Environment Dept. threatens to sue environmental groups over ‘inaccurate’ air quality data

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) — The Environment Department is threatening to sue environmental groups who claimed that air quality in the Philippines is getting worse.

“They keep on coming up with information which are inaccurate. But with this, we will take legal action against them just to show them that they cannot do this,” Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda told CNN Philippines on Thursday.

Seven environmental groups — including Greenpeace Philippines — citing a 2019 report by air quality tracking app AirVisual, said air pollution in the country has worsened over the years, with levels of particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) reaching an average of 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter last year. Such pollutant come from combustion of fuels and other sources.

Average yearly PM2.5 levels should not go above 10 micrograms per cubic meter, according to the World Health Organization.

The groups acknowledged that the report only looked at PM2.5 pollution and did not take into account other pollutants like sulfur oxide, nitrous oxide and ozone.

Despite having apparently unsafe levels of PM2.5, the report still did not place the Philippines among countries with the worst air quality, said the groups that also include Clean Air Asia, Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, Health Care without Harm, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice, and the World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines .

But Antiporda said the equipment used in the report to measure air quality is not accredited by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, unlike what the agency uses to monitor air quality in real time.

“You might be feeding wrong information to the people. You will create chaos, ‘no? Would you imagine sasabihin sa'yo highly polluted ang area na ‘to. Baka hindi huminga ang tao,” he said.

[Translation: You might be feeding wrong information to the people. You will create chaos, right? Would you imagine, you’ll be told that this area is highly polluted. People might not breathe anymore.]

Antiporda, however, admitted that the country’s air “is not that clean.”

Alam naman natin na again it falls back to the economic status of our country. Marami pang sasakyan diyan na masama ‘yung tambutso. Alam naman natin ‘yang particulate matter 2.5 na ‘yan kadalasan nanggagaling ‘yan sa tambutso ng mga sasakyan din,” he said.

[Translation: We know that it again falls back to the economic status of our country. A lot of cars here still have terrible exhaust pipes. We know that particulate matter 2.5 usually comes from car exhausts.]

He also said that unlike the report cited by the environmental groups, the government does not calculate for the average air quality over a period of time and only monitors it in real time.

According to the Environmental Management Bureau, Malabon has the highest PM2.5 level as of Thursday, 7 p.m. with 34.34 micrograms per cubic meter of PM2.5. North Caloocan, Mandaluyong, Taguig, Pasay, Marikina and San Juan recorded no PM2.5 in the air.

In their statement, the seven environmental groups called for better air pollution standards in the country, including improved monitoring, transparency and analysis.

CNN Philippines’ Carolyn Bonquin and Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.