Air pollution levels in Taiwan - grim reading


Having just made a quick trip to Kaoshiung and back in Taichung I am as usual appalled at the poor air quality in large parts of the island, especially in the Winter months.

The Taiwan EPA have finally caught up with the rest of the world after many delay tactics and are now providing real-time PM 2.5 particulate levels. PM 2.5 are the real nasty fine particles that gets into your lungs and possibly into your blood stream. The particles are formed from motor vehicle exhaust (particularly scooters), power plant emissions, chemical refineries etc. NOx and SOx react with sunlight and water vapour and form these fine particles which result in the characteristic haze we see around us.

Looking at US PM2.5 standards anything beyond 35 Ug/M3 daily average on the scale is unacceptable. Also they have now revised the annual average to 12 Ug/M3.

99% of counties in the vast and diverse land mass of US are in compliance with these standards year round. … m-2-5.html

EDIT- actually parts of the US do exceed standards, with orange here indicating about 40-70 Ug/M3 and yellow being up to 40 Ug/M3, usually from forest fires or windy conditions. … 130118.gif
Remember also there are still people in the US who say these standards are still not strict enough.

Now let’s look at Taiwan’s readings and classification of air pollution from the EPA website.

They mainly use a PSI system which incorporates multiple sizes of particles instead of using PM2.5 as their main classification system which would show large parts of the country as ‘unhealthy’.

So they classify 0-50 Ug/M3 as ‘good’. They classify 50-100 Ug/M3 as ‘moderate’. They classify 100-200 as ‘unhealthy’ and 200-300 as ‘very unhealthy’’. Today they have almost everywhere as ‘moderate’ whatever that means, conveniently burying the ‘unhealthy’ reading if using PM2.5 directly.

Look at the reading today, almost the whole island is classified as ‘moderate’ with readings around 50-100 PSI. However if we check the PM2.5 figures many metropolitan areas are over the 35 Ug/M3 daily limit such as Hsinchu, Taizhong, Kaohsiung, Changhua, Kinmen, and Toufen. Some more industrial areas are almost twice the recommended limit such as Shalu and Cianzhen and Kinmen (due to mainland pollution).

The government are finally giving us the air pollution figures, which do not make for good reading, but they are blatantly lying with the use of their own made-up classifications.

Yes, I know its better than mainland China, but the air here is still very unhealthy as recognized by medical professionals. I can’t see when things will get better as they are still approving refineries and new chemical plants and have added coal power plants on the West coast. Of course the pollution from China exacerbates the local problem.

This, my friends, along with water and land pollution, are the real environmental problems of Taiwan right in front of our faces and in our lungs. This a problem for me and my family to remain in Taiwan. I have to ask myself the question, why should we stay here?

Air Pollution - will we see blue sky again?
Taipei air pollution
China is single largest source of PM2.5 pollution in Taiwan | Taiwan News

I felt infinitely better after leaving Taiwan…it took a few months but I felt like a completely different person. I had no idea how such an unhealthy environment had impacted me gradually over the years until I left. Even though I was in my very early 30’s and in perfect health, I had started to feel like an old lady after only a few years there. It was the same for my husband.

I think that the poor air and water quality, chemicals in the food and the high stress environment can have a massive impact on a person over time.


Don’t get me started on the arsenic problem in the water -filters in the bath should be de rigeur.

Yep, it would be nice to have the real measurements but then they would also have to acknowledge the incoming particles from China, and those numbers are State secret by the standards of the friendly neighbors from the North. Furthermore, as you say, people would start to freak out about something that really has an impact on their health, daily, instead of radiation from microwave ovens and sunshine and such.


The pollution and shenanighans on the roads are my two biggest complaints about Taiwan. It might be enough of a reason to move in 3-5 years but I have no idea what my future plans are. it definitely will not be anywhere in China though.

I still like looking at this map that shows China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.


That map is interesting thanks. I’m not sure how the numbers stack up against each other though, for instance Taiwan doesn’t included PM2.5 in the figures but China does.
The numbers for pm 2.5 are off the charts, I always suspected they had a serious problem but it is actually worse than I imagined. Beijing is choking in it’s own crap. They would be doing well to fly to Kaosiung for a breath of fresh air!
I believe India is not far behind China in terms of air pollution either.


That map’s a little depressing! I remember feeling that South Korea was quite polluted when I lived there in the 90s - I wonder if it’s cleaned up, or if my standards have collapsed?


We would have to look at the figures through the seasons and through the entire year. In Taiwan air pollution seems to get worse in Winter perhaps due to inversion effects or the lack of rain. PM2.5 can stay in the air for days and weeks as the particles are so light, they need to be blown away or washed out. This is very obvious in Taichung where you can literally see the pollution build up over the space of days or a week and then disappear after one windy or rainy day and the Mountains magically appear back into view again.
I have visited Seoul quite often and the air was noticeably better than China everytime I was there, never saw an obvious smog in the Winter.

What it looked like from my balcony today in Taichung. I have a view over the city aswell and I actually couldn’t see the city today never mind the mountains behind them.


They did explain the data regarding China in the FAQ. They have compared readings at both Chinese and US sites (consulate) for a couple of major cities and found that the Chinese numbers were very consistent with the US numbers. With one caveat: China reports numbers using a less strict conversion formula for PM2.5. That site uses the same conversion formula for the Chinese data as the US so it can display apples to apples data in China. I’m not sure how they handle Taiwan’s numbers though. Kaohsiung has been bouncing between 50 and 180 since I started watching the site last week but they don’t have any long term graphs posted yet.


