Wear face masks, Philippine palace tells people exposed to haze

TAGBILARAN CITY - Some residents here have started to wear face masks after falling ill from the haze in the city.

Ma. Galilea Arado, 49, was wearing a face mask because she feared that the gray smoke would worsen her asthma.

"I have allergy to smoke and dust and I am afraid the haze could trigger my asthma," Arado said. She will wear the mask until the haze goes away, she said.

Arlene Pesquira, 40, said she had fallen sick since last week.

"My eyes and throat have been irritated since last week, but I am not sure if it is due to the haze," Pesquira said. She also said her daughter, Celian Janica, 12, had been coughing since Friday when haze began to blanket the city.

In Manila, Malacañang yesterday asked residents of the Visayas and Mindanao exposed to haze from the Indonesian forest fires to wear face masks.

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. relayed the warning of the Department of Health (DOH) to the public, especially those already suffering from respiratory ailments and breathing problems.

In an interview over government-run Radyo ng Bayan, Coloma said all public hospitals were prepared to give medical services to people showing symptoms of respiratory problems resulting from dense haze blanketing the skies in southern parts of the Philippines.

Coloma said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in coordination with other agencies, was monitoring air conditions over Mindanao.

Of particular interest to environmental officials are fine particulate matters in the air, or PM 2.5, referring to droplets or tiny particles in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width. (There are 25,400 microns in an inch).

According to scientists, the fine particles can reach deep into the respiratory tract and lungs, and may cause coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, among other effects. Exposure may also aggravate existing medical conditions like asthma.

Coloma said there were only "a few times" when the amount of PM 2.5 had exceeded the standard in the monitoring stations in Mindanao.

He cited a report from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) that the thickening haze over Mindanao was brought by equatorial winds pushed by Typhoon "Lando" (international name: Koppu).

Coloma said Environment Secretary Ramon Paje was also coordinating with other environmental ministers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the best approaches to the problem, and to exchange information.

Hermes Hinlayagan of the Pagasa station in Bohol said the haze in the province yesterday was not as severe as in the previous days.

In Negros Occidental, Pagasa forecaster Melvin Fierro Sr. said the haze was observed to be thickest in the southern part the province on Saturday and to a lesser degree yesterday.

In Cotabato City, Pagasa's Roy Jumawan said yesterday that he expected the skies to clear in the days ahead. "The haze is still here, although it's thinner now," he said.

In Puerto Princesa City, the local Pagasa office said yesterday that it was monitoring a "light" smog gathering over southern Palawan province, likely blown to the areas by the northeast monsoon.

On Saturday, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines allowed several flights in and out of the Cotabato City airport after suspending operations for about a week because of the Indonesian haze.

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