The environmental deficit

 

traffic jam Malta

 

Going by the information available on the increased incidence of various types of cancers, both common and rare types, it is evident that the accumulated environmental impacts originating from human action is exacting its toll. Few make the link between the increased incidence of rare diseases,  cancers and environmental neglect accumulated over the years.  

Over the Christmas period, as a result of the never-ending humanitarian operations of the Community Chest Fund, we hear of the ever-increasing demand on state resources by those struck by cancer. The demand is such that the resources of the state have to be supplemented by the annual telethon which this year raised a record €5.5 million.

The advertising blitz on the switching over of Malta’s power generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to natural gas informs us that air quality in Malta will improve substantially as a result. This statement is only partially correct as the major contributor to Malta’s poor air quality was not power generation but the ubiquitous and exponential increase of cars on our roads.

The cars on our roads are part of the real “cancer factory” in operation on Maltese territory.

As is evidenced by the substantial investments channeled towards the improvement of the road infrastructure, it is clear that the political will to address this issue is very weak. Improved road infrastructure, such as the construction of flyovers to ease traffic congestion, will only increase the dependence on cars. In the long term, this improvement to the road network will hamper the drive to shift custom to public transport. Consequently, it will serve to further increase cars on our roads and will hence contribute to an increase in the output of the “cancer factory”.

Public transport has been improved as is evidenced by a gradual increase in its use. Various initiatives to encourage the use of public transport have been introduced. However, the Maltese state is sending conflicting signals when it simultaneously speaks in favor of public transport yet invests heavily to facilitate the continued domination of our roads by private cars.

Lack of adequate environmental protection in the past has contributed to an ever-accumulating environmental deficit which in turn will lead to total and complete bankruptcy as no one is in a position to bale out Mother Earth.

Environment protection is multifaceted. Addressing the different waste streams and seriously plotting the path to the 2050 zero waste targets established by Malta’s Waste Management Strategy would definitely signify that we are in earnest. However, it is certainly not enough. What about the excessive use of pesticides which still end up contaminating our food chain? Or what about our water table, which in addition to being depleted is also contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers?   I could go on and on with a never-ending list of examples.

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generations. Governments are worried by economic deficits, yet few seem to be worried by the accumulating environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

No one will bail us out from the consequences of this deficit, yet nature has its own way of extracting its dues. Climate change, the collapse of agriculture in various countries and a higher incidence of common and rare forms of cancers are all different forms of payment which nature is extracting. These bills can only be avoided (in the long term) if we switch back to operating in a manner which is compatible with nature.

Otherwise the accumulating environmental deficit will bankrupt humanity.

published on The Independent on Sunday – 1 January 2017

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L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

 

traffic.Marsa

 

Minn dak li hu magħruf dwar l-inċidenza dejjem tikber tal-cancer, jidher li l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma tal-bniedem qed ikollhom effett qawwi. Ftit huma dawk li huma konxji dwar ir-rabtiet li hemm bejn il-ħsara ambjentali u uħud mill-mard rari li s-soċjetá tagħna qegħda tiffaċċja.

Fil-ġranet tal-Milied, riżultat tal-ħidma bla heda tal-Community Chest Fund, nisimgħu dwar id-domanda ma tieqaf qatt għas-servizzi li jagħti l-istat lil dawk milquta minn kull forma ta’ cancer. Id-domanda hi tant kbira li riżorsi tal-istat huma mgħejjuna mill-ġbir li jsir waqt l-Istrina, li, din is-sena laħaq is-somma record ta’ €5.5 miljuni.

Il-Gvern qed ixandar riklami dwar il-qalba tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku minn waħda dipendenti fuq il-heavy fuel oil għal waħda dipendenti fuq il-gass naturali. F’dawn ir-riklami qed jgħidulna li ser ikollna titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja bħala riżultat ta’ din il-qalba. Din id-dikjarazzjoni (tar-riklami) hi biss parzjalment korretta. Dan minħabba li l-kontributur ewlieni għall-kwalitá tal-arja f’Malta qatt ma kienet il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku iżda n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq li donnu ma jispiċċa qatt. Huma dawn il-karozzi fit-toroq li jiffurmaw parti mill-fabbrika reali tal-cancer f’Malta.

