Article and photos courtesy of Taichung City Government Information Bureau
Translated by Anna Yang
Each year between October and April, the seasonal monsoon winds shift from the southwest to northeast due climatic factors that include off-shore high pressure systems and dense fog coverage. When conditions become almost windless and pollutants become less diffuse, western Taiwan’s overall air pollution increases, which can easily result in high PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentrations that are not dispersed.
There are many sources of air pollution. Besides climatic conditions and topographical factors, Taichung’s population has continued to increase every year and various industries have seen development, leading a growth in vehicles. Besides vehicular and industrial emissions, there are other common man-made sources of pollution, such as construction work.
Taichung City Government active against air pollution
As Taiwan’s second-largest city, Taichung has seen the number of gasoline-powered two and four wheeled vehicles increase with population growth, with vehicle emissions accounting for 29% of this city’s PM2.5 pollution. To combat this, Taichung City Government is actively promoting subsidies for the replacement of old scooters with electric ones, power-charging stations, bus-ride discounts (free bus rides for up to 10 kilometers, with an added NT$10 charged for distances beyond this), the iBike 2.0 Plan, and the pedestrian-friendly market events. All of these initiatives are designed to improve the city’s air quality.
In regards to controlling fugitive emissions (random escaping pollutants), the city government maintains strict limitations on public construction in accordance with the principle of “manage the public environment as a top goal, follow up on inspections of private industries”. Taichung City Government also conducts inspections of public land in river basin areas to prevent dust pollution, and as a part of efforts to reduce local incense and joss paper (spirit money) burning. Between January and July this year, a total of 1,830 metric tons of joss paper was collected for a consolidated processing service (with joss paper being burned together at one time), the highest-ever for this period, for a total 4.46 metric ton reduction of PM2.5.
Taichung Power Plant is the most serious fixed source of air pollution and the city government continues to proceed with a close eye on its goal of reducing coal usage by 40% within four years. Taichung City Government is demanding that Taipower dismantles four older generators if it wants to install two new generators and will fine the power plant if it fails to comply. The city government is also encouraging the replacement of all coal-fired plants with natural gas (LNG) powered ones. To date, Taichung has seen a reduction of coal-fired plants from 80 to 17 and, by 2022, all coal-fired plants are to be terminated.
In the fall and winter, western Taiwan’s air quality drops significantly and special measures initiated by Taichung City Government in advance include notifications to the top 30 fixed pollution sources to reduce pollution output, the boosting of pollution inspections focused on burning in public spaces and high-polluting vehicles, and notifications to schools to adjust outdoor activity schedules. In order to help maintain resident health conditions, the city government has adopted two major strategies–“direct penalties” and “aggravated punishments”–for those do not comply with relevant laws and regulations, doubling and tripling financial penalties when necessary.
Low carbon emissions enhance good air quality
Taichung has made many efforts to improve air quality and statistics indicate that, from January to September this year, the average PM2.5 concentration in the city has improved by 2.0 micrograms compared with the same period last year. The Air Quality Index (AQI) of Taichung City has mostly been rated green (good), in a great year-on-year improvement. During the same period, the cumulative number of unhealthy orange (AQI>100) days has decreased by about 40%, setting a new record low for the past nine years. All this demonstrates that air quality continues to improve with everyone’s help and efforts.
What is PM2.5?
There are many kinds of air pollutants and fine particulate matter (PM) in the air is classified as being a size equal to or smaller than 2.5μm.
This fine particulate matter enters our bodies via the nose and respiratory system. Any particulate matter with a size above 10μm can be eliminated via our nostrils, but other smaller particulate matter may be absorbed into the body. In recent years, many epidemiologists have confirmed that PM2.5 pollutants directly affect our health conditions by causing bronchitis, asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even lung cancer. Anyone who’s exposed to pollutants in the air environment for both long and short periods of time will experience a higher risk for respiratory disease and death.
Protecting yourself during the air-pollution season
As the seasonal monsoon arrives, many sensitive groups, including the elderly and children, need to check the daily air quality before heading out. Decreasing outdoor activities and wearing masks are ways to prevent the inhalation of polluted air. In addition, if you stay indoors, it’s recommended that you close windows to reduce being exposed to particulate matter. When you enter the house, always remember to sanitize your hands, wash your face and clean your nose.