Air quality tests for Cebu skies: Haze or smog?

By: Jhunnex Napallacan, Jose Santino S. Bunachita October 03,2015 - 01:51 AM

DENR official rules out Indonesia forest fires

What urban Cebuanos observe as darker, gloomier skies since Saturday  could be haze – particles of dust or smoke in the air – or smog, which is the result of pollution.

There’s no hard evidence that the haze from forest fires in Indonesia has reached Cebu, weather and environment officials said yesterday.

A fresh round of air samples was gathered yesterday in Metro Cebu by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The output will determine whether the culprit is forests burning abroad or the exhaust of motor vehicles  in Cebu.

Engr. William Cuñado, regional director of DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) 7, said they need technical data to determine whether the atmosphere was harmful or not.

“We conducted sampling in strategic areas (yesterday). It’s difficult for us to give information without real evidence and technical results,”  said Cuñado said.

Air samples were taken in cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay and Lapu-Lapu to measure the particulates in the atmosphere. Results will be out next week.

In the meantime, the EMB advised the public, especially those living in areas where the suspected haze or smog is dense, to stay indoors or wear protective gear like a jacket,  face mask or goggles.

LESS VISIBLE

Whatever is the condition, it has reduced visibility in the  Metro Cebu area since Saturday.

Al Quiblat, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (Pagasa) Mactan chief, said staff  no longer had a  clear view of the mountains of Cebu City (Guadalupe to Busay areas) from their  agency’s base in Mactan island.

He said clear visibility, normally  at a distance of 10 kilometers, was reduced to 7 kilometers.

Pagasa Mactan has been coordinating with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines which oversees flight navigation at the Mactan airport.

“We give them an hour-to-hour update to ensure safe air travel,” said Quiblat.

No flights were canceled at the Mactan Cebu International Airport yesterday despite the reduced visibility in Metro Cebu, an airport staffer confirmed.

Cooler temperature was also noted in the past few days. Instead of an average 32 degrees Celsius, the temperature dropped to between 26 to 31 degrees Celsius.

Some Cebuanos thought that even the pattern of sunrise changed in the past days, but Quiblat  said it only seems the sun rises later in the day because the haze or smog is more visible in the morning.

Haze brings fine dust particles in the air.  Severe levels can cause coughing and upper respiratory tract illness.

Pagasa Visayas Director Oscar Tabada said the state weather bureau observed the phenomenon since Friday last week.

Like Quiblat, he said it’s possible the southwest monsoon winds blew the haze to the Philippines.

“In my opinion, it’s possible that the smoke is coming from the haze from Indonesia but there’s still no concrete evidence. In my 35 years on the job, this is the first time to notice this. There were episodes of haze or fog before but it  would just disappear when it gets hit by sunlight,” Tabada said.

He said the southwest monsoon winds may have blown the haze to the  Philippines.

DENR-7 spokesman Eddie Llamedo discounted  the reach of wildfires in Indonesia.

“Our Environmental Management Bureau in Manila already ruled that there is no  evidence that the haze from Sumatra, Indonesia, has reached our area of responsibility”, he said.

Llamedo said the distance alone makes this impossible because the haze would disappear along the way.

He said previous  EMB air quality tests  Metro Cebu showed “fair” to “good” levels of ambient air.  The government’s air monitoring equipment measures the quantity of particulates in the air.

Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, who heads the city disaster office, said he wasn’t too worried because the haze or smog was less yesterday.

By today, the skies will clear up, he said.

“It’s gone. It will be very sunny already (today) because the southwest monsoon is already weak,” he said.

The haze in Indonesia is a result of  forests being burned to clear land for farming and plantations in Indonesia’s peat-rich provinces of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

This  has become an annual problem for the region over the past two decades.

The smoky haze has affected parts of western Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia and Singapore and prompted the Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Wednesday to order that efforts be intensified to extinguish the forest fires causing the haze.

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