Kif anke jidher mill-investimenti sostanzjali dedikati għal titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq huwa ċar li r-rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat hi dgħajfa. Għax iktar ma titjieb l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iktar ikunu inkoraġġiti karozzi fit-toroq, għax it-triq għalihom tkun iffaċilitata. It-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iżżid id-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan, tostakola l-ħidma biex iktar nies tuża t-trasport pubbliku.

Sar titjib fit-trasport pubbliku, anke bħala riżultat ta’ diversi inizzjattivi li ttieħdu. Imma l-pajjiż qed jagħti sinjali konfliġġenti, għax filwaqt li qiegħed jinkoraġixxi l-użu tat-transport pubbliku, fl-istess ħin qed jinvesti flejjes sostanzjali biex jiffaċilita l-kontinwazzjoni tad-dominazzjoni tat-toroq tagħna mill-karozzi.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi ħafna ħidma diversa. Jinkludi ħidma biex ikunu indirizzati b’serjetá s-sorsi differenti ta’ ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart biex b’hekk infasslu t-triq li biha rridu naslu ħalli nilħqu l-mira ta’ “skart zero”. Din hi mira stabbilita mill-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Iskart u trid tintlaħaq sal-2050. Dan ċertament li mhux biżżejjed. X’ngħidu għall-użu eċċessiv ta’ pestiċidi li mhux biss qed jikkontamina dak li jkun prodott fir-raba’ imma parti minnu jispiċċa ukoll f’dak li baqa’ mill-ilma tal-pjan?

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Kull ġenerazzjoni qed tispiċċa żżid l-impatti mingħajr ma tindirizza sewwa l-impatti akkumulati li tkun wirtet mill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha.

Il-Gvernijiet qed jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ finanzjarju imma ftit wisq minnhom jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li iktar ma jgħaddi żmien iktar qed imur għall-agħar. Ir-riżorsi tad-dinja qed jintużaw qieshom bir bla qiegħ.

In-natura għandha l-modi tagħha kif iġġiegħlna nħallsu għal dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali. It-tibdil fil-klima, l-kollass tal-agrikultura f’diversi pajjiżi kif ukoll iż-żieda qawwija ta’ kull xorta ta’ cancer huma kollha tweġiba tan-natura li biha kull wieħed minnha qiegħed jerfa’ l-piz tal-ħsara li saret lin-natura. Dawn il-kontijiet li qed tibgħatina n-natura jistgħu jonqsu fil-futur jekk nibdew minn issa ngħixu b’mod li joħloq inqas ħsara ambjentali. Jekk dan ma jseħħx il-kontijiet tan-natura, bla ebda dubju, jwasslu għal kollass totali.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – Is-Sibt 31 ta’ Diċembru 2016

The costs of air pollution

WHO.air pollution cost

The WHO report published earlier this week entitled Economic cost of the Health impact of air pollution in Europe. Clean air, health and wealth is an eye opener to many who have shut their eyes to the link between environmental and health impacts.

This follows the OECD publication last year of another publication entitled The Costs of Air Pollution.  Health impacts of road transport.

The WHO report concludes that the impact of air pollution on health is substantial both in terms of premature deaths as well as in economic terms. The data quoted by the report compares the years 2005 and 2010. In terms of premature deaths the numbers are approximately stable at 228 deaths in 2010 being attributable to excessive particulate matter in the air.

The costs, on the other hand, vary with time and increase substantially. It is estimated that, in 2010, the economic cost to Malta of air pollution stood at €550 million.

It can be safely stated that in the absence of heavy industry in Malta, land transport is the major contributor to air pollution. To this one must add local contributors in specific locations, namely :  the Delimara Power Station through the use of diesel and HFO, ships in the areas close to ports as well aircraft exhaust in areas close to the airport where aeroplanes take-off or land.

Technological advances relative to fuel efficiency have, over the years, improved the situation though a lower contribution to poor air quality by individual vehicles, ships or aeroplanes.

Unfortunately this has been more than compensated for by the exponential increase in cars on the road. At the time of writing, the latest available statistics indicate that at end 2014 there were 335,249 vehicles on our roads –  an increase of 12,289 over the previous year. Most of that increase is in the passenger car category which, at end of 2014, amounted to 265,950 vehicles or 79.33% of the total number.

This number of vehicles on our roads is excessive: at peak hours even our main roads are clogged.

This state of affairs has developed gradually throughout the years as a result of the neglected state of public transport in Malta. The half-baked reforms of public transport over the last few years have not made matters any better and it will take much longer for public transport to gain the custom of Maltese (and Gozitans) to the extent that there will be a quantifiable impact on our roads.

