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Air quality drops in recovery MCO

Air quality drops in recovery MCO

5/7/2020 2:02:00 AM

Air quality drops in recovery MCO

The air that we breathe was at its cleanest during the conditional movement control order. But now, air quality has dipped, with the return of heavy traffic and industrial activities.

More businesses are reopening, shoppers are thronging malls and the public can now travel freely across states.However, such increased movement and activities has led to the overall air quality to worsen slightly in our country over the past month.Areas like Penang, Ipoh, Shah Alam, Kuantan, Seremban, Melaka, Pasir Gudang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu showed a spike in nitrogen dioxide – a gas produced mainly from motor vehicles.

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“These places showed increases ranging from 1% to 157% between June 10 and 22, ” the Department of Environment (DOE) reveals to Sunday Star.More sulphur dioxide was also detected in the air during the recovery movement control order (MCO) in the Klang Valley, says the department.

Sulphur dioxide is an air pollutant commonly produced by fuel burning equipment, especially stations that generate electricity, industries and vehicles.“This gas increased between 5% and 64% during the recovery MCO period from June 10 to 22, ” says the DOE, which collected readings from stations in Batu Muda and Cheras in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Klang and Banting.

A similar result was also observed in Penang, Ipoh, Shah Alam, Kuantan, Seremban, Melaka, Pasir Gudang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu.The good news is this, though: despite the increase in such gases, the air we breathe now is still cleaner in general, compared to the days before the MCO.

Several other air pollutants like fine particles in the air (PM2.5), carbon monoxide and ground-level ozone ("bad" ozone) have decreased in the recovery MCO, according to the DOE's data.The MCO, enforced on March 18 to contain the spread of Covid-19, saw travel being restricted while non-essential services and businesses were temporarily halted.

Such reduced activities had led to fresher air nationwide, reported Sunday Star on March 29.However, as the government relaxed more restrictions in the recovery MCO beginning June 10, air quality started to dip.“The increase in vehicle usage and industrial activities are significant factors in influencing the air quality trend in the country.

“This was proven when there was an increase in air pollutants following the government’s decision to ease restrictions during the conditional MCO and recovery MCO, despite not all activities being fully allowed, ” the department explains.Boosts in air quality were recorded for all stages of the MCO, but such improvements became less apparent in the recovery MCO period between June 10 and 22.

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Based on the DOE’s readings, air quality improved the most, or by 53% during the conditional MCO phase between May 4 and June 9.The air was the freshest during this time, with the number of days with “good” air pollutant index (API) readings increasing by 53% compared to before the MCO, between March 1 and 17.

During the conditional MCO, interstate travel was still banned unless the people had police permission to do so.By then, many companies had also introduced work-from-home arrangements among staff, while some professions were still not allowed to return to work.

This led to many people spending more time at home, and hence reducing emissions.From March 18 to May 3, people in Malaysia spent about 30% to 40% longer at their homes than an ordinary day in January or February, according to the Google Covid-19 Community Mobility Trends report in ourworldindata.org

In the conditional MCO from May 4 to June 9, they stayed at home about 15% to 30% longer.And during the recovery MCO from June 10 to June 24, people spent about 5% to 15% more time at home.Such data in the report was collected anonymously from apps like Google Maps, and showed how peoples’ movements have changed throughout the pandemic.

When the recovery MCO kicked off on June 10 – a phase which lifted the ban on interstate travel, the air quality improved by only 32% compared to pre-MCO days.“The government had also allowed many commercial and industrial premises to operate again while many were allowed to go out to conduct activities, ” points out the DOE.

Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences senior research fellow Prof Datuk Dr Azizan Abu Samah agrees that the amount of pollutants in the air has gone up, based on his observations.He and his team had monitored the air quality around the Klang Valley from six stations during the MCO.

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There was a spike in emissions from vehicles like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.“But the concentration is less than before the MCO started in early March, ” he says.“From the data, there has been an increase in the level of particles floating in the air, or PM2.5 and PM10 near the end of May, ” Prof Azizan says.

The spike in such particles in the air, he suggests, is due to activities such as biomass burning by farmers in Sumatra, Indonesia while the wind direction blows the smoke towards the Klang Valley.Prof Azizan warns that biomass burning in Sumatra should normally start from July to September.

“As such, we must begin monitoring hot spots and engage with Indonesia about such incidents to prevent further pollution to the air we breathe, ” he adds. Read more: The Star »

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