Manila Observatory’s report on urban air quality for 2014: Another hazardous New Year’s welcome

MO air pollution view of UAD building for New Year 2014

Figure 1. The view of the Marikina City valley from the Manila Observatory in Quezon City at the stroke of midnight (A) of 2014 and at 6AM (B) is obscured by the smoke from fireworks and firecrackers. By the afternoon the air has cleared up. The mountain range and the buildings in the valley (C) are visible at 5PM, and the lights from the valley are visible (D) in the evening of January 1, 2014.

by Genie Lorenzo, Nofel Lagrosas, Melliza Cruz, James Simpas, and Gemma Narisma

New Year in and around Metro Manila is a smoggy, toxic welcoming: and the worst air pollution episode of the year. This, owing to the many commercial and homemade firecrackers and fireworks that are set off beginning in the afternoon of the New Year´s eve and peaking at midnight. The majority of the dense Metro Manila population participates in the revelry, which explains the huge amounts of harmful smoke produced during this time, and the consequent drastic reduction in visibility. These factors combined with increased moisture and calm wind conditions can contribute to keeping the air pollution levels dangerous way past the revelry, into the wee hours of New Year morning.

A dramatic decrease in visibility in Manila Observatory, Quezon City during the 2014 New Year can be seen in Figures 1A and 1B. The Marikina City valley, and the Sierra Madre mountains in the background are obscured by smoke from midnight (Figure 1A) to the early morning (Figure 1B) of the New Year. By the afternoon (Figure 1C) the air has cleared up and the structures in the Marikina City valley and the Sierra Madre mountains are visible. In the evening (Figure 1D), lights from the Marikina Valley are already seen.

The Manila Observatory (MO), a private, nonprofit Jesuit research institution, has been monitoring fine particulate matter (PM2.5) since 2003 in different locations in Metro Manila during New Year. PM2.5 is a collective name for particles 2.5 microns in diameter or smaller and because of its minuteness can be carriers of toxic gases, can burrow deep into the respiratory system, and can therefore have negative implications on health.

MO PM 2.5 Metro Manila New Year 2013-2014

Figure 2. PM 2.5 in Metro Manila (New Yewar 2003-2014). Twenty-four-hour PM2.5 concetrations were sampled with low volume air samplers from 12PM of December 31 to 12PM of January 1 in the following sites (some sites do not have samples for all the years): Manila Observatory, Quezon City; Nangka, Marikina City; Barangka, Marikina City; Oro Vista Royale, Antipolo City; Valle Verde 5, Pasig City; Almanza, Las Pinas City; and Calumpit, Bulacan. Levels were highest in 2007 and 2011, and lowest in 2005 and 2009.

Results of air quality measurements from New Year of 2003-2014 from seven sampling sites are plotted over a colored background, that represents USEPA Air Quality Index ranges in Figure 2. Air Quality Indices indicate the associated health effects of PM2.5 concentrations. PM2.5 (24-Hr average) in Quezon City, Marikina City, Antipolo City, and Pasig City have been in the hazardous range (>251 mg/m3) of the USEPA Air Quality Index, 42% of the time. When the air reaches hazardous levels ¨everyone should remain indoors and keep activity levels low¨ (USEPA), else serious health effects may occur. ¨Windows and doors should be shut, or the area vacated until the air quality improves¨ (USEPA) when PM2.5 is in the hazardous range. Almost all (94%) of the past New Year PM2.5 concentrations are much higher than the 24-Hr guideline value of 75 mg/m3 (dashed black line in Figure 2) set by the Philippine government.

Although there have been air quality improvements in 2005 and 2009 (dip in PM2.5 in Figure 2), these have been slight relative to their implications on health. PM2.5 concentrations then were still in the very unhealthy range, meaning everyone should avoid physical activity outdooors, and sensitive groups (young, old, and those with respiratory difficulties) should remain indoors and keep activity levels low, else serious health effects may occur. This and last year´s PM2.5 concentrations are almost half those in 2007 and 2011, when levels were highest and all measurements were in the hazardous range, yet 4 of the 7 sites still had hazardous air this New Year.

Figure 3 shows that the highest measurements through the years were from Nangka in Marikina City (366 mg/m3), which is located in a valley that traps the pollutants naturally, and where 67% of the time the New Year air was hazardous. PM2.5 was also very high in Barangka, Marikina City (294 mg/m3) and in Oro Vista Royale near Marcos Hi-way Antipolo City (257 mg/m3), where the air was hazardous most of the time, and then very unhealthy otherwise. Lowest PM2.5 was measured in Las Pinas and Bulacan, away from the Metro Manila center, though the levels were still in the unhealthy range. In all the sites the air was at the very least unhealthy, and there have been no New Years since 2003 where the air quality was good or moderate.

MO Average New Yeaer PM2.5 and Distribution of Air Quality Indices (2003-2014)

Figure 3. Average New Year PM2.5 and Distribution of Air Quality Indices (2003-2014). Highest average 24-Hr PM2.5 concentration over the years was measured in Nangka Marikina, where PM2.5 was hazardous 67% of the time. PM2.5 is similar and similarly distributed in the Manila Observatory, Barangka Marikina, Antipolo, and Pasig sites where levels were hazardous to very unhealthy most of the time. Lowest PM2.5 was measured in Las Pinas City and Bulacan, where PM2.5 was unhealthy.

In the Manila Observatory, where there have been PM2.5 readings since 2000, the New Year PM2.5 values have been as much as more than 10 times the normal values (40 mg/m3 in Figure 4). New Year PM2.5 values have been the highest PM2.5 measurements of each year, and these are the only measurements of the year that have reached the very unhealthy and hazardous ranges of the USEPA Air Quality Index.

More than ten years of monitoring PM2.5 around Metro Manila shows no significant improvement in the New Year air quality. And this is in addition to the normal state of our air, which by itself already needs to be improved. One wonders, therefore, if the hazardous air and other risks (fires, injuries, and lives lost) associated with each New Year is actually worth all the celebration. Perhaps some hope lies in the future when individuals and communities can resort to more healthy and responsible ways of welcoming the New Year.

(Genie Lorenzo and Melliza Cruz are research associates at the Manila Observatory [MO]. Nofel Lagrosas, Ph.D. is a scientist at MO. James Simpas, Ph.D. is the head of the air quality dynamics and instrumentation and technology development programs at MO, and Gemma Narisma, Ph.D. is the associate director for research at MO.)

Distribution of PM2.5 in Manila Observatory (2000-2012)

Figure 4. Distribution of PM2.5 in Manila Observatory (2000-2012). This graph of PM2.5 in the Manila Observatory in Quezon City overlayed on the USEPA Air Quality Indices shows concentrations that are normally in the moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups range. New Year PM2.5 readings of more than 10 times the normal PM2.5 values have been measured. Only during the New Years has the air become very unhealthy to hazardous.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

2 Responses to Manila Observatory’s report on urban air quality for 2014: Another hazardous New Year’s welcome

  1. Ivan B. Culaba says:

    This is a very important information. The hazards of firecrackers on one’s limbs and even life have been the focus of the government’s advisories on celebrating the New Year. With this report the long term effect on the respiratory health of people residing in Metro Manila due to the air pollution brought about by pyrotechnics will be given more attention.

  2. Pingback: Genie Lorenzo’s talk during the Ateneo Physics Department’s 50th Anniversary | ATENEO PHYSICS NEWS

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