Government promotes air pollution control measures

  • Date: 2017-04-24

I. Background

The term “PM2.5” is an abbreviation for particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, or about one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair. Like dust, PM2.5 particles are an airborne granular contaminant that, if inhaled, may cause cardiovascular and lung disease. They also reduce visibility, harm the environment and may play a role in climate change.

Since PM2.5 monitoring began in 2013 using the standard manual method, readings for all of Taiwan’s counties and cities have exceeded acceptable standard except for Yilan, Hualien and Taitung counties in eastern Taiwan. Air quality has also been particularly poor during the fall and winter seasons due to climactic conditions and pollution from sources outside Taiwan. On average, PM2.5 concentrations in the central and southern parts of the island have exceeded the standard almost half the time, and reached the “red alert” level about 5.7 percent of the time, so finding effective means to reduce PM2.5 pollution is crucial.

Reflecting the importance of this issue, in December 2016 the Executive Yuan convened a strategic planning meeting with the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) and other government agencies to address air pollution controls, and also put air pollution control on its regular policy meeting agenda.

This year on April 13 the Executive Yuan also approved a Clean Air Action strategy that contains both incentives and restrictions, with plans to invest NT$36.5 billion (US$1.19 billion) to implement 14 air pollution control measures designed to improve air quality and create a healthy, sustainable, and beautiful Taiwan.

II. Where does PM2.5 come from?

There are many sources of PM2.5. EPA air quality analyses show that 60 to 66 percent of Taiwan’s annual average PM2.5 concentration is from domestic pollution and 34 to 40 percent comes from abroad, with prevailing wind patterns carrying air pollutants from neighboring countries into Taiwan.

So in winter, Taiwan is crossed by northeast seasonal winds and cold air masses that carry haze from China, while regional air circulation patterns and seasonal winds bring industrial pollution from Japan and Korea, as well as pollution from biomass combustion Southeast Asian countries.

Domestic pollution also plays a role in generating PM2.5, including industrial sources such as power generation facilities, boilers, and the iron, steel, petrochemical, cement and chemical industries; mobile sources including all modes of transport; and miscellaneous sources such as soot generated by cooking, dust resulting from construction and open-air combustion.


III. Fourteen measures designed to improve air quality

As the nation has no direct control over pollution transmitted across borders, in addition to negotiating and cooperating with neighboring countries, the government’s goals for air pollution control focus on reducing domestic emissions of PM2.5 and PM2.5 precursors such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds

Under the Clean Air Action strategy, the government will promote the tasks listed below to achieve two goals by the end of 2019: reduce the average annual PM2.5 concentration by 18.2 percent, from 22 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) to 18 µg/m³; and reduce the number of red alerts issued by air monitoring stations each year by 47 percent, from 997 to 528.

A. Improve controls over industrial sources of pollution

1. Strengthen regulatory controls over power generation facilities:

(1) Goal: Increase power generation efficiency and decrease pollutant emissions.

(2) Measures: Make power generation industry emission standards more stringent; set seasonally adjusted fee rates for emissions; encourage the use of clean, low-emission fuels; decommission old and outdated power generation units; install air pollution control equipment on natural gas power generation units; increase efficiency of air pollution controls on power generation units; coordinate load shedding during seasons in which air quality is poor.      

2. Regulate boilers:

(1) Goal: Reduce boiler emissions.

(2) Measures: Encourage 6,000 medium and small commercial and industrial boilers to change over to cleaner fuels, and make emission standards more stringent; encourage consolidation of energy resources and reduce boiler usage.

B. Control emissions from mobile pollution sources

1. Reduce emissions by large, diesel-powered trucks:

(1) Goal: Phase out 80,000 diesel trucks that meet previous emission standards set back in 1987 and 1993, and install particulate filters on 38,000 diesel trucks that meet emission standards set back in 1999.

(2) Measures: Provide subsidies to incentivize the phase out of aging diesel trucks; prohibit or limit the use of diesel trucks in air purification zones; encourage enterprises to use environmentally friendly trucking firms; increase roadside spot inspections; prohibit old vehicles from accessing commercial port areas; when old vehicles are traded in for newer vehicles, refund a fixed amount of the commodity sales tax on the new vehicle.     

2. Phase out two-stroke scooters and motorcycles:

(1) Goal: Phase out 1 million such vehicles.

(2) Measures: Accelerate the phase-out process for such vehicles by offering a subsidy that decreases each year, and either prohibit or limit their use in air purification zones.

3. Other measures: Encourage pollution reduction measures in port districts; increase public transportation ridership and railway system freight transport capacity; promote electric-powered vehicles for transporting produce. 

C. Other pollution improvement measures

1. Regulate smoke emissions from the open-air burning of agricultural waste products, reducing the area of second-crop rice paddies subject to open-air burning by 90 percent. 

2. Regulate soot generated by cooking by installing emission control equipment on kitchen exhaust units at 7,000 restaurants.

3. Regulate dust generated by construction, storage and disposal sites with the goal of increasing the compliance rate of air pollution control facilities at these sites to 90 percent.

4. Change social customs and habits by encouraging the public not to burn paper money offerings in the open air but to send the ritual money to environmental authorities for mass incineration using fume control equipment. The goal is to increase the mass incineration amount to 22,000 metric tons.


IV. Conclusion

The sources of air pollution are many, so no single pollution control measure will achieve the desired results. Especially for invisible enemies like PM2.5, there must be a public consensus to take concrete action on all fronts to combat air pollution generated by industry, vehicles and fugitive emissions. Bringing Taiwan’s air quality up to the standards of an advanced country will thus require the concerted efforts of government, the public, and civil and social groups.