The EPA said the elderly or people who suffer from chronic lung and heart disease should try to avoid strenuous outdoor activity because of the poor air quality
Southern Taiwan saw very poor air quality yesterday due to pollution from China, with the key indicator of fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) hitting the hazardous level of 10 in Kaohsiung, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said.
As of 10am, concentrations of PM2.5 reached level 8 in Tainan and Pingtung County and 10 in Kaohsiung mainly because a cold air mass has brought a concentration of dust from China since Saturday, the EPA said.
Level 10 PM2.5 concentrations exceed 71 micrograms per cubic meter and are considered extremely high, but measurements above level 7 are deemed severe enough to cause tangible discomfort and health problems, the agency said.
Given the poor air quality, the elderly and those with chronic lung or heart diseases should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor physical activity, the EPA said.
Meanwhile, a physician at Chi Mei Medical Center said seven of the nation’s top 10 causes of death by cancer are associated with air pollution.
Hsieh Yi-ju (謝依儒) said the source of PM2.5 can be from natural activities such as volcanic eruptions, forest fires or rock weathering; or from human activities such as emissions from motor vehicles, factories and power plants, or burning, cooking and smoking.
More than 30 percent of the nation’s PM2.5 is brought in from across national borders, including industrial pollution and sand storms from China, Hsieh said, adding that these particles are so small that they can bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deeper into the lungs and bloodstream, bringing toxic substances into the body.
He said PM2.5 matter mainly affects the respiratory tract, triggering symptoms including coughing, breathing difficulties, a decline in lung function, asthma, chronic inflammation or a weakened immune system.
However, PM2.5 matter also affects the cardiovascular system, contributing to chronic inflammation, autonomic nervous system disorders and arrhythmias, Hsieh said, adding that studies showed that it effects the brain too, leading to higher risks of suffering a stoke or developing dementia.
Yu Chia-hang (余佳航), a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine at the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Sinying Hospital, said vegetables and herbs classified by traditional Chinese medical theory as “white foods” might alleviate discomfort caused by PM2.5 pollution.
Exposure to heavy concentrations PM2.5 frequently caused symptoms such as watery eyes, eye pains, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, throat pain and poor sleep, he said.
To reduce symptoms of exposure to PM2.5 pollution, Yu said people should incorporate medicinal vegetables and herbs classified as “white foods” in their diets because these foods are believed to bolster lung health.
“White foods” include Asian pears, white mu-err mushrooms and the fungus Wolfiporia extensa; lotus seeds, prickly water lily seeds and coix seeds; and the Chinese white radish, cinnamon vines and lilium bulbs, Yu said.
Yu said that only respirators or masks with a N95 rating or higher offer any protection against PM2.5 pollution, and that users should fit the masks snugly to the face without leaving gaps.
Users must replace the mask every four hours to avoid inhaling harmful quantities of fine particles accumulated on the mask, he added.
Concern about the smoke from burning mugwort in traditional Chinese medical therapy is misplaced because recent research suggests that mugwort smoke in a reasonably ventilated traditional clinic is not a significant health risk, while the medical benefits of mugwort smoke as an antioxidant is supported by several studies, Yu said.