Severe air pollution might be to blame for the death of a runner during a marathon on Saturday and the critical condition of another marathon runner, who fainted while running on Sunday, a group said.
The runner died after collapsing in a marathon in Yunlin, and the runner who lost consciousness was participating in a marathon in Kaohsiung. The second runner was hospitalized after defibrillation.
Yunlin and Kaohsiung had elevated levels of fine particulate pollution measuring 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM2.5) during the marathon events.
The Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance yesterday said that the PM2.5 levels during both marathons reached the “purple” level — the most severe degree of PM2.5 pollution defined by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) — and although there is no definite causal relationship between air pollution and the two incidents, the health hazards of air pollution could be equal to those of natural disasters.
“A runner can take in five to 10 times more pollutants than a person at rest does, and runners could be exposed to 500 million fine particulates in a two-hour run. Holding a marathon during ‘purple explosion days’ is improper,” alliance convener and Changhua Christian Hospital physician Yeh Guang-peng (葉光芃) said.
It is regrettable that marathon organizers paid no heed to the EPA’s dust storm warning issued on Friday last week and continued with the planned races, Yeh said.
“The city government was boosting tourism at the expense of people’s lives,” he said.
The alliance said that environmental groups last year warned the Kaohsiung City Government against holding marathons or outdoor sport competitions in autumn, winter and spring — when air pollution is usually at its worst — but the city government did not take the warning seriously and continued to prioritize tourism over the health risks associated with air pollution.
There are standard operating procedures for a variety of disasters and the government should establish a similar procedure for peak air pollution days, as well as introduce a set of measures to effectively reduce pollution, the alliance said.
The Kaohsiung Department of Sports said the date of the marathon had been set six months ago, and it could not be canceled because of poor air quality, adding the organizers made certain that each participant was insured.
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