In October 2016 Vietnam air pollution levels skyrocketed to second worst in the world, things aren’t looking better a year and a half later.

Hanoi residents were exposed to severely unhealthy ambient air quality for all but 38 days of 2017, according to the preliminary findings of a new report measuring Vietnam air pollution levels in major cities, released Monday.

This means that for nearly 90 percent of the year, persons living in the northern capital increased their risk of respiratory and heart disease daily, by inhaling ambient air quality which was detrimental to their health.

Vietnam Air Pollution

Smog over West Lake, Hanoi on October 25, 2017. Photo by Jenna Mulligan.

How do we measure air quality?

Ambient air quality is measured by the concentration of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which affects more people than any other pollutant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

PM2.5 vary in size, but the most minute particles, roughly the size of one-thirtieth of a human hair, are the most dangerous, as they can lodge deep within the human lungs and respiratory system which can cause a number of diseases, including lung cancer.

The chemical makeup of these particles can vary depending upon their source, but they commonly contain sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water.

Although zero exposure to PM2.5 is ideal, the safe concentration limit of particles in the air is 25 μg/m3, as determined by WHO. The average air pollution in Hanoi exceeded four times that concentration, according to a report by the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID).

GreenID collected air quality measurements at the US Embassy in Hanoi, and used them to compile an annual report, which will be published in full by the end of February. But preliminary results of that report, released to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, show that Hanoi’s air pollution is now worse than Indonesian capital city Jakarta.

Second worst in the world, how did Vietnam air pollution levels come to this?

Hanoi pollution made news in October 2016, when the city’s air quality measurements plummeted to the second worst in the world, behind Ardali Bazar, India.

Contributing to that pollution are a number of different factors.

There are more than five million motorbikes in Hanoi, and 19,000 new vehicles registered each month, according to VN Express International.

Vietnam Air Pollution

Young boy on his father’s motorbike in Hanoi traffic. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

In addition to motor vehicles emitting pollution, Hanoi finds itself in the emissions of about 20 coal plants in the region, most in the Quan Thanh province southeast of Hanoi.

There are an additional 15 coal plants in the construction phase in Vietnam, despite the government’s recognition of air quality issues in mid-2016, when they pledged to install additional air quality monitors and build a plan to address increasing motor traffic emissions.

What does this mean for Hanoi residents and the Vietnamese government?

Most directly, the hazardous air quality contributes to fatal illnesses and weakening of health. In Vietnam as a whole, deaths that were attributable to dangerous air particles jumped 60 percent in 15 years – from 26,300 in 1990, to 42,200 in 2015, according to the Health Effects Institute and the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

The economic impact of a population immersed in dangerous air quality are also costly, according to a 2016 study conducted by IHME in partnership with The World Bank.

According to their measurements, Vietnam suffered almost $24 million in welfare losses in 2013. The study suggests that when high percentages of the workforce contract illnesses brought about by the poor air quality, the nation as a whole suffers.

Lack of public transportation and the continual development of the coal industry may be taking away from the city-wide lifespan and economy.

The final 2017 report of the GreenID measurements is expected to urge the government to tackle these issues.

 

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