The nation’s air quality has improved this year, an Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) official said yesterday, urging the public to seek reliable information before making a judgement.
The average concentrations of most key air pollutants — PM2.5 (fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or smaller), PM10, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide — have been on the decline over the past five years, EPA Department of Air Quality Protection and Noise Control Director-General Tsai Hung-teh (蔡鴻德) said.
The number of times when the agency’s air quality index (AQI) hit “red” — unhealthy for all people — due to fine particulate matter has also dropped, from 997 times in 2015 to 470 times as of Dec. 15, he said.
“Fortunately, there are less pollutants coming from China this year,” Tsai said, adding that the agency has continued to implement more regulatory measures.
Asked why many people seem to think the nation’s air quality has worsened, Tsai said that frequent media coverage of air pollution has drawn more attention to the issue and many people lack information to make a fair comparison.
It might also be attributable to a change in the pollution warning system, he said.
The agency initiates a first-level precautionary measure against air pollution when PM2.5 levels within a 24-hour period exceed 54.5 micrograms per cubic meter, instead of 71 micrograms per cubic meter according to past practice, he said.
Despite a general decrease in air pollutants, ozone concentration levels are fluctuating: The days when ozone concentrations exceed 86 parts per billion (ppb) have decreased, while the days when its concentrations exceed 71ppb have risen in Kaohsiung, as well as Yunlin, Chiayi, Nantou, Pingtung, Hualien and Taitung counties, he said.
As volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOs) are constituents of ozone, a reduction of NOs alone cannot bring down ozone levels, he said, adding that the agency would work harder to regulate VOC emissions.
In terms of PM2.5 concentrations that are measured automatically, the top three areas with the highest readings are Kaohsiung’s Cianjhen (前鎮) and Ciaotou (橋頭) districts, and Nantou’s Jhushan Township (竹山), agency data from Jan. 1 to Dec. 15 showed.
Fighting air pollution should be a collective effort, EPA Minister Lee Ying-yuan (李應元) said, while expressing optimism that the nation would be able to reduce the number of “red” days in the AQI to half of 2015 levels by 2019.
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