Hanoi air is unsafe most of the time, coal plants blamed

By Vi Vu   September 8, 2017 | 08:00 pm PT
The worst air pollution does not fall during busy traffic hours.

Measurements suggest air pollution in Hanoi is more related to industrial activites than its heavy traffic. Photo by VnExpress/Tr. Phan

Hanoi was persistently choking during the first half of this year when its people were only able to inhale “acceptable” air for one and a half days every week, a study has found.

Ambient air pollution in the capital between January and June exceeded international standards for 139 days, or 23 percent of the time, according to a new report released by the Hanoi-based Green Innovation and Development Center (GreenID) at the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations.

The pollution is measured by the concentration of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) which is released from vehicles, industry and natural sources like dust.

PM2.5, which is equal to just a fraction of the width of human hair, can get into the lungs and cause a number of diseases, including lung cancer. The safe concentration limit according to the World Health Organization is 25 μg/m3.

Nguyen Thi Anh Thu from GreenID said that although air quality in Hanoi has improved from last year, “for most of the time, millions of people in the city still did not get to enjoy clean air.”

There are more than five million motorbikes on Hanoi’s roads, and 19,000 new vehicles are registered each month.

But according to the study, the worst air pollution did not fall during busy traffic hours, which suggested that the problem was more connected to industrial activities.

Environment experts have been blaming coal-fired power plants for air pollution in Hanoi.

Nguy Thi Khanh, director of GreenID, said in media reports in June that they are one of the major reasons for worsening air pollution in the city.

Hanoi is surrounded by around 20 coal-fired plants in the northern region, including those in the coal kingdom Quang Ninh and the industrial port city Hai Phong, she said.

Her center has also measured dust pollution flowing to the capital from southern China.

“China and South Korea are turning their backs on coal because it's a health hazard. It’s time we choose a new way of development that does not come at the cost of environment and fresh air,” she said at a recent conference, as cited by Voice of Vietnam.

Vietnam has approved 64 coal-fired power plants, including 26 in operation and 15 under construction. They are expected to burn a combined 40 million tons of coal a year.

Ambient particulate matter ranks fifth among risk factors for total deaths around the world, after high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol.

In February, a global environment study measured Vietnam’s air pollution as the second deadliest in Southeast Asia after Indonesia in terms of the raw number of premature deaths.

Deaths attributable to dangerous air particles in Vietnam jumped 60 percent from 26,300 in 1990 to 42,200 in 2015, according to the study by the Health Effects Institute, a Boston research institute focused on the health impacts of air pollution, and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.

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