Air pollution in Hanoi reaches alarming levels

By Kim Thuy   March 10, 2016 | 12:25 am PT
Between March 1 and 4 , the Air Quality Index (AQI) measurements by the Hanoi-based US Embassy recorded alarming levels of air pollution in the capital.

Pollutant concentrations in the air ranged between 114 and 159 during the day and suddenly peaked at 388 at 9am on March 1 - a level deemed hazardous and which can cause serious health problems.

The PM2.5 particulate level recorded was seven times higher than the permissible level set by the World Health Organization.

PM2.5, also described as super fine particles, is the most harmful air pollutant to human health and can cause serious respiratory problems.

According to the AQI Levels of Health Concern, the air quality recorded in Hanoi can have adverse affects on people with lung and heart diseases, the elderly and children. 


AQI for health concerns

Source: The US Embassy's website

The US Embassy noted that its measurements only reflect air quality near the area of the Embassy, not the entire city.

Measurements by the Vietnam Environment Administration also show that between February 27 and March 3, concentrations of PM10 and PM2.5 were high, especially when there were heavy volumes of traffic.

PM10 particulate matter is 10 micrometers or less in diameter and PM2.5 is particulate matter 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter

“The increase in concentration of PM2.5 over the past few days was partly caused by low air humidity, which hovered at an average of 74 percent. The lowest air humidity recorded was 64 percent,” a representative of the administration said.


PM10 and PM2.5 in the air recorded in Hanoi between February 27 and March 02. 

QCVN 05:2013/BTNMT, PM-10: Vietnam's National standards for PM10

QCVN 05:2013/BTNMT, PM-2.5: Vietnam's National standards for PM 2.5

Source: Vietnam Environment  Administration


AQI in Hanoi between February 27 and March 03

Source: Vietnam Environment Administration

Main causes of pollution

The declining air quality in Hanoi has been attributed to high traffic volumes and industrial activity.

In Hanoi, motorbikes and cars have become the preferred mode of transportation. Almost everyone in the city owns a motorbike, while public transport is not yet been able to meet the city’s demand.


Photo Vnexpress/ Le Hieu

There is an average of 19,000 new personal vehicles registered per month in the capital, according to Hanoi Traffic Police.

In 2015, Hanoi had a total of 4.9 million motorbikes and more than half a million cars operating in the city.

Many private vehicles, especially buses, are aging and emit high levels of exhaust fumes.

Hanoi is a rapidly growing city with more than 1,000 construction projects presently underway, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.

Nearly 150 out of 400 manufacturing facilities in the area have also been reported as emitting large quantities of air pollution.

Local residents have also blamed the felling of hundreds of trees in the city in 2015 as a contributor to the decline of air quality.

Vietnam’s 2013 National Environment Report showed that air pollution in Hanoi was much worse than in Ho Chi Minh City, though the latter had a larger population and a greater number of private vehicles.

The report also revealed that Hanoi experienced 237 days, 27 days and 1 day of unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous air quality respectively.


Air pollution had long been one of the city’s chief woes, Pham Ngoc Dang, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association for the Conservation of Nature and Environment said.

Statistics from the Ministry of Transport in in 2014 showed that 2.5 million patients spend an estimated US$66.8 million a year for examinations and treatment for respiratory diseases each year in Hanoi alone.

Hanoi residents have also recorded higher rates of respiratory diseases than people in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a 2013 National Environment Report.

“Air pollution has been a chronic problem for the city. The most pressing problem is that the PM2.5 and ozone concentration in the air have exceeded the permissible level,” Hoang Duong Tung, deputy director general of the environmental directorate told Tien Phong Newspaper.

The city has made efforts to bring the problem under control, however, at present, air pollution remains a headache.

Hanoi has developed fast buses and a skytrain system to get more people using public transportation and tightened the standards for new vehicles and waste management. Authorities have also put in place measures to control petrol quality.

Polluted factories have been moved out of the inner city but experts warn that the speed of the reforms has been too slow.

Some officials have proposed a ban on motorbikes, but the proposal has been met with strong public opposition.

Many fear that if Hanoi cannot avoid the “grow first, clean up latter” pattern that most rapidly urbanized cities have followed, it might become a similar to another city which is notorious for its air pollution.

“If the pressing problem is not properly grasped and addressed, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City might become polluted just like Beijing in the not-too-distant future,” Hoang Duong Tung, deputy director general of the environmental directorate told Tien Phong.

go to top