Time for action to cope with air pollution
The Saigon Times Daily
Air pollution in Hanoi has worsened, making the Vietnamese capital city one of the most dangerous places in the world to live in.
Last Friday, according to Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper, the monitoring system of the municipal Environmental Protection Agency showed that 10 of 11 sites were encountering serious air pollution, with the air quality index exceeding 200. The reading, categorized at the purple level, indicated that the air quality was very hazardous and residents may experience serious health problems.
The red-alarm air quality in Hanoi City on the day was recorded by various media, including Air Visual as a website that tracks air quality in cities around the world, and Pam Air, an environmental quality tracking app.
Faced with the problematic air quality, the Ministry of Health on Saturday issued a warning with a list of 14 recommendations for residents to lessen the impacts on their health. While such a warning is necessary, it is just a provisional coping measure.
Experts have pointed out the key reasons behind the worsening air quality in Hanoi, highlighting combustion and mechanical processes as the main sources of air pollution. For combustion processes, the key culprits emitting fine-particle pollutants include power plants, indoor heating, and car exhausts, while mechanical processes include construction and mining among others.
It is also said that the content of nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide is high in the air in Hanoi, with the main sources being burning processes of sulfur-containing fuel in industry, transportation and power plants.
Serious air pollution in Hanoi and its vicinity has persisted for a long time although seasonal factors do play a part. Therefore, it is urgent for the Government and relevant ministries to devise a strategy to deal with the problem now and for the long term.
For the short term, it is proposed that authorities pinpoint the specific sources of air pollution, and take measures to deal with them on a one-by-one basis, be it an industrial factory, a power plant, or transport means. It t is proposed that standards be upgraded concerning emissions and filtering for all such specific sources and enforce strict compliance, just like the introduction of the Euro 2 emissions standards for all vehicles manufactured prior to end-2008 effective from January 1, 2020; and it is proposed that polluting facilities be shut down where remedial solutions do not work.
In the long term, there needs to be a strategy to stonewall projects in any industry that place the environment at risk, especially coal-fired power plants even if such projects have been included in master plans on industrial development. Such a step requires heightened awareness and political commitment, just like the way Long An Province authorities recently rejected a major coal-fired power plant project due to pollution concern though the Ministry of Industry and Trade has insisted on it because it has been included in the national power development plan.
Worsening air pollution in Hanoi – and HCMC and other major urban centers nationwide as well to some extent – will surely cost the economy dearly in terms of healthcare expenses, acquisition of household air filters, and national tourism among others. It is high time for action before the problem reaches the irrecoverable threshold or a point of no return.