Many Hanoians seem unaware of the high air pollution in their city despite the warnings of environmentalists and statistics from the US Embassy’s air quality monitoring station in Lang Ha Street that show the air quality index remaining at unhealthy levels (between 151–200 units) over the past week.
These levels mean that everyone may begin to experience negative health effects, and members of sensitive groups may start to experience more serious health effects.
“Air pollution in Hanoi – it’s a very worrying situation now,” said Hoang Duong Tung, deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration, who talked to Vietnam News on Friday afternoon.
Tung said that the nearly five million motorbikes and half a million cars, the many construction sites, and people in outlying districts burning crops were the main contributors to pollution. The administration has previously warned people in the city many times about air pollution, he said.
Nguyễn Thu Hương, 30, a staff member of a bank in Đống Đa District, said she had heard about the air pollution in Hanoi early last month via a TV news broadcast. She said at the time she was worried about it, but was too busy to give it prolonged thought.
Nguyen Anh Tai, 26, said the sky appeared smoky and foggy, but thought it was just bad weather.
Dozens of people who were randomly questioned by the Vietnam News about how much they cared about the air quality index in the city had similar answers to Huong and Tai.
Most of them had never accessed the websites http://vietnam.usembassy.gov/air_quality_monitor.html, http://www.cem.gov.vn or http://www.aqivn.org/vi to find information about air quality.
In the meantime, expatriates in Hanoi certainly do care about air pollution.
Stephen Broke-Smith shared photos on the largest expat forum in the capital – the Hanoi Massive Facebook group – showing the air quality index in Hanoi on March 13 stayed around 231. This is considered a “very unhealthy” level.
Sandro Manzon commented, “I know that it is hard to accept, but Hanoi is one of the most polluted developing cities on earth… The air quality index sometimes stays around 300 for weeks. Anything over 250 is considered seriously hazardous.”
A Vietnamese Facebooker, Nguyen Quan shared his confusion about the air quality index data released by http://www.aqivn.org/vi after checking the air quality data in Hanoi provided by the state-owned Centre for Environmental Monitoring at http://www.cem.gov.vn. That site indicated that the current air quality index was only 55 – a moderate acceptable level. However, some pollutants still pose a moderate health risk to a small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.
Explaining the difference between the two sets of data, Tung said that the different locations where the AQI monitoring stations were installed were the main reason.
The US Embassy used a beta ray analyzer to measure the air quality index, whereas the centre used a light-scattering device, he said, adding that this might help explain the dissimilar data.
“Although it is not an unusual phenomena in the city, it is true that the air quality index in the city is very worrying,” he said.
Tung also said that the administration was drafting a plan to control air pollution by 2020, with a vision towards 2030, and would soon submit to the Government plans to fix the situation.
At this time, the administration has co-operated with the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Construction to implement measures to mitigate air pollution in the city, he said.
According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution is an important determinant of health. The WHO estimates that in 2012, around one in eight deaths could be attributed to air pollution, making it the largest environmental risk factor for ill health.
Medical experts said people should wear masks to reduce the effects of air pollution on their health, especially in the case of respiratory disease.