An efficient public transport system will, in fact, be the major contributor to a reduction of air pollution but the benefits will be multiple. More efficient roads will be the most obvious benefit. This will be accompanied by a substantial reduction in respiratory illnesses and consequently less time lost by working men and women away from their work and by students from their studies.

An efficient public transport would also mean that less money would have to be spent on improving our road system through the construction of by-passes and flyovers.

All this shows that investing in public transport will pay dividends when it comes to the state of the nation’s health.  Why has it taken so long to realise such a basic truth?

Bomba tal-ħin f’Delimara

bomb
Il-proposta ta’ Power Station f’Delimara li taħdem bil-gass flok bil-Heavy Fuel Oil ser twassal għal titjib fil-kwalita’ tal-arja f’Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuga u l-inħawi tal-madwar. Imma huwa ukoll ċar li l-preokkupazzjoni tar-residenti kif espressa fl-istudju dwar l-impatti soċjali għadha m’hiex qed tiġi indirizzata b’mod adegwat. L-istudju dwar ir-riskji mill-gass maħzun fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk m’huwiex wieħed konvinċenti.

Huwa neċessarju, anzi huwa essenzjali, li l-ħażna tal-gass għall-użu tal-Power Station tinħareg il-barra mill-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi konxja li s-soluzzjonijiet tekniċi neċessarji jirrikjedu kemm iż-żmien kif ukoll spejjeż addizzjonali sostanzjali. Huwa importanti għaldaqstant li titwarrab l-għaġġla żejda biex ikunu jistgħu jsiru dawk l-istudji addizzjonali li huma neċessarji biex ma jibqa’ l-ebda dubju li r-riskji kollha li għalihom il-komunitajiet ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuġa ġew esposti jkunu indirizzati b’mod sodisfaċenti.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi konsistenti. Dan il-kliem qalitu diversi drabi, anke waqt il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ta’ Marzu 2013 wara li l-Partit Laburista ħareġ bil-proposti tiegħu li, dakinnhar, kienu nieqsa minn informazzjoni essenzjali.

Is-saħħa u is-sigurta tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk u Birżebbuga għandhom jiġu qabel kull konsiderazzjoni oħra.

Il-kunsens nazzjonali dwar il-ħtieġa tal-użu tal-gass fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku għandu jitwettaq f’rispett sħiħ lejn ir-residenti. Jekk dan ma jsirx jista’ jwassal biex fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk tkun istallata bomba tal-ħin.

Il-gass għal Delimara: nħarsu s-saħħa u s-sigurta tar-residenti

Delimara.gas terminal

Il-ħidma biex il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku ma tibqax bl-użu ta’ żejt li jħammeġ (Heavy Fuel Oil) iżda bil-gass, minn dejjem kienet appoġġjata minn-Alternattiva Demokratika.

Kwalita’ aħjar tal-arja u traħħis fil-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma huma l-konsegwenzi diretti ta’ dan il-pass.

F’dawn il-ġranet għaddejja d-diskussjoni dwar l-istudju fuq l-impatt ambjentali ta’ dan il-proġett. Hemm qbil ġenerali fuq ħafna mill-kontenut ta’ dan l-istudju.

Mill-istudju dwar l-impatt soċjali tal-power station bil-gass iżda, toħroġ b’mod ċar il-preokkupazzjoni tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk għall-ħażna tal-ġass fuq opra tal-baħar speċjalizzata (floating gas storage facility). Huwa stmat li 91% tar-residenti ta’ Marsaxlokk ma jaqblux li l-gass għall-użu tal-power station jinħażen ġol-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

L-istudju ippreżentat dwar ir-riskju li l-ħażna tal-gass fil-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk, biswit il-power station u faċċata r-raħal ta’ Marsaxlokk, ma jikkonvinċi lil ħadd. In-nies m’hiex konvinta illi r-riskju għal saħħithom, għal ħajjithom u għall-propjeta’ tagħhom hu wieħed minimu. Mhux konvinti li r-riskju hu wieħed minimu. Mhux konvinti li r-riskju hu aċċettabbli.

