The Clear Air Action strategy approved by the Executive Yuan last year with an investment of NT$36.5 billion (US$1.24 billion) aims to implement air pollution control measures to create a healthy and sustainable nation. Policy targets include stricter controls on cooking fumes from restaurants and fugitive dust from roads and construction sites.
Air pollution is always being monitored by the Environmental Protection Administration, the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Health Insurance Administration to combat the nation’s high lung cancer death rate, 42 percent of which is caused by exposure to air pollution, a WHO report showed.
In Taiwan it is common for food stalls and heavy traffic to be next to each other. Aside from commonly known traffic dangers, this urban layout means pedestrians breathe in polluted air while walking and eating on the streets.
Major cities such as Taipei are extremely dense, with retail shops, restaurants and houses often sharing the same courtyard, and windows facing each other. People’s health can be badly affected by highly polluted cooking fumes that are unintentionally discharged into people’s living spaces every day.
While the government is taking action to reduce pollution, it should also review living conditions in cities and reduce human exposure to air pollutants by implementing stricter urban planning regulations.
For instance, in the UK there are strict regulations for commercial, industrial and residential zoning. Environmental health officers must be consulted for planning applications for food and drinks premises.
For example, extractor fans with grease filters must be installed with a point of discharge that is as high as reasonable, without causing undue harm to the environment. The outlet must be positioned taking into account the general wind direction and the location of nearby premises — in particular where their openable windows are.
Aside from air pollution, the UK’s Code for a Sustainable Built Environment ensures that housing meets certain living standards. Each bedroom must have openable windows for at least 5 percent of the internal gross floor area of that room to promote adequate cross-ventilation for thermal comfort. An adequate view and direct sunlight are also required for health and well-being.
The UK government believes that environmental checks should not be just a side concern to be weighed up against economic and social benefits.
The WHO’s Health Impact Assessment says housing is one of the major aspects that affect human health. A report conducted in 2005 found that poorly designed housing is strongly linked to poor health, thus housing improvements can clearly improve human health.
In 2010, a group of experts from WHO, UN-Habitat, the UN Environment Programme, the International Labor Organization and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, as well as others, delivered a message to push for international guidance on “healthy housing” — targeting construction experts, architects, engineers and local authorities — that would promote actions that are scientifically based, to protect and advance public health.
While the Legislative Yuan is revisiting the Air Pollution Control Act (空氣污染防制法), which was amended last year to impose stricter emissions standards and increase penalties to NT$20 million, it is important that it should not exclude pollution sources in our living environment.
The Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, with a budget of NT$420 billion, could also consider improving living standards with more advanced infrastructure, housing and urban design.
Ng Ming Shan is a LEED AP and registered architect in the UK and Switzerland, and holds master’s degrees in architecture and building history from ETH Zurich and the University of Cambridge. Taiwan-born Chen Kuan-Yu is a registered architect in the UK with more than 15 years of experience.
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