EPA holds hearing on inclusion of PM2.5 in air quality standards

Taipei, March 2 (CNA) The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) held a hearing Friday on the planned inclusion of fine particle pollutants in the current air quality regulations, which would bring them into line with the toughest standards in the world, according to the EPA. According to the Department of Air Quality and Noise Control under the EPA, particulates less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or PM2.5, are easily breathed in and are a threat to health. The sources of PM2.5, the department said, include industrial facilities such as power and petrochemical plants, along with automobiles and dust from paved or unpaved roads. The issue of PM2.5 was raised by protesters against the now-failed Kuokuang petrochemical project in Changhua, with President Ma Ying-jeou promising to introduce regulations on the pollutant last April. The planned amendment to the air quality standards will follow those in Japan and the United States, which allow a maximum 35 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter in a 24-hour period, and a maximum annual average of 15 micrograms per cubic meter, the department said. Local governments that fail to meet the standards are required to come up with plans to cut down on the pollution, according to the Air Pollution Control Act. During the hearing, the Changhua Medical Alliance said awareness of PM2.5 has not been established among the public, although Taiwan has seen increasing cases of asthma and lung cancer, with more evidence indicating an air pollution factor. The alliance also said the American standards might not be applicable in Taiwan, since the two countries have different geographies. Frank Liu, deputy head of the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union's legislative caucus, suggested that air control regions should not be divided according to administrative regions. Meanwhile, Kaohsiung-based Citizen of the Earth said the EPA should hold hearings in central and southern Taiwan, where people suffer from poorer air quality than the rest of the country. The organization also said there is a higher health risk in Kaohsiung and in Pingtung County because of the concentration of the heavy industries there. Hsieh Yein-rui, director-general of the EPA's air quality department, said discussions on the issue will continue and that more meetings will be held in the near future to address relevant concerns. (By Zoe Wei and Kay Liu)