Wednesday , May 29 2024

Hanoians struggle with air pollution


Anh Duc’s sinusitis makes him sneeze every time he removes his face mask after two months interning at a company in Hanoi’s Cau Giay District.

The 23-year-old says he started suffering from sinusitis in 2019 when he moved to inner Hanoi for his studies. Constant medication and nasal sprays usage did not end the condition, but a relocation to Thach That District, the suburbs of the capital, surprisingly did.

“It could be due to the less polluted air, the clearer roads, and the fewer dust particles in the suburbs,” Duc says. “But everything returned to how it was when I came downtown for my internship at the end of October.”

He says he constantly sneezes and has a runny or blocked nose, along with persistent headaches, even when he wears a mask now.

Do Huyen, 35, a resident of Hoang Mai District, has grown a fear of winter as she knows she will experience prolonged coughing fits when the season arrives. Her skin also becomes itchy and red, without being exposed to the sun or unfamiliar cosmetics.

“But a weekend getaway to my hometown or a few-day leave to the highlands almost completely alleviates my symptoms,” says Huyen. “My colleagues joke that I’m not suited to the capital.”

A layer of fog covers the neighborhood where Huyen lives in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District on Dec. 12, 2023. Photo courtesy of Huyen

A layer of fog covers the neighborhood where Huyen lives in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District on Dec. 12, 2023. Photo courtesy of Huyen

Dr. Hoang Duong Tung, chairman of the Vietnam Clean Air Network and former deputy head of the General Department of Environment, believes that the symptoms experienced by Duc and Huyen could be the result of allergies to fine dust and air pollution in the capital.

Hanoi has experienced gloomy weather and high air pollution indexes over the past two weeks, leaving many of its residents feeling such discomfort. However, according to experts, the situation is not unusual, as the air quality index (AQI) normally rises, meaning that the air quality gets worse, in the period between Oct. to Mar. due to dust. The phenomenon is caused by the winter’s calm winds, low rain level, dense fog, and decreased air diffusion, which causes pollutants to linger at low altitudes without being blown or washed away.

Tung references WHO research that states this kind of air pollution threatens public health, and that fine particulate matter PM2.5 (particles as small as a thirtieth of a hair’s width) is the fourth common cause of premature death globally. Around 60,000 people die every year in Vietnam because of reasons related to air pollution.

A study on the impact of air pollution on public health in Hanoi, conducted in Aug. 2021 by Live&Learn environmental education program in collaboration with the Hanoi University of Public Health and the University of Technology of Vietnam National University, further supports Duong’s statement.

The report indicates that in 2019 alone, Hanoi experienced 2,855 early deaths due to exposure to PM2.5 particles, accounting for 12% of the total aged-25-and-over mortality cases.

Notably, the increase in PM2.5 concentration in Hanoi results in over 1,000 hospital admission cases for cardiovascular diseases and nearly 3,000 cases for respiratory problems each year, the study claims.

The General Department of Environment also notes that air pollution in Hanoi since late Nov. has mainly been due to fine particulate matter PM2.5. Among the world’s most polluted cities, Hanoi’s average 24-hour PM2.5 levels are the highest. The figure recorded in Nov. exceeded acceptable standards for many days, and predominantly fell into poor and very poor categories.

Pam Air, a reference source for air quality trends in Vietnam, on Dec. 13 shows AQI in several central districts of Hanoi including Hoan Kiem, Cau Giay, Thanh Xuan, Ba Dinh, and Tay Ho are all above 150, a figure categorized as harmful to health.

At the time, the global air quality monitoring app IQAir ranked Hanoi among the top 15 most polluted cities in the world.

“Dangers from fine dust have recently made residents more aware,” Tung says. “Many have started seeking ways to protect themselves like wearing masks and eyeglasses, limiting outdoor activities, closing their windows, using air purifiers, or even sending their children to the countryside to escape pollution.”

Residents wearing masks while doing morning exercise in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District on Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Residents wearing masks while doing morning exercise in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District on Dec. 4, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh

Despite all the protective measures she has applied, Huyen’s situation shows no improvement. She has switched to commuting by bus to reduce her dust exposure. And she requests to work remotely or take leave on days that the air pollution indexes exceed 200, she says.

Meanwhile, Duc has resorted to high-dose sinusitis medication.

“I thought I no longer needed to use medication,” he says. “I think I will return to the suburbs or move back to my hometown.”

Thanh Binh, 65, from the Nghe An Province in the central region, came to Hanoi to look after her grandchild. She now suffers from throat itching, cough, and nasal congestion and was diagnosed with allergic rhinitis after undergoing a medical examination.

She has confined herself indoors with an air purifier since then, but her health hasn’t improved at all. Even her six-month-old grandchild occasionally experiences a runny nose, prompting her to consider taking the child back to the countryside for a few weeks.

“The only way to breath fresh air now is to leave the city for the countryside,” she says. “But my children work and study here [in Hanoi], so we have to endure while minimizing our dust exposure with masks and air purifiers.”

Mai, an online air purifier seller, says her sales increased by 50% in the past two months compared to the same period last year.

Tung says Hanoi has imposed various solutions aiming to tackle the air pollution, including developing electric buses, relocating industrial facilities from the inner city, and banning the use of charcoal stoves. Still, pollution endures, partly due to the inadequate control of pollution sources like construction machines, transportation vehicles, and emissions from industrial facilities close to the city.

“Residents cannot do anything but hope for rains or monsoons to dissipate the dense, gloomy layer of fine dust,” he concludes.

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