Senator Cynthia Villar cites that besides health and hygiene, the environment also plays a crucial role in the prevention in the spread and minimizing the effects of the coronavirus or Covid-19. Thus a clean and green environment should be part of the “new normal”.
She cited that improving air quality is a good start. Emissions of a variety of gases related to energy and transport has been significantly reduced due to limited economic activity and mobility of people. Prior to the enhance community quarantine (ECQ) and lockdown, the Philippines ranked 57th out of 98 countries in IQAir AirVisual’s list of the world’s most polluted countries in 2019.
Level of concentrations of particulate matter called PM2.5 averaged 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) in the country last year, an increase from 14.6 μg/m3 in 2018. These exceeded the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety limit of 10 μg/m3.During the first week of the lockdown, PM2.5 concentration level went down to 7.1 ug/m3 from 20 ug/m3.
PM2.5 is defined as particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller in diameter. These particles, a mix of soot, smoke, metals, chemicals, dust and other elements, can easily be breathed in and are associated with respiratory illnesses.
Experts are already worried that air pollution levels are expected increase once the community quarantine is lifted on May 15. “We should keep this positive momentum going. It should be part of the “new normal” that we are talking about. We should put in place post-lockdown environmental safeguards and strategies,” said Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.
According to Villar, there are studies that link air pollution level to higher risks to contracting coronavirus. A study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that higher levels of PM2.5 were associated with higher death rates from the Covid-19 disease. An increase of only one gram per cubic meter can cause an equivalent 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate.
The senator intends to review the implementation of the Clean Air Law or Republic Act 8749 passed in 1999 which aims to improve air quality throughout the country. It includes among its provisions improving gasoline quality by reducing the level of aromatics, and requiring factories to install anti-air pollution devices. “The law was passed 21 years ago, just like other old laws, it needs to be reviewed, some of its provisions may need amending or updating,” she said.
In particular, Villar wants to emphasize on the adverse effects of pollution in protected areas./Stacy Ang