Kien għalhekk f’waqtu dak li qal il-koordinatur tal-EIA li ser isir studju iktar approfondit tar-riskji involuti. Huwa tajjeb li ser isir dan l-istudju addizzjonali imma hu meħtieġ ukoll illi ma jittieħdux deċiżjonijiet mgħaġġla  qabel ma jkun konkluż dan l-istudju.  Għax sakemm ma jkunx konkluż studju konvinċenti, l-anqas temporanjament m’hu aċċettabbli li l-ħażna tal-gass għall-użu tal-power station tkun ġol-Bajja ta’ M’Xlokk.

Waqt il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ta’ nhar it-Tnejn intqal illi l-Enemalta m’għandiex flus għal soluzzjonijiet oħra, li jiswew ferm iktar kif ukoll li jieħdu iktar żmien biex jitwettqu.

Il-ħarsien tas-saħħa u l-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ M’Xlokk u Birżebbuġa kif ukoll is-sigurta’ tagħhom u ta’ ħwejjiġhom huma importanti iktar minn kollox, inkluz mill-flus li jkun meħtieġ illi jintefqu għall-proġett. Nittama biss li qabel ma jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet ikollna f’idejna l-studju li jgħarbel sewwa r-riskji u dan biex ħadd ma jibqagħlu iktar dubji.

Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien tgħid li din hi d-diffikulta unika u reali tal-proġett tal-Power Station f’Delimara li jaħdem bil-gass. Is-saħħa u s-sigurta’ tar-residenti jiġu qabel kollox.

ippubblikata fuq iNews l-Erbgħa 29 ta’ Jannar 2014

Il-gass għal Delimara

gazprom

Il-gazzetti tal-lum, kif ukoll is-siti tal-aħbarijiet online jitkellmu dwar ir-respons internazzjonali għas-sejħa ta’ interess li għamel il-Gvern biex jibni power station li taħdem bil-gass kif ukoll biex eventwalment jaqleb għall-gass ukoll l-impjant tal-BWSC.

L-issues illum għadhom l-istess kif kienu waqt il-kampanja elettorali b’xi differenzi żgħar imma importanti.

L-ewwel punt importanti dejjem kien u għadu li l-gass iħammeġ inqas mill-heavy fuel oil li qed jintuża illum. Indubjament dan iwassal biex titjib il-kwalita’ tal-arja fl-inħawi madwar Delimara. Kemm ser jiswa’ l-gass u x’garanzija ta’ prezzijiet jista’ jkun hemm? X’joffri is-suq?

Waqt il-kampanja elettorali il-Partit Laburista kien qalilna li is-suq joffri garanzija ta’ provista’ ta’ għaxar snin liema garanzija tfisser prezz fiss għal għaxar snin. Imma fis-sejħa li ħarġet dawn l-għaxar snin jidher li diġa niżlu għal ħames snin. Jiġifieri diġa hu ċar li ma jistax ikun hemm garanzija ta’ prezz u ta’ provista għal 10 snin. Jekk il-proposti sottomessi l-bierah jindirizzawx din l-issue jew le għad irridu naraw. Waqt il-kampanja elettorali, xahrejn ilu, diġa kien jidher li kien ser ikun diffiċli li jkun hemm garanzija ta’ prezz u provista għal iktar minn tlett snin.

Forsi tgħiduli li fin-negozju kollox possibli sakemm tħallas! Huwa veru, imma għad irridu naraw kif dan kollu ser ikun rifless fin-nefqa u fl-aħħar fil-prezzijiet. Għax il-problema qatt ma kienet dwar jekk hux possibli li jkun hemm impjant li jaħdem bil-gass imma kif dan ser ikun rifless fil-prezzijiet tal-elettriku ġġenerat.

Waqt il-kampanja, għan-nom ta’ Alternattiva Demorkatika bl-iktar mod ċar kemm jiena kif ukoll kelliema oħra, għidna li l-proposta Laburista għall-power station li taħdem bil-gass tista’ tkun proposta tajba. Iżda l-informazzjoni dakinnhar biex issostni l-proposta Laburista kienet fjakka. Għadha fjakka sal-lum.

Kien hemm u għad hemm xi oqsma li ma kienux ċari.

L-ewwel: kemm hu possibli li proġett ta’ din l-entita’ jitlesta f’sentejn? It-tieni: bl-ispejjes meħtieġa kemm hu fattibbli dak li qed jgħid il-Labour Party li jorħsu l-kontijiet?  It-tielet: x’ispejjes ittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni biex il-Labour Party wasal għall-konklużjonijiet tiegħu?

