Haze, potentially emanating from Indonesian palm oil fires, have begun to spread throughout Palawan, raising health and other concerns, including navigational safety.
In the past 48 hours, Puerto Princesa City’s air quality index (AQI) or haze PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) reading has been rising and falling between 176 to 189.
Air quality data is provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) to the World Air Quality Index project at acqui.org
A reading above 100 to 150 is considered “unhealthy for sensitive groups” or those with asthma and 151 to 200 “unhealthy for everyone” based on air quality and pollution measurement.
Zero to 50 is considered “good”, while 51 to 100 is considered “moderate”.
But environment authorities in the region said they could not yet attribute the increased haze level in the province to the recent palm oil fires in Indonesia, said DENR-EMB regional director Atty. Michael Drake Matias.
However, Matias confirmed that their monitoring station located at the Palawan State University (PSU) did record an increase in the level of haze, but it is not yet alarming.
He added they cannot ascribe the smog to the Indonesian fire incident since there are several construction activities near their monitoring station that are maybe contributing to the high readings.
“Medyo may increase nang kaunti, but we cannot attribute it directly to… doon sa case na nangyayari because doon sa site ng ating monitoring station parang there are several constructions paikot, more or less mga five, that might have contribute doon sa increase noong result. Mayroong spike pero minimal lang naman and we cannot directly attribute it [to the Indonesian palm oil fire] as the cause ng increase,” said Matias.
He said their last reading on September 10 was 51, but it was based on PM10 or respirable particulate matter.
But when informed about the Monday AQI level, Matias said they will have to confirm it.
“We will confirm and verify, and then we will inform the central office and probably recommend actions once verified. Ang standard natin is 50,” said Matias.
“In case there will be a significant increase, we will notify probably through you (Palawan News) and the local government unit as well. It is better na doon na lang muna sila sa bahay nila,” he added.
PAGASA confirms haze presence
Meanwhile, Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) Puerto Princesa City chief Sonny Pajarilla has confirmed that the “haze” from the Indonesian fire has reach the province, but its impact is lesser compared to those seen in Singapore and Malaysia.
He also said they cannot determine the content and particles in the air because of the “absence of instruments”.
“Galing doon pero hindi ito ‘yong ang kapal-kapal. Galing doon pero hindi tayo masyadong apektado ng epekto katulad ng sa Singapore at Malaysia kasi sila malapit sila sa Indonesia, plus the fact na nag-uulan tayo kaya hindi masyado,” he said.
Pajarilla said this is due to the occurrence of rain that helps lessen the impact.
He said haze is also a meteorological phenomenon that will affect flights and voyages in the sea as the horizontal visibility decreases.
“By way of observation, we observed that there is really a smaze na tinatawag, combination na nagiging hazy dahil sa dust particles na rin sa ating atmosphere at saka ng smoke from the fire na nanggagaling sa Indonesia,” he said.
“Bumababa ‘yong horizontal visibility kaya kailangan na meron silang mga ilaw na pinapagana kasi hindi tulad ng normal days na malayo ‘yong inaabot ng natural na tingin lang ng mata pero ngayon dahil meron tayong smaze, medyo mababa ang ating visibility,” he said.
He explained that if there is no rain occurrence, the haze will remain suspended in the air.
Due to the rains, the particles mix with the water drops directly to the ground and will not stay in the atmosphere.
He mentioned that the strength of the wind also helps avoid the stagnation of particles brought by smog in the atmosphere.
“Medyo may kalakasan ‘yong hangin, kapag mahina kasi pero may transport, mabagal pero meron pa ring transport, parang nag-i-stagnate ‘yong ating atmosphere so kumakapal, sa ngayon naman ay flowing, meron dispersal,” he said.
The current wind prevailing is south and southwesterly which is also favorable, he added.
“More than 10 kilometers pa rin naman tayo dito sa runway at saka sa airport. Hindi naman (alarming), nangyari na ‘yan 2014 ata, mas mababa ‘yon, nasa five kilometers lang,” he said.
Pajarilla said the haze might pass through Palawan but it is impossible to shift to neighboring provinces.
However, he stated that it still depends on the intensity of the fires. If they are not controlled immediately and continuously thickens, it could elevate up to Manila.
It also could reach Mindanao as Indonesia is just located on their southern part.
Department of Health MIMAROPA regional director Dr. Mario Baquilod said if the smog from the Indonesian fire reaches Palawan, people belonging to the sensitive group should wear masks.
People who belong to the sensitive group are those with asthma, he said, and other respiratory tract infections.
“If I remember right noong mga previous years, ang immediate na dapat gawin is mag-wear ng mask para maiwasan ang exposure. But I have to know the situation first. I have to validate, investigate this, and then tingnan ko so we can come up with immediate recommendations,” Baquilod told Palawan News in a separate interview.
Baquilod said if the situation worsens, the public must refrain from staying outside too long without masks so they will not be exposed to the hazardous pollution in the air.