new trend.
Areas affected by sandstorms from China include Korea, Japan and North America.