Gone are the days when we could step outside and take a deep, long breath of fresh air. Now, brief whiffs can bring odors so unpleasant and irritating that you immediately know: This can’t be good for you. And by “this,” we mean outdoor air pollution.
Meet the pollutants
The World Health Organization defines air pollution as the “contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical, or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.”
Engineer Rene Timbang, supervising health program officer of the Department of Health (DoH), defines pollution as the substances that can impair health, or create discomfort to humans, animals, and living organisms, and cause environmental damage.
Outdoor air pollutants include particulate matter or floating solid matter that may be visible or microscopic, nitrogen dioxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and ozone. The sources of these pollutants may be stationary (e.g., buildings, structures, facilities or installations), mobile (e.g., vehicles), or areas with air-generating activities.
According to the most recent National Air Quality Status Report (2005-2007) of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the transport sector is the major source of air pollution. Mobile sources account for 65 percent of the pollutants in most of the regions of the country. This, we probably already know every time we brave the congested streets of Metro Manila.
Clean air matters
Renato Josef, M.D., assistant professor with the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health of the University of the Philippines-Manila’s College of Public Health affirms, “There are chemicals in the air pollution that are contributing factors to health problems, and there are ones that are directly harmful, or are causing health effects.”
Some of the negative health conditions that may be caused, triggered, or aggravated by air pollution include:
• skin irritations;
• eye, nose, throat irritations;
• chronic obstructive pulmonary disease;
• lung cancer;
• heart disease; and
• diseases of the nervous system.
Dr. Josef cites old people, children, and those with weak or compromised immune systems as most susceptible to the health effects of air pollution. And if this isn’t enough cause for concern, air pollution also causes environmental harm that leads, and has led, to climate change.
In 1999, the Philippine government implemented the Clean Air Act, which outlines measures that the government will take to reduce air pollution. Among the act’s more high-profile features are the following:
• setting emission standards for all motor vehicles, and issuing vehicle registration only upon compliance;
• banning of incineration, i.e., for waste disposal;
• banning the use of leaded gasoline;
• banning of smoking in public places;
• encouragement of waste segregation; and
• development of recycling programs, to be spearheaded by the local government units.
Engineer Timbang believes that the Clean Air Act has made an impact on our air quality. The DENR-EMB report mentioned earlier states that a national total suspended particulate (TSP) monitoring from 2003 to 2007 shows significant improvement with TSP concentrations decreasing. However, he adds that the air quality is still far from ideal.
Dr. Josef points out that “the challenge is the implementation of the laws. The laws are there, but implementation is another story.”