Here’s a view from my place a few months back. In this one we can see the pollution immediately starting to build up at the base of the mountains after a period of rain, the mountains only really appear a few days a month. That’s Taichung city under that cloud. It happens that I had a similar view at times when I was based in Xindian and looking down onto Taipei City. It’s just that bit worse in Central and Southern Taiwan due to lack of precipitation, heavy industry and coal generating stations.


Not sure if any of you live in Taoyuan but a lot of the city is either being tore down or rebuilt right now. It is quite noticeable.


When I first looked at the EPA website it showed Kaohsiung as having a air pollution level of MODERATE.

But then, when you dig deeper into the PM2.5 reading (that won’t display in English) you get a reading for Zoying of 55 ug/m3.

I then checked this against some PM2.5 numbers from Environment Canada:

On the Canadian scale 55ug/m3 is damn-near off the chart; certainly not MODERATE.

The only place in Taiwan with acceptable numbers of course is the east coast:


The implication is that other places are far worse.

Does anyone have any idea what the main sources of PM2.5 emissions are? I can’t figure out what it is about the Zuoying area that gives such a high reading. I know there’s a lot of heavy industry there, but are they ALL belching smoke, and if so, what sort of smoke?


They seem to use the same scale and nomenclature as mainland China for the PSI figures.

Taiwan accepts that 35 Ug/M3 is the daily average standard for PM 2.5 but interestingly does not publish these figures in English nor does it provide a scale to show against these figures (although it gives the PSI figures in English) and also does not show them on it’s main chart (as I said they are buried within the PSI figures and on a separate PM 2.5 table).

Looking at the US and Canada, we can see very few areas with PM 2.5 crossing over the 35 Ug/M3 figure. That’s a remarkable credit to the EPAs work there over many decades. To those who complain about overbearing environmental regulation, you got clean air, what more do you want? I wonder if those small spots in Canada where it does go over are the oil sands?

Looking at the maps of Asia, we can see that China, Taiwan and India have the worst figures (at least of the countries that have provided data), I guess the figures for Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore worsen a lot during the forest burning season.


The implication is that other places are far worse.

Does anyone have any idea what the main sources of PM2.5 emissions are? I can’t figure out what it is about the Zuoying area that gives such a high reading. I know there’s a lot of heavy industry there, but are they ALL belching smoke, and if so, what sort of smoke?[/quote]

It’s a good question. For the port area ship emissions are supposedly a big contributor (there is a program to get the ships to run off electrical power while docked). But Kaoshiung has so many heavy industries, and so many cars, it is difficult to know which is the main contributor. Hazarding a guess from what I’ve read previously, I would say it is the oil and chemical refineries that are the main contributor.
After that you’ve got steel works, tire works, diverse heavy industry and then millions and millions of motorised vehicles.

One of the refineries is supposed to be shut down soon- … 2003518929 . They will still have one left in the city area. … 2003481828


They just changed the rules and set stricter standards than the EPA for PM2.5 emissions in Kaohsiung, too. Can’t remember the link though :frowning:


I think people have to put things into perspective. Current Taiwan is still off the charts terrible compared to North America but I wouldn’t be surprised if Taiwan was significantly higher just a decade or two ago. Possibly in the 300-400’s. From everyone that I’ve talked to the air is significantly cleaner now. It wouldn’t surprise me if Taiwan was able to cut these numbers in half in the next decade as more industry moves away and pollution starts becoming a bigger topic.

Although industry has apparently been reduced quite in a bit in the last decade or two there are still several huge industrial parks surrounding Kaohsiung. This is from a Sunday night (I think) at Linyuan and this particular park is quite large.

Linyuan Industrial Park, Taiwan by abacus07, on Flickr


I would like to see the figures too to really see if there has been progress in cleaning the air up. I’m guessing that heavier particle pollution such as soot has reduced. But since we don’t have figures for PM 2.5 it may be hard to judge that one historically.
I guess it’s gone from ‘very bad’ to ‘plain bad’.


What’s ridiculous is that most of those industries are - in the big picture - losing money, but the government props them up because they’re being run by the old boys’ network, or by people who don’t understand that such things are history. Formosa Plastics, for example, is a complete waste of space. They’re supposedly a strategically-important industry: 40 years ago, maybe they were, but today they’re not. Plenty of countries will happily sell Taiwan bags of plastic - or, for that matter, finished injection-moulded parts which are better and cheaper than what’s being made in Taiwan. Likewise with the oil refineries: they only exist because Taiwan wanted a ‘secure’ supply of gasoline for its outdated, inefficient transport and petrochemicals for outdated, inefficient upstream industries. They’re all obsolete, but nobody in power has noticed.


So long as the government is pro-business, the environment will inevitably be sacrificed. The EPA is doing little more than putting up window dressing these days (e.g. keeping public restrooms clean, installing GPS in garbage trucks) and paying lip service to “a low carbon lifestyle” and “sustainable development”. (How many of you can name the current EPA minister?) But as long as there’s a ruling party majority in the legislature and environmental NGOs sit back and keep mum, the future of Taiwan’s environment does not look promising.


I’m not sure why the Taiwanese don’t consider their energy production/ home energy efficiency and water system to be national security issues. The closer to point/ more distributed energy is (e.g. local wind turbines/ solar), the harder it would be to disrupt with a PRC bombing raid. I think war is unlikely at this point, but since they spend money on defense, switching to an energy/ water system that would survive an attack makes sense and would improve the quality of life to boot.