The Control Yuan has urged the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to set up more air quality monitoring stations nationwide after an investigation initiated by Control Yuan members found that fine-particulate air pollution had become much more widespread in the country and was the cause of about 440 cardiovascular deaths in Taipei each year.
The investigation, launched last year by Control Yuan members Chou Yang-shan (周陽山) and Yin Jeo-chen (尹祚芊), found that while fine particles have been proven to have adverse health effects on humans, little research has been conducted thus far by the Academia Sinica, the National Science Council and the Department of Health (DOH) on the matter.
Singling out the department, the report said that the department had only carried out one research project pertaining to the hazardous pollutant over the past five years and had allocated no resources whatsoever to address the matter last year and this year.
“The department has also failed to make the best of the research advantages of the National Health Research Institutes, which put it on suspicion of neglecting a [major] problem,” the report said.
Fine particles are defined as particles with an aerodynamic diameter of or less than 2.5mm and can easily travel into a human’s respiratory tract and cardiovascular system through inhalation.
The main sources of such particles include sandstorms and emissions from petrochemical plants and vehicles.
Symptoms of exposure to fine-particulate pollution can include minor reactions, such as skin allergies, eye irritation and coughing, or more aggravated reactions in the form of asthma, rhinitis, conjunctivitis and cardiovascular disease.
Research statistics show that in the past 14 years, an average of 16 people from Taipei and New Taipei City (新北市) die of cardiovascular diseases whenever a sandstorm strikes the area.
In the region, a total of 4,400 people have died of similar diseases due to such storms, which usually occur between November and May, during the past decade.
The report said that based on EPA estimates, more than 30 percent of the fine particles in Taiwan came from other countries, such as China, where sandstorms run rampant, and that only 57 air quality monitoring stations have been established nationwide to keep track of the country’s fine particle concentration.
“The EPA should intensively set up more monitoring stations across Taiwan, in particular along the country’s western coast and at downwind locations from the Changhua Coastal Industrial Park, the Yunlin Offshore Industrial Park and the Kaoshiung Linhai Industrial Park, so that concerned authorities could receive an alert when air pollutants reach hazardous level and respond by calling off schools in those areas,” the report said.
The report also mentioned the passive attitude demonstrated by DOH officials and called on the department to put in place emergency countermeasures.