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Greenpeace to PH: Strengthen air quality monitoring to protect citizens’ health

Greenpeace has called on the government to shore up the country’s monitoring systems for air quality, as its latest report reveals inadequacies in data on air pollution and its dangers to Filipinos.

The report, “Different Air under One Sky: Inequity Air Research”, shows that disparity in access to air quality data is putting vulnerable populations at greater risk from air pollution. In the Philippines, for example, only 45 percent of people live within 25 kilometers of an air quality monitoring station, most of which are located in Metro Manila. Access to data is also difficult, as only a few stations provide public access to data, which is not updated regularly.

Meanwhile, data shows that almost all Filipinos are breathing air that doesn’t meet World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, with as much as 25% of the total population exposed to annual average PM2.5 concentrations that are at least five times over the WHO guidelines,

“Based on the latest WHO air quality guidelines, all Filipinos are breathing in unhealthy air,” Yu said. “Air pollution monitoring should work to protect the people from highly polluting industries and practices, but our studies have shown that monitoring stations are too few and insufficient to make an impact.” 

“Despite the clear mandate for the government to protect and promote the people’s right to clean air under the decades-old Clean Air Act, it has reneged on that mandate by allowing polluting corporations like coal plants to operate with impunity, unchecked,” said Atty. Aaron Pedrosa, Sanlakas Secretary-General and Co-Chair of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) Energy Working Group. “Our air standards are outmoded and have fallen far behind latest science. And despite the failure to regulate, the Government continues on an approving spree to more projects that would further deteriorate the dismal quality of our country’s air.”

Yu pointed out that this worsens the struggle of communities residing near or affected by fossil fuel plants, as access to accurate air quality data could help them mount complaints against destructive practices and inform urgent mitigation of these plants’ health and environmental impacts. 

“Our health, my family’s health are suffering from air pollution. Our ordeal fell on deaf ears because the company and government officials don’t fully recognize us because we don’t have sufficient data, but we still fight for our right to a clean and healthy environment,” Andrew Dolino of Limpyong Hangin Para sa Tanan (LaHat) said in Filipino. Dolino lives in a community near a coal-fired power plant in Cebu. “The government must address this problem urgently, or they are endangering their citizens.”

Greenpeace is demanding that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources expand its air quality monitoring capacity — not just by increasing the number of stations but by enabling these stations to monitor other dangerous pollutants.

“Currently, our country has very few air quality monitoring stations, and those that are located near fossil fuel-fired power plants don’t monitor pollutants like methane and sulfur, which comes from fossil gas and pose risks to people’s health,” Yu said. “Having the full capacity to monitor air quality means being able to mount a strong case against the fossil fuel industry — particularly coal and fossil gas — and ultimately prevent them from dealing more damage to our environment and communities.”

In order to genuinely resolve the air pollution issue, Greenpeace is calling on the government to address its roots: phase out fossil fuel-based energy projects, and implement a just transition towards renewable energy. 

“Improving air quality is not only a matter of ensuring health and justice, but also of addressing the climate crisis and eliminating the common denominator – our country’s dependence on dirty energy,” Yu said.