Our recent post about air quality clearly outlined the dangers of poor air quality. Not only does it have a price tag, but also come with severe health risks and puts our environment and climate under extreme pressure, dangering crops and vegetation on a global scale.
However, sometimes you get struck by news that are taking action in the right direction after a haze outbreak caused by a forest fire in Jakarta, Indonesia, the government has issued that air filters will soon become a part of many school children's’ reality.
Here’s what was stated in Tempo.co, written by Syaipul Bakhori, on the issue:
"These air filters will be installed in each classroom to protect it from haze so that studying activity won't be hampered," said Education and Culture Minister Anis Baswedan on Friday, October 30, 2015.
Each air filter costs around Rp. 200,000 to Rp. 300,000 per unit. Not only air filters, the government will also installs air conditioner and plant new plants to reduce air pollution.
According to Anis, this method has been implemented in West Sumatra. Before it was implemented, the air pollution standard index was recorded at a level of 240. "Eventually [the air] could be filtered, [the pollution index] was lowered to 70," Anis stated”
However, the problems are far from solved in Indonesia. Our team stumbled on another informative read in Jakarta Globe while reading up on global air quality. This post was written by Erwida Maulia.
To Tifa Asrianti, the polka-dot fabric mask she carries in her bag is multifunctional.
Inside the overpacked trains she regularly boards to and from work during rush hour, the face mask saves her nose from unpleasant odors released by sweaty, fellow commuters.
On the Kopaja minibuses she takes from the train station to her office, the mask protects her from cigarette smoke casually exhaled by male passengers.
And while waiting for transportation on the side of roads congested with vehicles, she hopes the mask is able to filter the air pollution invading her lungs.
“Not that I believe the mask can really help, but it’s the least I could do,” said Tifa, a 30-something employee of a non-profit organization in Kuningan, South Jakarta.
People wearing face masks were not a common sight in Jakarta six years ago. Then came the H1N1 flu incidents in 2009, at the height of which the Indonesian government promoted the use of surgical masks to prevent the swine-based disease from spreading.
The flu died down, but people became accustomed to the masks and began wearing them in hopes to filter the smog-tainted city air they breathe in.
Now, the sight of half-covered faces is a common one throughout Asia — the light green or blue surgical ones are most used — as city commuters wait at bus shelters, board non-air conditioned public buses or ride motorcycles.
“The traffic jams are getting more inhumane. That’s a clear sign of more vehicles on the streets; more pollution,” said Tifa, a resident of Bekasi, West Java, who has been commuting to and from Jakarta for work over the past decade.
“And I can especially feel how dirty Jakarta air has become after returning from places like Pangalengan or Gunung Kidul, where the air is clean and light,” she said referring to the mountainous regions in West Java and Yogyakarta, respectively.
Tifa’s assumptions on the state of the capital’s air was not wrong. Official figures show that the amounts of major, toxic pollutants invading Jakarta air have grown rapidly, along with the continuous increase in vehicles crowding the streets.
According to data from the Jakarta Police traffic directorate, the number of vehicles registered in Jakarta has grown by an average of roughly 10 percent every year for the past six years, bringing the total figure to 16 million in 2013 — consisting of 4.1 million automobiles and 11.9 million motorcycles.
The motorbike industry especially has projected a market saturation for Jakarta. But in the mean time, despite public outcry over ever-worsening traffic congestion, the figures are expected to grow.
These numbers have yet to include the number of vehicles registered outside the capital, but regularly roaming its streets.
Along with the alarming growth in vehicles numbers, the concentration of at least four principal pollutants in the air have been increasing as well, according to the city’s Environmental Management Agency (BPLHD).
BPLHD statistics dating back to 2008 show that five major air pollutants regularly monitored by the agency — carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead and suspended particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less (PM10) — are all still below the hazardous levels specified in a gubernatorial regulation.
However, with the exception of sulfur dioxide, the amounts of these pollutants in the air have continued to increase over the past six years — with the growth of lead and nitrogen dioxide being particularly exponential.
The level of lead, notorious for causing brain and nervous system damage when congested in large amounts, stood at 0.33 microgram per cubic nanometer (mcg/nm3) last year; over 10 times higher than the level in 2008, and one-sixth of the hazardous threshold of 2 mcg/nm3.
The amount of nitrogen dioxide, meanwhile, rose to 74.14 mcg/nm3 last year — three times its 2008 figure and is alarmingly coming closer to the dangerous threshold of 92.5 mcg/nm3. Nitrogen dioxide is known to be poisonous to lungs.
During the same period, PM10 and carbon monoxide levels rose by 86 percent and 60 percent respectively. Major concerns from exposure to PM10 include respiratory illness, damage to lung tissue and cancer. Carbon monoxide, meanwhile, is toxic to blood, and poses a health threat especially to those suffering from cardiovascular diseases.
