Severe air pollution in Taiwan triggers emergency response

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New Year's Eve pollution triggers emergency response. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (CNA) -- The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) opened a provisional command center Sunday in response to severe air pollution that affected northern Taiwan since the early hours of the day.

The center was opened after the EPA forecast that the wave of air pollution originating from outside the country would affect 18 of Taiwan's 22 cities and counties, said Tsai Hung-teh, head of the EPA's Department of Air Quality Protection and Noise Control.

Its first directive was to ask state-run Taiwan Power Co. to cut electricity output by 4,250 MW, meaning that eight of the coal-fired generators at the Taichung Power Plant were shut down, Tsai said.

The center also asked schools to hoist pollution warning flags to remind students and teachers to take precautions and urged port authorities to instruct ships to use low-sulfur fuel oil and reduce their speed when entering Taiwanese ports to emit fewer pollutants.

Dust-prone roads were also being watered, and farmers were being asked not to burn farm waste outdoors or face penalties, Tsai said.

Environmental authorities were moved to action after air pollutants from abroad hit Taiwan Sunday morning.

At 7 a.m. Sunday, the density of PM2.5 particulates at the EPA's air quality monitoring station on Fugui Cape, the northernmost tip of the island, was found to have spiked from 18 micrograms/cubic meter (m(µg)/cubic meter (m³) to 123 µg/m³.

As of 3 p.m. the concentration of PM2.5 at Fugui Cape remained extremely high at 88 µg/m³, and combined with a PM10 reading of 146 µg/m³ triggered a "red" air quality alert, meaning the air was "unhealthy" for the general public.

Red alerts were seen throughout northern Taiwan, at six other monitoring stations in New Taipei, four stations in Taoyuan, all three stations in Hsinchu City and County, and all three stations in Miaoli County, as of 3 p.m., according to the EPA's latest Air Quality Index.