The Jakarta Post
With more cars cramming major cities across the country, the air quality has worsened over the past year, rising to levels in several metropolises that may pose a serious health risk to residents.
Medan, parts of Jakarta and Batam are among the most polluted cities in Indonesia, according to a recent study by the Environment and Forestry Ministry.
The ministry on Wednesday announced the latest results of its Langit Biru (Blue Sky) program, which rated 28 cities in 23 provinces based on four main parameters: traffic management, quality of fuel, vehicle emissions and air quality along main roads.
The data show high levels of hazardous substances in big and heavily congested cities.
Medan was singled out for being the only city with air quality below the level officially considered safe, due to its off-the-chart hydrocarbon (HC) level.
“As for parameters beyond the safety threshold, this year we found [such a situation] in Medan for its HC level,” said the ministry’s director for air pollution management, Dasrul Chaniago.
The program measured five hazardous substances: particulate molecules (PM), or dust particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns; carbon dioxide (CO); HC; sulfur dioxide ( SO2 ); and nitrogen
dioxide ( NO2 ).
HC and NO2 can cause lung cancer and respiratory infections; CO and NO2 can cause heart problems; SO2 can cause corneal haze, airways inflammation and heart failure; while PM can cause cancer, bronchitis and respiratory problems.
Last year, Medan and other cities, including Semarang, experienced a surprising fall in NO2 and HC, only for Medan’s HC level to skyrocket in 2016.
“Last year, the HC level in Medan was still below the safety threshold,” said the ministry’s environmental pollution and damage control director general, MR Karliansyah.
He attributed Medan’s high levels of toxic substances to vehicle emissions, particularly from diesel-powered vehicles. Karliansyah pointed out that almost all gasoline-powered vehicles tested by the ministry in Medan had a sulfur content that complied with the nationally adopted international standard of EURO II on emissions from motor vehicles, which requires automobiles to use fuel with a sulfur content of no more than 500 parts per million (ppm).
Sulfur is a natural component in crude oil that is present in gasoline and diesel unless removed. Sulfur in gasoline impairs the effectiveness of emission control systems and contributes to air pollution. A high sulfur content in fuel can lead to an increase in the number of people suffering from air pollution-related diseases.
More than 50 percent of the diesel-powered vehicles tested in Medan did not match the EURO II standard for sulfur.
“There is still diesel that contains a sulfur content of up to 1,100 ppm,” Dasrul said.
Besides the high level of HC, Medan also recorded a higher PM level than other cities for the PM10 category.
Its PM10 level almost reached 140, barely below the safety threshold of 150.
“This is [hardly surprising], because our streets are still dusty, unlike those in Europe,” said Dasrul.
As for CO, the highest level was recorded in Central Jakarta, while neighboring West Jakarta had the highest level of NO2.
Batam, meanwhile, recorded the highest level of SO2, which is emitted mostly from industrial facilities and power plants, beating other big cities like Jakarta, Medan and Semarang.
Dasrul said most of the hazardous substances came from vehicles, which constituted 70 percent of city pollutants.
Therefore, the ministry has long been lobbying for the country to adopt stricter standards for emissions from motor vehicles in a bid to move away from cheap and dirty fuel to higher-grade variants.
As of now, Indonesia is the only country in the world to still use gasoline of the research octane number (RON) 88 specification, which is of low quality and high in sulfur, in part because its refineries are not capable of producing high-quality gasoline with a low sulfur content.
Phasing out dirty fuel is in line with the government’s plan to adopt EURO IV, which requires automobiles to use fuel with a sulfur content no higher than 50 ppm.
“We can’t blame the regional administration, because policies on the quality of fuel are from the central government. That’s why we are fighting for our standard to be raised to EURO IV,” said Dasrul.
The program measured five hazardous substances: particulate molecules (PM), or dust particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns; carbon dioxide ( CO2 ); hydrocarbon (HC); sulfur dioxide ( SO2 ); and nitrogen dioxide ( NO2 ).
1. CO2 is produced by the exhaust of motor vehicles. It causes poisoning and infections.
Worst cities: 1. Central Jakarta, 2. Manado, 3. Gorontalo
2. NO2 is produced particularly by manufacturing facilities. It causes bronchitis, inflammation, reduced immune response, and may have effects on the heart.
Worst cities: 1. West Jakarta, 2. Batam, 3. Semarang
3. HC is usually produced by the use of benzene and petroleum. It causes poisoning if swallowed or inhaled, lung cancer and respiratory infections.
Worst cities: 1. Medan, 2. Surakarta, 3. Batam
4. PM emissions consist of very small liquid and solid particles floating in the air from motor vehicles, wood burning, dust from construction and wildfires. The greatest concern to public health are the particles small enough to be inhaled into the deepest parts of the lungs.
Worst cities: 1. Medan, 2. Yogyakarta, 3. Denpasar
5. SO2 emissions are produced by industrial processes. The substance can cause corneal haze, breathing difficulties, eye irritations and premature death.
Worst cities: 1. Batam, 2. Banjarmasin, 3. Tanjungpinang
Photo: JP/Nurni Sulaiman