Pollution in Taiwan – Is It Bad? YES, IT’S BAD!

Air pollution in Taiwan is a serious matter that island residents have complained about for years. Taiwan receives a lot of air pollution from China, but Taiwan also produces a significant amount of its own pollution problems.

Taiwan’s geography makes air pollution worse because many industrial centers on the north and west coasts of Taiwan are surrounded by high mountains which keep the bad air trapped at city level. Taipei also suffers from this problem.

It’s not uncommon to have a completely normal day turn sulfurous yellow at rush hour. The scene in Banqiao looks like something from another planet.Air pollution outside my window today

On Friday night, March 2nd 2018 parts of Taipei City and New Taipei City were covered by an expanding orange pollution alert. By Saturday night at 10pm, the air quality was in the red zone, meaning that the air quality was affecting all parts of the population.

Air pollution affects us in horrible ways. People develop respiratory and cardiovascular issues, allergies, rashes, and for those of us who are chronically ill, exposure to severe air pollution like last night’s levels can lead to a visit to the ER or at the very least, a very sick day in bed for me.

I noticed how bad it was on Friday night.

When John and I went down to get a coffee on Saturday morning, the streets had a whitish fog covering them and it was nasty outside. I came upstairs and threw up. That was just the beginning of my day. The pollution has continued today, so I’m up long enough to write this article to tell you how pissed off I am before I go back to bed.

My autoimmune illnesses ensure that I get exceptionally sick with pollution. My allergies are all chemical related. In Banqiao, the air quality meter was at 151 at 10pm last night and it was in the red zone. On Saturday evening, parts of Taipei City in Wanhua, Datong, and areas of New Taipei including Banqiao, Linkou, Tucheng, and Yonghe were on red alert.

As the air quality meter crept higher, I got sicker. It started with vomiting, then it moved right into dizziness, a pressure migraine; my tongue, throat, and eyelids swelled first, then the rest of my body swelled up, my chest still feels like it will explode, my eyes were watering, even my eyelids were swollen – as you can see in the photo above.

I develop a high fever during high pollution days and I use cooling pillows as seen in the featured photo to help with my fever. This happens every single time the air quality index goes over 135.

I feel like I have been sucking on an exhaust pipe for 36 hours; and I’m so angry. It’s time for Taiwan to wake up and see what pollution does to us.

The air quality meter is at 131 right now in the orange alert zone and my migraine is settling in while my chest tightens up. It will be back in the red zone in another couple of hours. I’m pushing now to get this article out before I have to go back to bed.

When pollution levels are in the red, that means pollution is affecting all of us, not just the elderly, children, and patients. My friend Shaun could tell you more about this, but I’m sure the first thing he’ll point out is that the systems we use on our phones to monitor the air quality aren’t anywhere near correct. The air quality standards get downgraded.

Pollution in Taiwan comes in many forms, but I’m going to stick to air pollution stats today because these are the particles in the air that make me the most sick. Some people have monitors in their homes to tell them when the air is bad. My body lets me know immediately.

Particulate pollution – PM 2.5 – is a major concern in China, but it is also a huge concern in Taiwan. Particulate pollution is primarily produced from the combustion of fossil fuels.

In 2000-2008, a team of researches calculated that the average PM 2.5 levels in Greater Taipei ranged from 23-33 micrograms. (This is a very good reason for me to avoid being on street level during rush hour traffic. When it’s this high, my throat and tongue swell up and I pass out.)

Chronic exposure to particulate matter and is risk of cardiovascular mortality is high at this level. These fine particles get deposited in the alveoli of the lungs, resulting in pro-thrombotic states, endothelial dysfunction, progression of atherosclerosis, and increased systemic oxidative stress. Particulate matter has been established as a trigger for cardiovascular events that can occur within hours to days after exposure. (Jeez, no wonder my chest was hurting so much last night!)Unhealthy Pollution in Taiwan

Another report from the Taiwanese Environmental Protection Agency  said that the PM 2.5 statistics in 2013 was 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

Traffic is the main source of air pollutants in Taipei, while fine particles produced by thermal power plants in Central Taiwan create problems in central and Southern Taiwan.

National Taiwan University conducted a study that concluded that the mean concentration of PM 2.5 particles in Taipei City and New Taipei City can often go from the ground-level to up to the height of three-stories.

The level of PM 2.5 particle pollution is 10 to 20 times higher below three-stories than it is at the height of four-story buildings and more. Other hazardous particle chemicals such as iron and silicon have also been found in the air.

We live in the eighth floor and we can feel it indoors at this height.

PM10 – In March 2014, Taiwanese legislators and the Taiwan Healthy Air Action Alliance claimed that the air quality in Taiwan is the worst of all Four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan), based on reports by the World Health Organization.

