The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is reiterating its appeal to vehicle owners to clean up their emissions to reduce air pollution in Metro Manila.

DENR Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje made the appeal as he personally observed on Thursday (Mar. 8) the operations of anti-smoke belching unit (ASBU) teams of the local government of Pasig City and the DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), along C-5 Road.

Paje was accompanied by representatives of the Philippine Medical Association (PMA) led by its Governor Dr. Leo Olarte in the launching program.

Paje said that the Aquino administration is serious in improving air quality in urban centers, particularly Metro Manila. He stressed that with vehicular emissions contributing around 80 per cent of the pollution load, the government is intent on disciplining erring vehicles and private emission testing centers (PETCs).

“We ask the public to cooperate with our efforts especially vehicle owners to have their vehicles undergo an honest-to-goodness emission test prior to renewing their registration. Pare-pareho lang tayo ng hanging hinihinga, at lahat tayo ay pare-parehong humihinga ng maruming hangin,” Paje said.

According to him, the DENR, with assistance from the Land Transportation Office (LTO) has already closed down at least 50 erring PETCs that accept payment from “no show” registrants in exchange for a certification that their vehicles had passed the emission test.

Paje stressed that in addition to efforts in reducing the level of total suspended particulates (TSP) in the air, the DENR also intends to lower the level of particulate matter (PM) with the size of ten microns or PM10, as well as those with the size of 2.5 microns or PM 2.5. “Along with reducing the TSP level of air pollution in Metro Manila, we are also keen on reducing smaller-sized pollutants because they pose higher risk on human health. PM10 can get into our lungs and cause respiratory illnesses, while PM2.5 can get into the bloodstream and lead to cardiovascular diseases, even stroke,” he said.

The environment chief noted that in the past year, the level of PM10 registered an average of 77µg/Ncm (micrograms per normal cubic meter), or 28 per cent higher than the standard of 60µg/Ncm. On the other hand, the average for PM2.5 last year was placed at 10µg/Ncm.

Paje and Olarte, along with other members of the PMA and personnel of the EMB, observed how the members of the ASBU teams randomly flagged down suspected smoke belchers and tested their exhaust pipe emissions. About 80 per cent of the vehicles failed the test and had one of their license plates confiscated. The confiscated plate could then be retrieved from the city hall, subject to payment of fees and only after having passed a subsequent emission test.

To date there are 16 operational ASBU teams from the different cities of Metro Manila, and additional teams from the EMB, the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the LTO. More teams would be dispatched as more smoke meters, or opacimeters, would be distributed to the local government units.

The DENR has intensified its clean air campaign by enlisting the support of the PMA in disseminating the health effects of air pollution. The DENR and the PMA, together with the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Transportation and Communications, the MMDA, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas signed a Memorandum of Agreement in December 2011 to strengthen the anti-smoke belching program through a metro-wide implementation.

Health department statistics showed air pollution-related illnesses such as acute lower respiratory tract infection, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis and heart diseases have consistently topped the list of morbidity and mortality causes in the country.

The Philippine Environment Monitor, published by the World Bank, indicates that in 2006, the economic burden of air pollution was P52 million based on loss of income due to reduced workdays, and P910 million based on medical and hospitalization expenses.