Take a deep breath.

The air in Ho Chi Minh City is not only contaminated with dust, smoke, and noise. The amount of toxic gases are also rising – many areas, such as Phu Lam, An Suong, Go Vap, the crossroads of Huynh Tan Phat – Nguyen Van Linh are seen to have extremely high levels of Carbon Monoxide.

Reports from the Centre for Environmental Monitoring and Analysis in Ho Chi Minh City show that, between January – June 2016, the concentration of toxic gases (including carbon monoxide) in the city’s atmosphere surpassed the ‘Red Alarm’, and are far higher than measurements from 2014. These figures were reported by environmental experts through their measurements of toxic pollutants continuously, from the year 2010 until the first half of 2015.

Between 2010 and 2014, the levels of toxic gases in the atmosphere had appeared to be in decline. However, in the first six months of 2015, the concentration of Carbon Monoxide increased in ten of the most highly congested areas in Ho Chi Minh, notably Phu Lam, An Suong, Go Vap, and at the crossroads of Huynh Tan Phat and Nguyen Van Linh.

Dr Le Van Khoa states that this has a direct effect on quality of people’s daily life, as well as the health of Ho Chi Minh citizens. Residents are subjected to frequent exposure to high concentrations that certainly affect health, mainly causing skin and respiratory diseases.

A state officer of Ho Chi Minh city, Mrs. Dang Thi Luan, says that Ho Chi Minh residents rarely experience the feeling of ‘breathing fresh air’. For her and many of her friends and relatives, a face mask has been a necessary precaution for many years now. She shared that, when she comes in from work every day, before she greets her children, she runs to the shower to ensure she cleans the toxic fumes from her body before embracing them. She believes the risks involved in raising children are very extreme now, as young people are far more susceptible to respiratory diseases. Her house, on Deep Alley, is close to the road – she says the air is so dirty, she cannot dry her washing outside without it becoming soiled.

People who choose to wear respiratory masks hope that they will prevent them from inhaling the toxic fumes. With the popularity of motorbikes in Vietnam, the masks are often the only defence against the pollution, and the density of traffic jams often means that exposure to the ‘bad air’ is prolonged.

Many people claim to live in fear of the polluted air in Ho Chi Minh City.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tuan says “When it is compared to the target in the environmental management strategy, the improvement of air quality is too slow. We have not achieved the objectives that have been proposed for improving the quality of air.”

One of the key issues around exposure to toxic gases is that they are often undetectable. Carbon Monoxide is colourless, odourless and almost impossible to identify. The health risks of exposure to Carbon Monoxide are multiple, and can include reduced blood-flow, amongst other illnesses.

The first six months at the Go Vap gauge station have recorded the highest concentration of CO2 in the air, at nearly 16 mg/m3 (in 2014 it was recorded as 11.10 mg/m3). The lowest levels were recorded at Green cargo station, and are now more than 6.03 mg/m3 (five 2014 is 5.61 mg/m3).

In addition, in the first six-months of 2015, the noise level also increased compared to the average level of 2014 and beyond the permitted threshold, which is 70db.

The amount of noise measured in the first six months of 2015 at six points of observation is approximately equal to or exceeding the year 2014, and far beyond the threshold allowed (see table in Post).

Also, looking at the dust observation results of the first six months of 2015 at Go Van station will see high levels of rising dust. The average dust concentration in the same area in 2014 is 446.75, and the first six months of 2015 is 496.08.

Similarly:
– An Suong rose from 607 in 2014 to 615.33
– The Huynh Tan Phat – Nguyen Van Linh crossroads rose from 486.67 in 2014 to upwards of 613.83.

The total dust concentration of the dirt in the coastal air at the gauge stations exceeds Vietnam’s average by 120 – 220%

Dr. Le Van Khoa, Head of the Department of Environmental Management, Faculty of Resources and Environment of HCMC University of Technology, adds that the benzene qualities (stemming from gasoline, solvents, and motorcycle exhausts) in the air are very troubling.

Meanwhile Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tuan (Dean of the University of Resources and Environment in Ho Chi Minh City) indicates the number of air quality observation figures in HCMC which have shown that, in the period from 2010 to mid 2015, the air in the city was primarily contaminated with dust.

Nearly 100% of the results of dust in the roadways are over the current Vietnam average, especially in places where vehicles are large, or areas that see many traffic jams. The level of pollution is as heavy as the areas of An Suong , Go Vap, and Phu Lam.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tuan states that nowadays, in many countries, strict restrictions apply to air pollution levels in cities. The type of dust we see in Ho Chi Minh is particularly harmful as the smaller particles present are able to penetrate the lungs more easily and cause serious health problems. The diameter of dust particles is monitored on a scale, with PM10 as the largest. In Ho Chi Minh, PM2, PM5 and PM1 dust is also recorded.

According to Mr. Tuan, the people out on the road are using certain types of masks as a way to protect themselves from the current level of dust pollution. However, with the size of the weave of usual fabrics, it is difficult to prevent the smooth dust particles from entering the body.

There is a desperate need for strong leadership to take the helm when discussing solutions to reduce dust pollution and air pollution as a result of vehicle emissions. Currently the lack of structure and the fact that responsibility is shared between too many agencies means that progress is slow and difficult,

Dr Le Van Khoa and Dr. Nguyen Dinh Tuan offers many recommendations on the technicalities, management, and sense of community required to make an impact.

Mr. Tuan has emphasised the importance of taking measures to strengthen the use of clean fuels such as gas, hydrogen, and solar energy. In India, remarkable changes were recorded when the blue cars and buses in New Delhi switched to clean fuel. The solutions are already available, but are weakly managed and not well-operated.

The air quality monitoring network needs to be strengthened to be able to effectively monitor air pollution parameters.

Monitoring stations need to operate automatically and take regular readings so as to keep on top of the trends and levels of pollution in certain areas and at certain periods of time.

Dr. Le van Khoa said to improve the air quality of Ho Chi Minh City, we need to determine the source of various types of air pollution, such as: industrial, construction, energy, services, living and transportation.

The solution lies in constructing a concise strategy, using interdisciplinary methods to set out clear priorities and roadmaps that should be adhered to. It is imperative that long-term measures are implemented that can be easily monitored.

For traffic pollution, this means implementing better urban planning, improvement of fuel quality (favouring clean, low pollution fuels), Improving public transportation and developing these resources, encouraging the use of public vehicles, prioritising and incentivising low or non-polluting vehicles. Another key goal should be raising community awareness, and establishing information mechanisms on urban air environment.

Quoc Thanh (quocthanh@tuoitre.com.vn)

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