The sulfur dioxide volume, meanwhile, dropped by 77 percent. But the decline may be attributable to the unavailability of data at some BPLHD monitoring stations, according to an agency analyst who asked not to be named because the person does not have the official capacity to give public statements.
Like PM10, sulfur dioxide also has been associated with respiratory illness and the aggravation of existing cardiovascular disease.
“The main source of these air pollutants are vehicles — the transportation sector,” Rusman Sagala, head of the environment preservation and management division of BPLHD Jakarta, said in an interview last month.
“Industrial activities are another contributor, but there are fewer industries in Jakarta now. Many of them have spread to places outside of the city.”
According to Health Ministry data, the transportation sector contributes between 70 percent and 80 percent to total outdoor air pollutants.
Rusman said although more and more carmakers and motorcycle producers are consciously applying cleaner technology compared to a decade ago, their efforts can’t keep up with the speed at which new vehicles are appearing on roads each year.
This has become particularly obvious in the distressing amounts of lead seeping into the air.
Due to its damaging and permanent effect on the human body, namely the nervous system, kidney function and immune system among others, the Indonesian government introduced a regulation in 2003 restricting the levels of lead added to fuel — the lowest grade of fuel should contain no more than 0.3 gram per liter (g/l).
A regulation issued by the director general for oil and gas last year further reduces the maximum level of lead allowed in fuel to 0.013 g/l.
But as previously mentioned, the lead levels in Jakarta’s air has more than tenfold over the past six years.
“There is less lead in fuel now,” Rusman said. “But accumulatively, amounts of it in the air has risen because the number of vehicles in Jakarta keeps increasing.”
The World Health Organization released an updated report in March saying that an estimated 3.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012 were associated with outdoor air pollution.
The number shows a near triple increase from the previous available data in 2008 — although the jump has also been attributed to new evidence made available on the direct correlation between exposure to pollution and illnesses.
In a breakdown according to diseases, WHO data revealed that 40 percent of the deaths connected to air pollution were caused by ischemic heart disease and another 40 percent was due to strokes.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease contributed 11 percent of the deaths, followed by lung cancer (6 percent) and acute lower respiratory infections in children (3 percent).
The March report — which did not mention specific countries but offered data on regions — named Southeast Asia as the second-largest contributor to the deaths after the Western Pacific region — with 963,000 fatalities.
Being the largest and most populous country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia is believed to have been a top contributor to the figure.
“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” Maria Neira, director of WHO’s public health department, said in the statement. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”
Bambang Wispriyono, an environmental health expert at the University of Indonesia (UI), took a particular note on the colorless organic compound benzopyrene. This fuel residue is not among principal air pollutants regularly monitored by BPLHD, but it is a known carcinogen.
Two studies administered at UI under Bambang’s supervision a few years back found that people spending more time on the streets had higher levels of benzopyrene in their blood stream compared to regular office workers.
“Toll gate officers, traffic policemen... they all have more benzopyrene metabolites in their bloods and urine than office employees,” Bambang told the Jakarta Globe. “The effects are not immediate, but these officers working on the streets are facing more health risks, including cancer.”
The restriction on lead levels, the introduction of emission tests for vehicles in Jakarta and the addition of air quality in the criteria for the Adipura cleanliness awards given to cities and provinces are some indications that the Indonesian government has been paying growing attention to air pollutants’ impact on health.
But measures taken to curb the effects lag behind the pace of vehicle growth and, subsequently, the increasing number of toxic pollutants we breathe in every day.
Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the health ministry’s director general for disease control and environmental health, said his office is drafting strategic action plans to curb the dangerous effects of air pollution for the years 2015 to 2019, although not much has been said about the plans.
The Ministry of Environment, meanwhile, has been calling for what it calls a “grand design of the national air quality monitoring system,” an effort to improve the monitoring of air quality across Indonesia and, hopefully, measures to tackle issues related to air pollution.
The WHO, in its latest statement on Tuesday, reiterated its growing attention to diseases stemming from air pollutants and calls on individual cities worldwide to take the necessary actions in improving air quality, citing efforts made by Copenhagen and Bogota as successful examples.
The global health agency said these two cities have improved their air quality by prioritizing networks dedicated to urban public transport, walking and cycling.
“We cannot buy clean air in a bottle, but cities can adopt measures that will clean the air and save the lives of their people,” said Carlos Dora, coordinator for interventions for healthy environments at WHO.
In the mean time, face masks can provide a viable option.
“The ones commonly used can protect against PM10, but can still be infiltrated by gases,” Rusman said. “But they can at least reduce health risks.”