Citizen of the Earth yesterday launched a school flag program, which asks elementary-school faculties and students in Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung County to heed the potential impact of elevated levels of air pollution by raising a red flag as a warning to remind children to avoid outdoor activities whenever poor air quality is recorded.
The environmental group called on students and teachers to maintain a record based on measurements taken at local air quality survey stations each morning before the first class and raise a red flag whenever the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) or PM2.5 Index reaches “level 4,” to remind people on campus to wear a mask and avoid going outside of the classrooms.
The survey station data is available on the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) Web site.
According to EPA criteria, PSI “level 4” is “very unhealthy” and could cause increased symptoms among people with allergies or impair their exercise tolerance, while also threatening a range of conditions among healthy people. The WHO has listed PM2.5 as a “Group 1” carcinogen.
Group deputy director-general Wang Min-ling (王敏玲) said that growing children are especially vulnerable to pollution, so special attention is required to safeguard their health.
Out of the eight air quality management areas designated nationwide by the EPA, the one comprising Greater Kaohsiung and Pingtung has consecutively recorded the worst air quality, Wang said.
She said the area is troubled by a range of pollution sources, including the volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted by its dense petrochemical complexes, ozone created in extended periods of sunlight and nitrogen dioxides.
Furthermore, China Steel Corp’s refineries, as well as fossil fuel power plants and the very high number of scooters amid the lack of a convenient mass transit system all contribute to the area’s serious air pollution problems, she said.
So far, Wen-fu Elementary School in Kaohsiung’s Zuoying District (左營) and Ganghe Elementary School in Siaogang District (小港) have agreed to join the flag program.
“We hope that the two schools will inspire more schools to follow up on the practice,” Wang said.
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