Il-Labour Party waqt il-kampanja elettorali qal li kellu studji dettaljati lesti. Kellu ukoll konsulenti, mingħalija Daniżi, li qalu illi tali studji kienu jeżistu u li l-proposti kienu fattibbli.

Imma dokumenti li jissostanzjaw dak li qal il-Labour Party qatt ma ġew ippubblikati. L-iskuża dejjem kienet waħda ta’ sensittivita’ kummerċjali. Li il-PL ma riedx jikxef idejh. It-trasparenza a jidhirx li hi l-forte tal-Labour!

Ħlief ismijiet ta’ ditti rinomati s’issa m’għandniex. Dawn l-ismijiet ifissru li dawn id-ditti bħax-Shell, Gazprom, Daewoo, Edison …………… huma interessati għax f’dan l-istadju jaħsbu li hi proposta li minnha jistgħu jagħmlu biċċa business tajba. Issa jekk dan hux fl-interess ta’ Malta ukoll għad irridu naraw.

 

The Quality of Life Account

Considering the Delimara power station extension in terms of the integrated pollution prevention and control application, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority asked Enemalta to submit an economic study on the different fuels that could be used. With a working language in euros, the study inevitably ends up considering whether preventing or reversing air quality degradation is, in fact, feasible due to the costs involved. I am being crude but that is basically what it entails.

It has been explained elsewhere that opting for gas oil instead of heavy fuel oil (HFO) will result in 37.75 per cent lower emissions of PM2.5 (particulate matter having up to 2.5 microns diameter).

Cubed Consultants Limited, author of the Delimara cost benefit analysis, recognises that gas oil has a better emissions performance than HFO. It arrives at this conclusion notwithstanding the incomplete information at its disposal, which information ignores a number of significant HFO emissions.

Cubed Consultants Limited concludes that there is an immediately apparent trade-off between low financial costs and high emission costs: they balance each other out! This may be so in the context of the economic philosophy adopted by Enemalta’s consultants but in the real world things work out differently.

The high emission costs are billed elsewhere. The health account foots part of the bill shouldering higher expenses for health care in general and respiratory ailments in particular. The quality of life account foots the rest of the bill. As a result of opting for lower fuel expenses the higher emissions produced will affect residents in the areas impacted. The varying impacts on their health will reduce their quality of life. Residents in neighbouring areas will also share the effects of the lower air quality.

One of the documents submitted to Mepa by the Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa and Żejtun local councils in reply to Enemalta’s IPPC submissions is authored by medical doctor Jason Bonnici and deals with the health effects of air pollution.

Dr Bonnici refers to studies carried out in Atlanta, US in 1996 both before and after the Olympic Games. As a result of measures taken to reduce air pollution during the three weeks of the Games, various indicators (ozone, NO2, carbon monoxide, PM10…) registered a substantial decrease. PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 microns diameter) for example, registered a 16 per cent decrease over the pre-Games levels.

As a result, Atlanta achieved a 40 per cent reduction of consultations in medical practices for asthma in children and a decline of between 11 and 19 per cent of asthma-related visits to emergency departments.

In Beijing, during the 2008 Olympic Games, similar efforts to reduce pollution resulted in a reduction of 31 per cent in PM2.5 and 35 per cent in PM10 concentrations. Results on the impacts of this achievement on health are not yet available.

Faced with this information, it is clear that the generation of air pollution through the use of HFO comes at a heavy health and environmental cost. No amount of economic benefit may balance out the reduction in the quality of life of those whose health is impaired. That is if they live on, as studies quoted by Dr Bonnici indicate an increased death rate in areas that experience the impact of high level PM2.5 and PM10 emissions.

Now, the PM2.5 and PM10 emissions measured by Mepa at Birżebbuġa and Marsaxlokk in April and May 2011 are already very high. Average PM2.5 daily readings measured 52.50μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 34.70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa in contrast with the EU mandatory target value of 25μg/m3. On the other hand, average PM10 daily readings measured 54.10μg/m3 at Marsa­xlokk and 70μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. The EU mandatory daily average is of 50μg/m3.

Faced with this reality, Mepa should feel in duty bound to ensure that the fuel option with the least impacts is selected. It is gas oil that pollutes the least and, hence, it presents the minimum of environmental and health impacts.

