IQAir World Air Quality Report 2022: Malaysia gets 9.6% better, but exceeds WHO guidelines by >300% – paultan.org
The world’s air is alarmingly polluted, according to IQAir’s 2022 World Air Quality Report, and only 13 countries/regions in the world pass the WHO’s recommended PM2.5 guideline value of 5 µg/m3.
The only 13 countries/regions out of a total of 131 in the report that pass are Finland, Estonia, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Australia, Grenade, New Caledonia, Iceland, Bonaire, Sint Eusatius and Saba, Bermuda, US Virgin Islands, French Polynesia and Guam.
Malaysia’s PM2.5 value is 17.7 µg/m3. To be exact, this is the average value of annual exposure across all 62 monitoring stations in our country. In the ASEAN region, we are behind Cambodia, Singapore, and the Philippines which are cleaner than us. Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia are worst off than us, in that order.
However, 17.7 is the average. Kuala Lumpur itself is 17.6, but things get a lot worse in other parts of the Klang Valley. Klang is pretty bad at 27.1, Petaling Jaya scores 26.5. The only city in Malaysia that passes the WHO guidelines is Bongawan, in Sabah, which record 4.7. Although Malaysia’s 17.7 number is a 9.6% improvement over the previous year, not all cities became cleaner. The largest increase in PM2.5 occurred in Seremban where concentrations rose 68 percent to 25.7 μg/m3.
Air pollution has severe health impacts and according to the WHO, it is the single biggest environmental threat to human health. Every year, exposure to air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million premature deaths.
PM2.5, fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter, is the most dangerous pollutant because it can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system, causing cardiovascular and respiratory disease and cancers.
It is very important to remove PM2.5 emissions where humans live. We have talked about this before in our previously published opinion piece “Electric cars aren’t zero emissions when electricity is generated by coal power plants, but so what?”
In 2013, a 9 year old girl died from a fatal asthma attack in Britain. She lived near a major road in southeast London. A coroner ruled that air pollution was the official cause of death, because she had been exposed to levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in excess of WHO guidelines.
The main source of her exposure was traffic emissions. Her mother said that if she had been told air pollution was contributing to her daughter’s ill health, she would have moved. In the three years leading up to her death, she had gone in and out of the hospital nearly 30 times.
While we are on a slow journey to move our vehicles towards zero emissions, there are many other efforts that the government can work on to improve the air quality of our cities where the majority of people live.
One low hanging fruit is the introduction of an anti idle law in Malaysia which will forbid vehicles from idling and smoking up the surrounding air.
There are so many internal combustion engines being started every morning and left to idle in the porch to “warm up”, allowing its emissions to seep into every house on the road where it is parked. Many people also tend to relax in their cars while waiting with the engine on to power their air conditioning. The same goes for the public transport buses waiting at stops, the big diesel engine is left idling polluting the entire place for a long time. All of this should be stopped, it is a waste of subsidised fuel and contributes to pollution.
IQAir noted positively about harsher penalties for environmental polluters in Malaysia in their report, mentioning that the DOE published a revision to the Environmental Quality Act in 2022 to allow increased penalties for environmental polluters, including a clause that clarifies regulations regarding open burning.
Blatant open burning is a common sight in Malaysia due to weak enforcement
However enforcement seems to be a real issue here. If you travel up and down the Guthrie Corridor Expressway often you would be almost certain to see huge spires of smoke coming up from behind the greenery beside the highway. Open burning seems to be done in Malaysia on a daily basis with no repercussions.
Malaysia needs to work harder towards improving PM2.5 levels in the majority of cities that we live in, however IQAir notes that it is going to be hard to do in a single action because our PM2.5 is driven by a multiple factors – growing industrialization, vehicle emissions, open burning, as well as transboundary haze from biomass burning and forest fires in neighboring countries.
However, a collaborative study by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air and Greenpeace Malaysia revealed that poor air quality is an attributable cause of roughly 32,000 avoidable deaths across the country each year. We need to work towards saving those 32,000 lives annually.
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