By: Begie Perdigones and Paul Losaria
With the nationwide ban on firecrackers through President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 28, Metro Manila’s almost 13 million residents still succumbed to “hazardous” air during the first hour of 2018.
The hazardous levels were registered in the Airtoday.ph website and application that runs a 24/7 air quality information system for Metro Manila. Between 8:00 PM on Sunday, December 31, 2017 to 7:00 AM on Monday, January 1, 2018, the air quality index ranged between “poor” and “hazardous” indicating the most polluted hours in the metro, earlier and longer compared to that of the previous year which only started at 11:00 PM of December 31, 2016 to 5:00 AM of January 1, 2017. As reminded by World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to Particulate Matter ( PM) concentrations that reach high levels even for just a short period of time could already affect the human respiratory system.
Airtoday.ph charts (Figures 1-3) show PM concentrations that started to increase gradually as early as 8:00 PM and drastically at 11:00 PM of December 31, 2017, before it spiked at 12:00 AM of January 1, 2018 (Figure 4). The highest pollution level of PM2.5, 138 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3) was recorded at UST España. On the other hand, Ayala Avenue (Makati) had the highest PM10 concentration which spiked to 147 ug/m3. Both stations registered lower peak concentrations, about 35 and 44 percent decrease from previous year’s 212 ug/m3 and 264 ug/m3, but still way beyond the air quality guidelines of WHO for 24-hr average of PM2.5 (25 μg/m3) and PM10 (50 μg/m3), almost six and three times more. Meanwhile, EDSA Muñoz showed higher maximum hourly levels of PM2.5, 98 μg/m3 and PM10, 121 μg/m3, which also exceeded the WHO air quality guidelines.
PM concentrations significantly declined at around 4:00 in the morning of January 1, 2018 but still maintained “poor” air quality (Figure 5) which only changed to “moderate” at 8:00AM, at least for Ayala Avenue (Makati) and EDSA Muñoz. However, the decrease at UST España was very notable as PM levels rapidly dropped after peaking during midnight, “moderate” AQI rating was reached earlier, at 5:00 in the morning.
Metro Manila experienced a relatively cleaner air as concentrations were already within the WHO air quality guidelines, between 11:00 AM and 12 PM, all 3 stations eventually reached “good” and “very good” air quality (Figure 6).
“The ban on firecrackers is a step towards reducing the levels of air pollution every NYE. In fact, the reduction of pollution from 2017 NYE is evidence enough of its effectiveness; I hope the public will comply every year”, said Dr. Mylene G. Cayetano of UP Diliman- Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology who leads the interpretation of air quality data for RC Makati’s AQMS. The lower boundary layer at nighttime due to lower temperature which traps the pollutants, and relatively calm weather contributed to the trend of PM levels and slow dispersion of pollutants. Though New Year’s Eve episodic pollution is just transient, RC Makati’s former President, Eddie H. Yap pointed out that “Air pollution is a serious public health hazard affecting all sectors of society and all sources, particularly excessive vehicle exhaust emission, must be properly curtailed.”
Air pollution levels during New Year’s Eve raise concerns from both the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Together with civil society organizations, they stand firm in calling for a ban on firecrackers and fireworks. The clamour is granted last June 20, 2017 as President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Executive Order No. 28 which aims to regulate the use of firecrackers and other pyrotechnic devices. It states that “the use of firecrackers shall henceforth be confined to community fireworks display”. Though its implementation is primarily geared on minimizing the risk of injuries and casualties, many hope that this would also contribute to a significant decrease in concentrations of PM during and after the event. It is not a total firework ban so, it is still expected that there would be a surge in air pollution level during and after the New Year’s revelries.
As defined by US EPA, PM is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets suspended in the air. PM with aerodynamic diameter of 10 microns or less (PM10) and fine particles which cause smog, with diameter of 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5) are harmful to human health since they could penetrate deep into the lungs, causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases upon inhalation. Thus, PM concentration is an important indicator of ambient air quality. Moreover, unknown to many, firecrackers and fireworks are contributors to PM emissions.
Rotary Club of Makati has been monitoring the real-time 24/7 PM concentrations in μg/m3 through air quality monitoring system (AQMS) since 2015. Record of spikes in PM concentrations, a common indicator of air pollution, from four strategic locations in Metro Manila (Ayala Avenue, Makati, EDSA Muñoz, UST España, and Lung Center of the Philippines) are available in colored index with corresponding precautionary advice depending on the severity of air pollution, which could be accessed via Rotary Club of Makati’s AQMS website and free mobile application, Airtoday.ph.
With different government agencies and non-government organizations supporting the regulated, controlled use of firecrackers, concerned officials also encouraged the public to help in reducing the amount of the episodic air pollution by resorting to playing loud music or using horns, pots, cans attached to vehicles, and other noisemakers instead of setting off firecrackers as the midnight strikes to merrily welcome the next New Years.
For more information on Airtoday.ph, Contact: Pres. Junjun Dayrit and Past Pres. Eddie Yap, Rotary Club of Makati
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Begie Perdigones and Paul Losaria are Master of Science students in the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (IESM) in UP Diliman. Their interest is on the studies of air pollution in Metro Manila, and are being mentored by Dr. Mylene G. Cayetano. For technical inquiries, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org
Figure 5: PM concentrations significantly declined at around 4:00 in the morning of January 1, 2018 but still maintained “poor” air quality in EDSA Muñoz and UST, while maintained at ‘Hazardous’ levels in Ayala.