There is one further point that Edward Mallia has illustrated time and again. The cost to produce a unit of electricity at the Delimara extension making use of gas oil as a fuel is cheaper than what it presently costs at the Marsa power station using HFO. In the local councils’ documents presented to Mepa, Prof. Mallia and engineer Arthur Ciantar present the workings proving that it is not correct to state that using gas oil instead of HFO would lead to higher electricity bills.

Reducing health and environmental issues to prices and incremental costs or savings tends to lead to a situation of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, particularly the value of human life. Euros are not a suitable tool to measure the value of human life, health, the quality of life and the environment.

The ball is now in Mepa’s court. In the next few weeks, we will be able to comprehend the extent to which human life, health, quality of life and environmental issues are factored in (if at all) when important decisions are taken by Mepa.

Published in The Times, October 29,  2011

Taking their breath away

Enemalta decided to use heavy fuel oil at the Delimara power station extension during the tendering process for the power generating plant. The installed equipment, however, can function through the use of either HFO or gas oil. The former is a heavy polluter, the latter polluting substantially less.

Pollution in the Marsaxlokk Bay area affects Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa and Żejtun. It is made up of accumulated emissions from Marsa and Delimara power stations, land transport and emissions from air traffic in the flight path over Birżebbuġa prior to landing.

The Malta Environment and Planning Authority has concluded public consultation on Enemalta’s integrated pollution prevention and control application to operate the Delimara power station extension. During this consultation, Mepa released an air dispersion modelling report it commissioned. Authored by Maltese consultants Ecoserve Ltd with their Austrian partners, the report is dated August 2011.

The report applies a range of numerical simulation models for air quality impact assessment to the Delimara power station and its extension in a domain around the plant. The Ecoserve report, utilising emission data supplied by Enemalta, concludes that present accumulated emissions in the Marsa­xlokk Bay area are well within the limits of the EU Clean Air Directive. It then goes on to simulate the emissions when the Delimara extension starts functioning and the Marsa power station is switched off.

Now this conclusion contrasts with other information contained in the study. Limiting myself to particulate matter, data collected over a four-week period by Mepa and reproduced in the Ecoserve study shows that in the period under the spotlight particulate matter present in the air at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa was well in excess of permissible limits in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive.

Average PM2.5 daily readings measured 52.50 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 34.7 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa whereas maximum readings were 149 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 61 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. This contrasts with the target value of 25 μg/m3 for PM2.5, which is mandatory in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive. This means an average reading of 210 per cent of the EU limits for Marsaxlokk and 139 per cent for Birżebbuġa.

On the other hand, average PM10 readings measured 54.10 μg/m3 for Marsaxlokk and 70 μg/m3 for Birżebbuġa while maximum readings were 154 μg/m3 at Marsaxlokk and 250 μg/m3 at Birżebbuġa. This contrasts with the limit value of 50 μg/m3 (daily average) that is mandatory in terms of the EU Air Quality Directive. This means an average reading of eight per cent above the EU limits for Marsaxlokk and 40 per cent above EU limits for Birżebbuġa.

In contrast, the simulation exercise “assuming the worst case scenario meteorology for 2010” concludes an annual average of 12.1 μg/m3 of PM10 with just four cases when the EU limit is exceeded! As the EU directive permits exceedances on not more than 35 occasions, the simulation exercise concludes that all would be fine at Marsaxlokk Bay.

(PM10 refers to particulate matter up to 10 microns in diameter whereas PM2.5 refers to particulate matter up to 2.5 microns in diameter.)

The Ecoserve study does not explain how this discrepancy between the conclusions of the simulation exercise and the Mepa actual readings in Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa is to be interpreted. Both Mepa and its contractor, Ecoserve Ltd, have a lot of explaining to do.

Mepa also has a duty to explain why the request by local councils for a long-term air monitoring exercise at Marsaxlokk and Birżebbuġa was not acted upon. Having data covering a longer time frame would lead to more robust conclusions relative to air quality at Marsaxlokk Bay. As things stand, having a contrast between simulated and real-life data, I would not hesitate one second to give more weight to the data actually measured. As to the projections into the future they simply cannot be relied upon.

Particulate matter present in the air gives rise to various issues of health. These fine particles originate primarily through the combustion of fuels, their chemical composition depending on the fuel from which they originate. The coarser particles when inhaled by humans lodge in the upper respiratory tract while the finer ones deposit themselves inside the lungs and are absorbed into the bloodstream causing a multitude of health problems.