The annual mean PM10 level of Taipei is 47.1 micrograms per cubic meter or higher. That makes Taipei number 1,089 out of 1,600 most polluted cities in the world.

Additionally, 2004 data by Taiwan’s Department of Environmental Protection has said that for the last decade, the average annual mean of concentration of NO2 in Taiwan has surpassed the European Union limit value at 40 micrograms per cubic meter every consecutive year.

Homegrown pollution

Local power plants produce their own polluted air that affects everyone on the island. The scientific community in Taichung has been warning residents of Taiwan about the prevalence of lung cancer in Taiwan since December 2015. The main culprits behind our home produced air pollution seem to be stemming from Taichung Power Plant and the Sixth Naphtha Cracking Plant of Formosa Plastics Group – both of which emit large quantities of sulfur oxides – although I am sure there are many other factories here in Taiwan that are contributing to the problem.

Source: Taipei Times

Source: Taipei Time

Scooters are also a huge problem for the island of Taiwan. Over Lunar New Year, millions of people travel home by scooter for New Year’s Eve celebrations. It’s not surprising that scooters and motorcycles are two of the biggest vehicular pollution problems in Taiwan.

Religious rituals in Taiwan are also a huge problem for air pollution in Taiwan. The burning of ghost money, also known as Joss paper, and incense, is burned at religious ceremony days on the first and 15th day of the lunar calendar every month with values of PM 10 particles at temples are 5 to 16 times higher than the normal value of a regular home environment. People that live within distance of a nearby temple are also affected.

These past few years for me with air pollution in Taiwan have gotten considerably worse over the years. I’ve lived in China, I’ve been in Beijing and thought I had seen the worst that air pollution could get when I was there. For years, I thought Taiwan was the better option. It turns out, Taiwan is just as bad and my body tells me just how bad it is every time the pollution levels spike here.

Taiwan, we need to do better. Residents have been warned not to go outside this weekend without wearing a mask.

For me, I’m hoping my air purifying system is working and I’ll be in bed until this passes. From someone who is a great admirer of this country, I can say without a doubt that I love Taiwan for many things, but we need to work on lowering these pollution levels immediately. Some of us can’t wait much longer.

4 thoughts on “Pollution in Taiwan – Is It Bad? YES, IT’S BAD!

  1. Mossy

    Really great article here. I couldn’t figure it out for months why I had this scratchy throat and blocked nose. I didn’t have the flu, but I kept feeling like my body was on the verge of becoming sick.

    I use to brush off pollution in Taiwan because I lived in Beijing and their air pollution problem was serious.

    I guess after coming down flu-like symptoms for weeks and not knowing why awoke me to just how damaging pollution can be to the body.

    I really hope the government gets it act together with pollution because the NHI finally pulled in a profit this year, and sooner or later those affected by the pollution will — down the line — come back to bite the public services in their asses.

    Reply
    • Carrie Kellenberger Post author

      I did the same when I arrived in Taiwan after coming here from China. I spent three years in Northeast China. Taiwan in 2006 was remarkably different. I didn’t notice it for a few years, but there was a really bad day in 2011 that sticks out in my mind as ‘yellow’. It was gross. The air felt gritty.

      Those days have been showing up more and more often. Now it’s at the point where I notice it all the time. My husband also has a scratchy throat and blocked nose, but I haven’t been able to convince him it’s the pollution. The fact that he gets sick every time the pollution gets bad hasn’t registered with him yet. Maybe it’s because he is too busy looking after me when I get hit.

      I am really hoping that the government will start to address this issue more often. I know plenty of people are working on it, locals and expats alike, and it doesn’t seem to be getting the attention it deserves. (I wonder if the NHI pulled in a profit because so many people are sick from air pollution. From what I’ve read, respiratory illnesses, allergies, and cancer rates are skyrocketing and will continue to sky rocket if it’s not addressed.) Would you mind sharing where you read that information if you have it on hand?

      I hope you’re feeling better soon, Mossy. We were in the orange zone when I woke up this morning at 114. My head and chest are still aching and I hope it passes soon.

      Reply
  2. David

    You do have a need for a low-cost air quality monitor in the home. It’s impossible to know precisely how well your purifying system is functioning, or how quickly it brings levels down, without a monitor. It could be taking hours, or incapable of processing an adequate volume of air. I’d be happy to loan you one for a week to evaluate what’s going on in your indoor living environment — enough time to gauge patterns and understand the capabilities of your purifier.

    I’m a clean vehicle and clean energy advocate, endeavoring to raise awareness on air pollution in Taiwan.

    Reply

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