Environmentalists yesterday urged the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to establish fine particle pollution safety standards based on guidelines suggested by the WHO.
The group made the call at a public hearing on the discussion of a proposed bill governing air quality standards, with the EPA mulling adopting the same standards as the US and Japan.
The EPA said monitoring work on PM2.5 — particulate matter of less than 2.5 micrometers, about 1/28th the average width of a human hair — began in 2005 and setting a air quality standard for PM2.5 was a policy decided by the government last year.
The EPA drafted a bill in December last year in which it suggested the PM2.5 standard for Taiwan should follow the same standards as that in the US and Japan — a 35μg/m3 daily mean concentration and a 10μg/m3 annual mean concentration.
The draft articles also state that PM2.5 monitoring should occur once every three days using a manual sampling method.
However, doctors from the Changhua Medical Alliance for Public Affairs (MAPA) and environmentalists at the public hearing expressed concerns that the proposed standards are not strict enough to protect public health, that the monitoring method would be unable to cope with instantaneous and extreme cases, and that there would be too few monitoring sites across the nation.
Yeh Guang-peng (葉光芃), a gynecologist at Changhua Christian Hospital, said that although the WHO’s guidelines for PM2.5 and PM10 — particulate matter of less than 10 micrometers — are already very strict, the latest medical studies have shown that the standards are not enough to protect people from the health risks that pollution causes, such as strokes and cardiovascular disease.
“So the ultimate goal is not limited to reaching the WHO’s standards, but to assure the health of our people,” Yeh said, adding that “based on the Department of Health’s statistical data, there are more people joining the sensitive groups threatened by air pollution.”
Changhua Environmental Protection Union secretary-general Shih Yueh-ying (施月英) questioned why the EPA was not considering computer-controlled continuous PM2.5 monitoring.
A member of MAPA said 55 of the current 75 monitoring sites are located in public schools and they do not record conditions in places where air pollution is more serious, such as at crossroads or near factories.
Huang Wei-ming (黃偉鳴), a section chief at the EPA’s Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Department, said: “So far no country has set national air quality standards in correspondence with the WHO’s guidelines.”
Huang said that according to the WHO’s official document on air quality guidelines, there could be three levels of interim targets before reaching the strictest standards and that the standards proposed were within the three levels and that they could be modified and improved in future.
Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Department Director Hsieh Yein-rui (謝燕儒) said the EPA would take all the suggestions into consideration, along with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particle Pollution of the US, and that the national standard for PM2.5 would be announced before June.
Hsieh said tighter air quality regulations would be set for specific industries in the coming months, saying that levels of pollution would likely improve after the new regulations are enforced.