Elevated PM2.5 air pollution levels prompt people in Chiayi and Nantou to fight for cleaner air (2017/02/19)
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    Elevated PM2.5 air pollution levels prompt people in Chiayi and Nantou to fight for cleaner air (2017/02/19)

    The arrival of winter in Taiwan brings with it recurring air pollution problems, and warnings for dangerous PM2.5 levels are frequently issued during the colder months of the year. Chiayi City and Puli, Nantou, used to be considered some of the cleanest towns in the country, but according to data, PM2.5 levels in the two towns are more than double the average recommended by the WHO on over two-thirds of year. It has driven residents to assert their own so-called right to breathe; they’re using internet message boards to help rally others around the cause of improving local air quality. Our Sunday special report.

    After getting out of bed each morning, Dr. Yu Shang-ru, the founder of the Chiayi PM2.5 Self-Help Association, immediately goes to the roof of his house to take pictures of the air quality in his home of Chiayi.

    Voice of Dr. Yu Shang-ru
    Chiayi PM2.5 Self-Help Association Founder
    Today’s air quality is quite good, because you can see the mountains from the house and can even spot those three buildings in the distance. There’s another row over there, and off to the side you can see the road and the writing on the shop signs. These are all things I look for in my observations.

    Five years ago, when she had just moved to Taiwan, Dr. Yu Shang-ru’s Japanese wife Yukiko wondered why she couldn’t see the verdant mountains from her home in a location right next to Taiwan’s central mountain range. Her question moved her husband, a native of Chiayi, to think back to when his hometown still had clean air, and ask why it had all changed.

    Dr. Yu Shang-ru
    Chiayi PM2.5 Self-Help Association Founder
    One day when I left home to go to work, I looked to my right and found that, even at such a short distance, I could only see the bottom floors of the department store. I couldn’t even see the top.

    Chiayi isn’t considered overdeveloped, and the city has little in the way of heavy industry, while boasting many green spaces and parks. So why are levels of PM2.5 small particulate matter in the city’s air so high? A wind-current simulation provided by National Chung Hsing University seems to point the finger at Formosa Plastics’ Sixth Naphtha Cracker complex in Yunlin, the Taichung Power Plant, and other big polluters in the region. Taiwan’s central mountain range, which sits to Chiayi’s east, also acts as a barrier which prevents the dispersion of pollutants.

    This EPA official shows off an air quality measurement device, explaining that the official EPA website is updated hourly with new readings from this and other similar devices from around Taiwan. According to data collected by the devices, the average concentration of PM2.5 in Chiayi over the past 10 years was more than twice the average recommended by the WHO, with more than 35 percent of the city’s pollutants coming from outside the region.

    Dr. Yu began to think of a way to help bring attention to the issue of worsening air quality. In February 2014, he set up Taiwan’s first PM2.5 self-help association on social media, in the hope of channeling social pressure to win back the right to breathe clean air.

    Dr. Yu Shang-ru
    Chiayi PM2.5 Self-Help Association Founder
    Our goal is to educate everyone about this PM2.5 problem, to let them know where those problems occur, and to teach them about the potential solutions or possibilities. Everyone needs to breathe, so I think that the problem of air pollution is even more important than food safety.

    An overnight rain shower has cleared the air in Puli Township, Nantou County, and the reduced visibility on this day is just down to mist, rather than a smog of pollutants. Information from the Taiwan Healthy Air Alliance, though, says that Puli sees more than 10 days every winter during which PM2.5 reaches levels high enough to merit the most severe pollution alert possible.

    Chang Shun-chin
    EPA Environmental Monitoring Dept.
    Puli is located in a basin, so the concentration of pollutants there changes very drastically from day to night. Around noon, when the winds are stronger and thermal convection more pronounced, the concentration of pollutants is lower, but come evening, the air cools and that cold air starts to settle in what we call nocturnal drainage winds, which make it easier for pollutants to collect there.

    Chou Yi-hsiung
    Puli Township Chief
    Our small restaurants, hotels, and laundromats use diesel or fuel oil for their furnaces, which is one source of pollution. On holidays, there’s heavy traffic on Lake Road and National Freeway No. 6, and the exhaust from those cars and buses is another major pollution source.

    In protest against the declining air quality in their city, more than a thousand Puli residents once took to the streets, calling upon the government to take the issue of air pollution seriously. Theirs was Taiwan’s first-ever organized anti-air pollution protest.

    Meanwhile, thanks to the ceaseless work of Dr. Yu Shang-ru, Chiayi held the country’s first camp for those interested in learning more about air pollution.

    Taking a breath is easy, but taking a breath of clean air isn’t, especially if you live in some parts of Taiwan. Increasing public awareness of the problem of air pollution is driving more and more people to fight to preserve what they demand is a right to air that’s safe and clean for them and their families.
    中文 Chinese  















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