Traffic jams worsen air quality–study

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In Photo: A week-day traffic on Edsa.

Here’s more bad news about the pesky heavy traffic in Metro Manila. A recent study by technical experts commissioned by the civic group Kaibigan ng Kaunlaran at Kalikasan (KKK) said traffic jams continue to worsen air pollution in Metro Manila, exposing people to risks of acquiring cardiovascular diseases and various health problems associated with breathing dirty air every day.

But what is causing the traffic? Ed Alabastro, executive director of KKK said: Overpopulation and the sheer lack of discipline of Filipinos.

These two, he said, are the reason for Metro Manila’s major traffic woes.

“Traffic is the reason for poor air quality but it’s the population that is causing traffic in Metro Manila. We are over populated,” he told the BusinessMirror in telephone interview.

Besides Metro Manila’s huge population, “Filipinos lack discipline. That’s another problem,” he added.

He said like Metro Manila, highly populated urban centers, like Metro Cebu and Metro Davao, are sure to experience living with poor air quality sooner or later.

“Metro Cebu’s traffic will lead to poorer air quality,” he said.

The study commissioned by KKK, he added, confirms the problem caused by traffic congestion—which is poorer air quality.

“The more engines are running longer, the more pollution we get,” he said in Filipino.

Based on the study, the congestion in Metro Manila is costing the country billions in lost revenues.

It is also contributing largely to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, according to the study.

“Inhalation and ingestion of pollutants from mobile sources can cause diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke,” the study said.

Conducted for a period of two years, the study was completed recently with support from nonprofit group Clean Air Asia, scientific research institute Manila Observatory and independent professionals.

Other “area” sources, including burning refuse, street-side cooking and construction work, account for 20 percent of air pollution, while only 4 percent is attributed to “industrial” sources.

The project, “Modeling Particulate Matter Dispersion in Metro Manila”, used an internationally recognized mathematical technique to predict the pathways of pollution from various sources.

Factors that impact air quality were used as inputs to the mathematical modeling: air quality-monitoring data, topography, actual traffic count, type of vehicles and fuels, and meteorology, such as wind speeds and directions that vary in different months.

Due to variability of these factors, not all of Metro Manila experiences dirty air the same way, the study noted.

KKK, or “Friends of Progress and the Environment”, a nongovernmental organization that advances sustainable development by providing science-based research to policy-makers, said that traffic congestion is now a critical health issue.

The study specifically focused on particulate matter that can easily enter people’s lungs and cause coughing, sneezing and asthma in children. Such small particulates are also internationally recognized as causes of ischemic heart disease, cardiopulmonary diseases, respiratory dysfunctions and lung cancer.

According to the World Health Organization, around 3 million deaths per year are linked to outdoor pollution, with the majority occurring in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health has noted that the leading causes of death include cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, among them, lung cancer exacerbated—if not directly caused—by air pollution.

While the group lauded the national government’s drive to solve traffic congestion, it emphasized that a lot can still be done to address traffic and the critical risk it continues to pose to citizens.

To address the problem, the study recommended a “holistic” approach to solving air pollution and traffic congestion. It proposed greater coordination among agencies handling traffic and environmental issues; establishment of a traffic-management bureau to oversee the traffic situation.

Strengthening of the motor-vehicle inspection system and traffic-management efforts; installation of more closed-circuit television cameras to monitor both social and environmental concerns; and upgrading of traffic light system to deal with increased traffic volume; and lesser dependence on manpower to direct traffic.

The study also recommended that enforcers should undergo a uniform training program, implementation of the no-contact apprehension and stricter compliance to existing emission standards.

Motorists should also consider the quality of fuels they use, along with reliability and cost.

It recommended the enhancement of air-monitoring capability of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, by putting up more monitoring stations in critical areas.

The group also called on government to lead a shift from cars to mass transit over the long term.

“A highly functional mass transport system, combined with land use and population management, would greatly support a drive for cleaner air in Metro Manila,” the study said.

Image Credits: Stephanie Tumampos

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Jonathan L. Mayuga is journalist for more than 15 years. He is a product of the University of the East – Manila. An awardee of the J. G. Burgos Biotech Journalism Awards, BrightLeaf Agricultural Journalism Awards, Binhi Agricultural Journalism Awards, and Sarihay Environmental Journalism Awards.