Taiwan should adopt WHO air quality standards: official

Boats are anchored in Kaohsiung Port among reports of low air quality in the southern city on Nov. 3, 2017. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) – An official of the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) recommended Thursday that Taiwan adopt the World Health Organization’s standards for particle pollution in an effort to provide better health and environmental protection.

At present, Taiwan’s allowed concentration level for fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is 15 micrograms per cubic meter annually, while the WHO’s is 10 micrograms per cubic meter per year and 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period, said Kuo Yu-liang (郭育良), head of the NHRI’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Speaking at a legislative hearing on air quality, Kuo said Taiwan’s standards are based on those of the U.S., which set an annual mean of 15 micrograms per cubic meter and a 24-hour mean of 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

Kuo said that while there is little proof of a direct relationship between exposure to PM2.5 pollution and adverse health effects, there is a correlation between increasing exposure to fine particulates and worsening lung conditions.

Taiwan, therefore, would do well to adopt the stricter WHO standards, he said at the hearing, which was being held as part of the Legislature’s efforts to revise the country’s Air Pollution Control Act amid a worsening air quality situation, especially in central and southern Taiwan.

Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), associate dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health, also urged lawmakers to adopt stricter guidelines, saying that the law should take a proactive rather than a reactive approach to combating air pollution.

In the context of public health, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Taiwan, while 7,500 to 10,000 individuals die of lung-related illnesses each year, he said.

The issue of continued used of fossil fuels in the transportation and industrial sectors was also raised at the hearing.

In response, Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Minister Thomas Chan (詹順貴) said his agency will not prioritize economic development over public health, and will take all of the recommendations into consideration and come up with a comprehensive proposal. 

By Jocelyn Tsai, Justin Su and Kuan-lin Liu