As indicated by various studies, the excessive presence of particulate matter in the air is one of the causes of various respiratory ailments notably asthma, the incidence of which, according to medical general practitioners in the area, has been rising considerably in the Marsaxlokk Bay area over the past years.

In view of the above, it is clear that the choice of fuel on which the Delimara power station extension is run will contribute significantly to air quality in the Marsaxlokk Bay area. Use of HFO will take our breath away as it would increase the emission of particulate matter. Using gas oil, on the other hand, would ensure lower emissions and give the opportunity of breathing cleaner air to the community residing around the Marsaxlokk Bay.

published in The Times, October 15 , 2011 under the title :

A Choice which Takes Our Breath Away

The circus has come to town

  

 

When considering the draft National En­vironment Policy some patience is required. On one hand it is a detailed document covering a substantial number of environmental issues. However, its exposition of the issues to be tackled contrasts starkly with the government’s environmental performance throughout its long term in office.

The draft policy says more about the government than about the environment. It collates together the accumulated environmental responsibilities the government should have been addressing throughout the past years. The draft policy tells us: this is what the government ought to have done. It further tells us that in the next 10 years, the government will try its best to remedy its past failures by doing what it should do.

The government’s words and action are in sharp contrast, as I have been repeatedly pointing out in these columns. In late 2007, Cabinet approved the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which, although being less detailed than today’s draft National Environment Policy, says practically the same things. It also covers a 10-year period (2007-2016), half of which has elapsed without the set targets having been addressed. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi is the Cabinet member politically responsible for this failure. Having failed repeatedly, I find it difficult to think how he could be trusted to deliver on environmental or sustainability issues.

On the basis of this experience, it is reasonable to dismiss the government’s media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin where the draft National Environment Policy was launched as just another exercise in rhetoric.

It is definitely not a sudden conversion in favour of environmental issues that moved the government to act. The present exercise is the result of society’s metamorphosis, which came about as a direct consequence of years of environmental activism in Malta. Civil society has pushed a reluctant Nationalist-led government to this point.

No one in his right senses can quarrel with the proposed National Environment Policy in principle. Yet, it is a fact that the environment has always been the Cinderella of government business. All talk and little walk. A clear example is the adjudication process of the Delimara power station extension. When the submitted tenders were adjudicated, it resulted that the submissions that were technically and environmentally superior were considered less favourably than the tender that was perceived as being economically more advantageous. When push comes to shove, environmental issues are not given priority, the adjudication criteria being skewed in favour of perceived economic gain.

All this contrasts with the declarations in favour of green procurement in the draft National Environment Policy. In defending the decision on the use of heavy fuel oil in the power station extension, government spokesmen are in fact stating that while the environment is the government’s political priority it still retains the right to have second thoughts whenever it takes an important decision.

When the government plays around with its declared environmental convictions with the ease of a juggler, it sows serious doubts on its intentions. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment is doing his best to convince that, under his watch, the environment carries weight it is clear to all that he has not succeeded in wiping the slate clean. He is still conditioned by the attitudes and the decisions taken by his boss and colleagues in the recent past. Their attitudes have not changed at all. Old habits die hard.

On a positive note, I have to state that the process leading to the draft National Environment Policy submitted for public consultation was one which involved civil society. A number of proposals submitted by civil society, including those in an AD document submitted to Mario de Marco, were taken on board. I also had the opportunity to discuss the draft policy and AD’s views with Dr de Marco on more than one occasion. The discussions were, in my opinion, beneficial.

The problem the government has so far failed to overcome is that it preaches one thing and continually does the opposite. The only times when it carries out positive environment action is when it is forced on this course by EU legislation or by threats of EU infringement proceedings. Within this context, declarations that Malta aims to go beyond the requirement of the EU’s acquis are, to say the least, hilarious. It would have been much better if the basics of the EU environmental acquis are first put in place.

The environmental initiatives taken during the past seven years have been mostly funded by the EU.

They would not have been possible without such funding.

By spelling it out, the draft National Environment Policy defines the government’s past failures. Hopefully, it also lays the groundwork for the required remedial action. The environmental destruction the government has facilitated and encouraged will take a long time to remedy. In some cases, the damage done is beyond repair.

Beyond the entertainment value of the media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin, these first steps are just the beginning of a long journey. For the sake of Malta’s future generations I hope that the government does not go astray once more.