Taiwan is an island nation situated off the east coast of China to whom it officiallybelongs and is controlled by. Although the island of Taiwan makes up for 99 percent of the landmass, there are some smaller islands off the west coast whichalso form part of Taiwan. It is estimated to be around 36,000 square kilometresand had a population of 23.5 million in 2020.
Towards the end of 2020, the Air Quality Index for Taipei indicated a “Good” level ofair pollution, with a US AQI figure of 43, according to recommended levels assuggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Other airborne pollutantswhich were measured were PM2.5 - 10.5 µg/m³, PM10 - 16.5 µg/m³, ozone (O3)- 52 µg/m³, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) - 24.5 µg/m³, sulphur dioxide (SO2)- 2.9 µg/m³ and carbon monoxide (CO) - 355 µg/m³.
In 2019, the average air quality as reported by the reputable Swiss company, IQAir.com was 13.9 µg/m³.For 9 months of the year, the air quality was “Moderate” (12.1 – 35.4 µg/m³),July was seen to be “Good” (10 - 12 µg/m³) and August and September attainedthe WHO recommended level of less than 10 µg/m³.
In March 2014, following a report made by the Taiwan Healthy Air Action Allianceand Taiwan legislators, it was seen that the air quality in Taiwan was worsethan that in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, collectively known as theFour Asian Tigers. Particular attention was drawn to the annual average levelsof the fine particulate matter PM10 with readings in excess of 50 µg/m³(micrograms per cubic metre). The capital city of Taipei recorded an annual average of 47.1 µg/m³ which is higherthan the limit set for European countries at 40 µg/m³. Taipei has exceeded this level for the last decade.
The main source of air pollution in Taiwan is from domestic incineration of organicmatter and the combustion of fossil fuels. The topography of Taiwan plays amajor role in air pollution because of the range of high mountains, the airdoes not circulate easily and therefore becomes trapped.
During a survey conducted in 2013/2014, the Environmental Protection Administration's(EPA) Department of Environmental Monitoring and Information Managementreported extremely high concentrations of “fugitive dust”. This is merely thedry earth that is sucked up by the wind and carried along by it. This is at itsworst during the low-flow season for the rivers when large areas of their banksbecome exposed. The wind dries out the soil and gusts of wind then propel thesuspended dust towards the cities. Concentration levels of 250 µg/m³ have beenrecorded, but over the years, there have been some huge spikes with readings of2532 µg/m³ in 2015 in Lunbei. In 2009 in Puzih city a reading of 1793 µg/m³ wasrecorded. It is claimed that these figures were influenced by the 2009 Typhoon Morakot which caused torrentialrain which washed loose soil downstream where it dried up on the banks of the river after they had subsided.
A 2015 report by the National Taiwan University put forward the claim thattraffic is the main source of pollution within the cities and the microscopicparticles of PM2.5 are mainly produced by the thermal power plants located incentral Taiwan. Readings in Taipei city for the annual average of PM2.5 was 20µg/m3 and 30 µg/m3 in Kaohsiung. The acceptable limit was set at 15 µg/m3 which is 3 higherthan the acceptable level in the USA and 5 higher than that as recommended by the WHO.
Based on data originating in 2004 for the following decade, it was revealed that theannual concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) surpassed levels of40 µg/m3 as set by the European Union, every year.
During the winter months, Taiwan’s air quality is compromised by polluted air blown inby China. The pollution standards index (PSI) readings, which are based on thehighest levels of five major air pollutants, namely: - PM10 which is particulatematter measuring less than 10 micrometres in diameter, sulphur dioxide (SO2),nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ground-level ozone(O3) at most stations reached unhealthy levels, while some stationsin central and southern Taiwan even reached hazardous levels. During thesewinter months, figures show an increase in hospital admissions for respiratoryillnesses and doctors are sought out to alleviate symptoms such as itchy eyes,coughing, wheezing and the onslaught of asthma attacks.
During December 2015 whilst researching the prevalence of lung cancer in centralTaiwan, it was revealed that the Taichung Power Plant and the Sixth NaphthaCracking Plant of the Formosa Plastics Group were responsible for around 70 percent of the air pollution in central Taiwan. Large volumes of sulphur oxides(SOx) were released into the atmosphere.
In 1996 it was claimed that there were almost 9 million motorbikes and almost 5million cars on Taiwan’s roads and the number is increasing on an annual basis.Motorbikes are the main form of transport for most adults. Many of these oldermachines operate on a two-stroke motor which is thought to be the largestproducer of air pollution in Taiwanese cities. It has been suggested that theseolder machines are slowly phased out and cleaner technology takes over. Newermotorbikes automatically switch the engine off when forward motion is no longerdetected so as to prevent an idling motor still running. This helps reduce airpollution around busy road junctions in the city centre.
