The nation’s average fine particle pollution reading last year was more than three times global recommended standards, raising the risks for children, pregnant women and people with asthma and other diseases, a group of doctors said.
Healthy Air, a medical non-governmental organization, told a press conference on Thursday that Taiwan’s average fine particle pollution reading last year reached 31.8 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), more than three times the WHO’s recommended exposure limit of 10μg/m3.
The group said its recent analysis of the air pollution data, collected from 75 monitoring stations across the nation, showed that the top five areas with the worst fine particle pollution readings last year were Chiayi City (annual average of 47.3μg/m3), Greater Kaohsiung (44.2μg/m3), Kinmen County (41.7μg/m3), Greater Tainan (36.6μg/m3) and Chiayi County (36.6μg/m3).
Speaking of the effects of long-term exposure to fine particle pollution, Yeh Guang-peng (葉光芃), a gynecologist at Changhua Christian Hospital, said that every 10μg/m3 increase in air density equates to a 6 percent increase in the death rate from cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases.
Yeh cited a study by Cheng Tsun-jen (鄭尊仁), a professor at National Taiwan University’s Institute of Occupational Medicine and Industrial Hygiene, as saying that “acute exposure to fine particle pollution over 17μg/m3 results in an increase in the number of children aged 5 to 14 needing medical treatment.”
Frank Lu (呂立), clinical director of the National Taiwan University Hospital’s Pediatric Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, said that a high PM2.5 (fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) density in the air increases the occurrence rates of asthma, premature labor in pregnancy and lung adenocarcinoma (cancer), and that children raised in such an environment may also become more vulnerable to respiratory diseases.
“Fine particles are very small, so they can travel through the bronchus and reach the deep parts of the lung. Moreover, these fine particles often contain organic substances and heavy metals that can enter the body’s circulatory system,” he said.
Huang Min-chao (黃閔照), a gynecologist at Mackay Memorial Hospital and secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology, added that according to reports from other countries, exposure to a high amount of PM2.5 could result in slow mental development in children.
The doctors urged the government to set stricter limits on the standards for fine particle pollution in the country.
Hsieh Yein-Rui (謝燕儒), director of the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Department, attributed the poor air quality in Yunlin County and Kaohsiung to the nearby Sixth Naphtha Cracker, while that in Kinmen County was an effect of pollution in China.
The EPA is already conducting air quality improvement projects in Kaohsiung and Pingtung, and government agencies last week initiated discussions on establishing air quality standards, with a public hearing scheduled to be held on March 2, she added.