Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje today cited various efforts to clean up Metro Manila’s air, but warned of losing the gains should the people continue to use firecrackers to welcome the New Year.

“For 2011, the level of air pollution in Metro Manila continues to slide down although it is not yet within the standard of the World Health Organization (WHO),” Paje said.

Based on air quality monitoring reports of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), the level of Total Suspended Particulates (TSP) or dust particles has been on the decline from 166 µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter) in the third quarter of 2010 to 116µg/Ncm in the third quarter of 2011.

Paje said, however, that all efforts to clean up the air will go for naught if the people continues to welcome the New Year with a ‘business as usual’ attitude. “Unless the people heed the call of the government to refrain from using firecrackers, Metro Manila will continue to be enveloped by air pollution,” he said.

The environment chief credited the improvement in air quality to various policies and programs implemented by the department, together with its partners from both public and private sectors. “The response of our partners to our programs is proof that environment is not a monopoly of the DENR. Each Filipino is a stakeholder, and we would thus like to enjoin the general public to cooperate with us,” he said.

With mobile sources contributing to almost 80% of the air pollution, anti-smoke belching (ASB) units were activated, apprehending a total of 25,608 vehicles for the first three quarters of the year. Testing of the apprehended vehicles showed that 70% of them failed emission standards.

ASB operations were also strengthened with the signing last October of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with all 17 local government units (LGUs) of Metro Manila to monitor main thoroughfares, along with the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and the Philippine Medical Association (PMA). The operations were previously active in only five cities – Makati, Pasig, Quezon, Muntinlupa and Manila.

In line with this, telecommunication networks Smart and Globe opened up hotlines where the public can report smoke belching vehicles. Globe subscribers need only send USOK<space> to 2327, while Smart users can text USOK FEEDBACK and the plate number/location to 700-DENR (700-3367).

The DENR has actively promoted the use of clean fuel by public transportation units as one of the strategies to reduce pollution along EDSA. It has also partnered with Earth Day Network Philippines (EDNP) to implement a campaign to make EDSA a “Linis Hangin Zone.” The campaign was to implement a coordinated enforcement effort to remove smoke belchers, and provide a compliance assistance program for vehicle owners and drivers.

To ensure and monitor compliance to the pre-registration requirement of emission testing, private emission testing center (PETCs) were also required to install closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras.

To complement nine existing manual air quality monitoring stations that would measure TSP levels around Metro Manila, the DENR purchased four fully automatic air quality monitoring stations that would monitor gaseous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide. Three of these have already been installed and launched at the following locations: at the campuses of the De La Salle University in Taft Avenue and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela along Maysan Road, and beside the MMDA station along Commonwealth Avenue. The fourth is currently being set up at the Department of Public Works and Highways compound along EDSA.

In addition to monitoring mobile sources of pollution, the DENR has also continuously implemented its “Bantay Tsimneya Program” to monitor major industries and other stationary sources of air pollution.

The DENR also broke down the Metro Manila airshed into three separate airsheds, namely the National Capital Region airshed, the Cavite-Laguna-Rizal airshed, and the Bulacan-Pampanga-Bataan airshed, to enable the corresponding LGUs to be more effective in managing air pollution levels in their respective areas of jurisdiction. This brought to 20 the number of airsheds in the country, with 15 as regular airsheds and three as “geothermal airsheds.”