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Air quality in Kaohsiung worse than usual: EPA

The air quality in Greater Kao-hsiung has been poor this month, with the level of pollutants exceeding the norm at most monitoring stations in the southern city, according to government statistics.

Fine particle pollution (PM2.5: particles under 2.5 micrometers in diameter) tends to peak in January each year, but levels have been even higher than usual in the Greater Kaohsiung area this month because of a lack of strong southwest winds, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.

Last month, the EPA announced a new PM2.5 daily standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter and a new yearly average was set at 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

If the new standard were applied to the Greater Kaohsiung area, this month’s PM2.5 levels, as detected by local monitoring stations would be far in excess of the safe limit.

From Jan. 1 to Jan. 18 this year, the level of PM2.5 detected at 11 of the 12 stations in the city exceeded the new norm, the EPA said.

Pollution levels were especially high at the Siao Gang monitoring station, with PM2.5 levels at between two and three times the safe level, the EPA said.

On Jan. 2, the PM2.5 pollutant level stood at more than 80 micrograms per cubic meter, the EPA said.

A civil organization, the Changhua Medical Alliance (CMA), said cleaner air should be a priority for the EPA so that people’s lungs do not become “filter machines.”

PM2.5 are particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers, with a diameter 1/35th of that of sand particles and 1/28th of that of human hair, according to the EPA.

Because of the small size of the particles, the pollutants can easily enter the alveolar sacs of the lungs and be spread throughout the body by circulating blood.

The increasing number of lung cancer patients in Taiwan is related to the high levels of PM2.5 in the air, the group said.

When the PM2.5 concentration in the air increases suddenly, it has a direct impact on populations with allergies.

Young children, pregnant woman and elderly people are especially vulnerable, the CMA said.

The alliance suggested that the EPA follow protocols similar to the US, by issuing warnings for people with allergies when PM2.5 levels reach between 35 and 65 micrograms per cubic meter, and giving national warnings when they exceed 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

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