Pollution in Taiwan – Is It Bad? Yes, It’s Bad!

Taiwan and Bad Air Quality

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.

How does pollution affect chronically ill patients? How bad is pollution in Taiwan?

In a nutshell, it’s bad! 

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.

As a chronically ill patient with a severely compromised immune system, pollution has a severe effect on my already fragile health.

The World Health organization estimates that:

Ambient air pollution accounts for an estimated 4.2 million deaths per year due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory diseases. Around 91% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits.

Obviously healthy people also suffer from air pollution, which can include respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties.

Health Effects of Air Pollution in Taiwan

  • Lung damage and symptoms that include coughing and a sore throat. The damage to your lungs does not disappear after main symptoms have gone away.
  • Aggravated respiratory diseases (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and cancers)
  • Chest pain, headaches and migraine, nausea, wheezing, and dry throat
  • Affects immune system and resistance to infections
  • Fatigue increases
  • Decreased lung function
  • Heart problems, including heart attack
  • Allergies
  • Rashes
  • Watery eyes

I could go on, but you get the gist.

Obviously your risk of side effects from air pollution depends on your health status, as well as the type of pollution and how long you’re exposed to it.

This brings me to my main point today. I wrote this post three years ago on March 2nd, 2018.

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Since then, air pollution in Taiwan has continued to get worse and we’ve had several high pollution days with terrible air in the first two months of 2021.

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.

Air pollution outside my window today
That’s not fog. That’s pollution!

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.

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. 

This pattern repeats every February and March.

Air pollution affects us in horrible ways. 

For those of us who are chronically ill, exposure to severe air pollution at these kinds of levels can lead to a visit to the ER. At the very least, it means another sick day in bed since my allergies are mostly chemical and hit me hard.

My autoimmune illnesses ensure that I get exceptionally sick with pollution. In Banqiao in 2018, the air quality meter was at 151 at 10pm last night and it was in the red zone. Last week, the air quality meter hit 166 and everyone felt it.

As the air quality meter crept higher, I got sicker. Migraines start quickly. Then dizziness and a sore throat. My tongue, throat, and eyelids swell up.  My chest still feels like it will explode and sometimes I vomit.

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 all of us.

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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.

What causes pollution in Taiwan considering most people think of Taiwan as an environmentally friendly country?

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 immediately.)

These fine particles get deposited in your lungs, wreaking all kinds of serious health problems. 

Particulate matter can act 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!)

Traffic is the main source of air pollutants in Taipei. Fine particles produced by thermal and coal power plants 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!

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

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.

Source: Taipei Times
Source: Taipei Times

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 a huge problem for air pollution in Taiwan. The burning of ghost money (joss paper) and incense is burned at religious ceremony days on the first and 15th day of the lunar calendar every month.

Values of PM 10 particles at temples are 5 to 16 times higher than normal and 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.

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 almost as bad. My body tells me just how bad it is every time the pollution levels spike here.

Taiwan, we need to do better.

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.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. I'm an experienced businesswoman and have worked in many leadership positions in Asia. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. I started writing about my health journey in 2009 after being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, which came with other massive health issues. These diagnoses were the start of my journey as a health advocate and patient leader. Since then, My Several Worlds has been recognized worldwide as a top site for AS, fibromyalgia, and chronic illness by WEGO Health and Healthline.

4 thoughts on “Pollution in Taiwan – Is It Bad? Yes, It’s Bad!

    Mossy

    (March 4, 2018 - 5:40 pm)

    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.

      Carrie Kellenberger

      (March 5, 2018 - 1:12 pm)

      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.

    JiXiong Tshua

    (March 4, 2018 - 7:18 pm)

    Air pollution must be terminated.

    David

    (March 9, 2018 - 7:05 am)

    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.

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