On the first and fifteenth days of the lunar calendar, religious rituals arecarried out. These involve burning of what is called “Ghost Money” and incensesticks. Ghost money is symbolic copies of real money which is burnt at largetemples by way of celebrations. The measured PM10 values in these large templesare noticeably higher at these bi-monthly occasions. The levels are between 5and sixteen times the normal value. It is also noted that the localneighbourhood experiences an increase in the PM10 levels for this reason.Readings are commonly found to be around 15.1 µg/m3.
One of the cleanest cities in Taiwan is Taitung which is situated on the southeastcoast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In 2019 the average PM2.5 reading was 8.7µg/m3 which classifies it as achieving the WHO target figure of lessthan 10 µg/m³. For just 3 months, it failed to be within the target, insteadfalling into the “Good” level between 10 and 12 µg/m³. The overall average for2019 was slightly better than the two previous years when levels were recordedas 9.3 µg/m³ in both 2018 and 2017.
For several years, air pollution has been a major problem in Taiwan. A number oflaws were passed as far back as the 1990s, but it wasn’t until the microscopicparticulates of PM2.5 and PM10 were identified in 2013 that the government startedto reassess the situation. Even though Taiwan has no legal standing in the UN,it has unilaterally agreed to conform to the terms and conditions as laid downin the Kyoto Protocol. 14 key measures were introduced in 2014 which is hopedwill combat the rise in air pollution. Taiwan endures “Red Alert” periods oftime throughout the year when the quality of air becomes noticeably worse. Thisoccurs for approximately 6 per cent of the year. The reasons behind thisphenomenon are beyond their control. The wind direction and cold air massesbring polluted air over from mainland China, Japan and South Korea. They alsosuffer from the effects of biomass burning in Indonesia and other SoutheastAsian countries. The aim is to reduce the annual average of fine particulate matter by over 18 per cent and to bringdown the number of “red alerts” from almost 1,000 to 528.
Over 6,000 companies have been identified as main contributors to air pollution andthey have been instructed to update their boilers so that they do not cause thelarge amounts of pollution that they currently do. Restrictions will followshould they fail to conform.
There are currently over 80,000 heavy industrial forms of transport which do not meetrequirements regarding their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Theywill be required to obtain a government certificate showing that they nowcomply or they will face being excluded from industrial zones and the port area.
Motorbikes are to be reformed as well. The old two-stroke machines are to be phased outand newer less polluting models are being urged to be purchased. Other measures include the encouragement touse public transport where possible and for large companies to switch to theuse of railways as a way of transporting their freight. Electric vehicles orEVs are being promoted and their purchase is being subsidised. A plan isunderway to expand the production of hybrid vehicles and electric motorscooters. There are currently four urban transit systems operating in Taiwanand another is currently under construction. In Taipei, the metro opened in1996 and operates eleven lines throughout the city and has 109 stations in thenetwork. Both Multiple Units and VAL are used in the network. Their source of power is electricity.
The agricultural sector is to be reformed as well. The burning of straw before anew season’s crop is hoped to be reduced by 90 per cent. Even the cateringindustry has been asked to install filters on their chimneys in order to reducetheir smoke emissions. And the general population is being asked to stop theceremonial burning of ghost money and incense twice a month.
In central Taiwan, it has been noted that since the Tunghsiao Power Plant startedto use gas-fired electricity the sulphur oxides decreased dramatically. In 1997,20,000 tons were produced, by 2010 this figure had dropped to just 7.8 tons peryear. This equates to a 99 per cent reduction and is a clear indication of whatcan be achieved with the right methods.
There is no doubt that urbanisation causes air pollution in the metropolitan citycentres and weather conditions can also be an influencing factor.
Extensive studies have been conducted in Taipei between 1993 and 2012. The MRT was notbuilt in 1993 so the figures make a good comparison.
Figures recorded in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung cities were compared to data from arural area in Hualien County. As expected, the figures collected from the TaiwanEnvironmental Protection Administration (TEPA) and meteorological data wereclosely analysed and the levels from urban areas were seen to be much higherthan those in rural areas. Kaohsiung City has the highest levels of ozone (O3)and sulphur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10.
Having studied the figures from the TEPA, it clearly shows an improvement in thequality of air in Taipei since the inauguration of the MRT in 1996. At thattime, the TEPA began informing residents about the effects of polluted air andoffered advice as to how to combat it.
Studies were conducted between 2000 and 2013 which looked at a possible connectionbetween air pollution, meteorological factors, and COPD-related healthdisorders, especially in the Taipei area. Information about the levels of airpollutants was collated with meteorological factors such as daily temperature,relative humidity and air pressure and visits to people suffering from COPD (chronicobstructive pulmonary disease) by the ED (Emergency Department). A link wassoon discovered between increased levels of ozone and sulphur dioxide and anincrease of ED visits to patients’ homes. This was more noticeable when the airpressure and humidity were higher than normal.
This showed conclusive proof that there is a strong connection between air pollution, meteorological conditions and health.