Tniġġiż tal-arja fil-portijiet

Il-kwalità tal-arja fil-portijiet tagħna hi ta’ tħassib kbir. Niddependu minnha biex nieħdu n-nifs. Ir-residenti fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-portijiet qed isiru iktar konxji ta’ dan u jinsistu b’qawwa li tittieħed azzjoni. Ilkoll huma mħassbin miż-żieda astronomika fil-mard respiratorju madwarhom u fil-pajjiż kollu.

Madwar sena ilu l-għaqda ambjentali Maltija Birdlife flimkien ma’ esperti minn għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża ħadet sehem f’eserċizzju li fih tkejlet il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li nġabru minn madwar il-Port il-Kbir kienu jindikaw presenza għolja ta’ trab fin, li ħafna drabi jispiċċa fil-pulmun tagħna.

Il-Port il-Kbir hu ċentru ta’ attività marittima. Jinkludi terminal tal-cruise liners li tul dawn l-aħħar ħames snin kellu medja ta’ 300 cruise liner fis-sena li ġie Malta.

Il-Cruise liners jużaw ħafna elettriku.

Il-grupp ambjentali T & E (Transport and Environment) f’ rapport li kien ħareġ u li kien hemm referenza għalih fil-media lokali, kien qal li l-emmissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-cruise liners li żaru Malta żdiedu biex fl-2017 kienu madwar 148 darba tal-emissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-karozzi karozzi kollha fil-gżejjer Maltin dakinnhar. Din il-konklużjoni kienu waslu għaliha meta studjaw informazzjoni li kisbu mis-satelliti.

L-istazzjon televiżiv Ingliż Channel 4, f’rapport investigattiv li xandar madwar sentejn ilu li kien jiffoka fuq il-linja tal-cruise liners P & O kien ikkonkluda li t-tniġġiż li joħloq cruise liner li jġorr madwar 2,000 passiġġier matul kull ġurnata li jopera kien ekwivalenti għat-tniġġiż ta’ miljun karozza kuljum. Dawn il-vapuri l-kbar jagħmlu użu mill-heavy fuel oil, żejt li kif smajna ħafna drabi tul is-snin iħammeġ ħafna. Fost oħajn fih ammont għoli ta’ kubrit – madwar 3,500 darba daqs kemm hemm fil-fuel li jintuża għall-karozzi.

Jista’ jkun hemm nuqqas ta’ qbil fuq iċ-ċifri eżatti tal-emissjonijiet minn dawn il-vapuri. Ħadd iżda ma jkkontesta li dawn huma sostanzjali.

Il-komunità internazzjonali tfittex kontinwament li tirregola dak li jseħħ fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Aħna, iżda, bħala pajjiż għandna noqgħodu ferm iktar attenti għal dak li qed jiġri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra tagħna. L-emissjonijiet, b’mod partikolari dawk ta’ trab fin minn vapuri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra Maltin għandhom impatt dirett fuq il-komunitajiet residenzjali li jgħixu fil-madwar. Dan jgħodd b’mod partikolari għall-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir kif ukoll għal dawk fill-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Hemm żewġ materji partikolari li għandhom jingħataw prijorità. L-ewwel nett hemm ħtieġa li l-awtoritajiet regolatorji Maltin jinfurzaw b’mod strett ir-regoli ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea li jobbligaw lill-operaturi tal-vapuri li fil-portijiet juzaw zjut li jniġġsu inqas u b’mod partikolari li dawn ikollhom kontenut baxx ta’ kubrit. It-tieni miżura meħtieġa hi dwar it-titjib fl-infrastruttura tal-portijiet tagħna biex ikun possibli illi l-vapuri li jidħlu fil-portijiet tagħna jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art u b’hekk ikun possibli illi jintfew il-ġeneraturi tal-elettriku fuq il-vapuri. Miżura ta’ din ix-xorta telimina t-tniġġiż tal-vapuri fil-portijiet tagħna minn dak il-mument li jitfew il-ġeneraturi.

F’Malta diġa saru tal-inqas żewġ studji dwar l-implikazzjonijiet kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jkollhom jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art. L-ewwel studju kien sar fuq talba ta’ Transport Malta u kien konkluż fl- 2014 filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed, li kienkonkluż fl-2018 kien ġie kkummissjonat mill-management tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Iż-żewġ studji kkonkludew illi kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jibdew jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat mill-art, meta jkunu fil-portijiet tagħna, ikun hemm titjib sostanzjali fil-kwalità tal-arja fl-istess portijiet u fil-lokalitajiet kollha li jmissu magħhom. Ir-rapporti jikkonkludu ukoll li dwar jekk dan jaqbilx ekonomikament jew le, fl-aħħar jiddependi fuq kif jaġixxu l-kompetituri tagħna!

Irridu nistaqsu mistoqsija waħda ċara: jagħmel sens li ninkoraġixxu u niddependu fuq ħidma ekonomika li tagħmel ħsara lil saħhitna?

It-tweġiba għal din il-mistoqsija hi ovvjament le. Il-portijiet tagħna huma riżors prezzjuz li għandna nużawh biex intejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-kommunitajiet madwar il-kosta.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 18 t’Awwissu 2019

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Air Pollution in our ports

The quality of the air we breath in our major ports is worrying. More residents in the areas around our ports are aware of this and are demanding action: they are all worried by the astronomic increases in the incidence of respiratory illnesses.

Around 12 months ago Maltese eNGO Birdlife carried out an air quality measurement exercise with the support of German experts from the German eNGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU). Air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicted the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which ends up in our lungs.

The Grand Harbour is a hub of shipping activity and also includes a cruise liner terminal which, during the last five years, has had an average annual call rate of over 300 cruise liners.

Cruise liners make use of a large amount of electricity.  In a report covered in the local media, the campaign group T & E (Transport and Environment) said that sulphur emissions from cruise liners visiting Malta in 2017 were around 148 times as much as those emitted from the entire car fleet on the islands. This conclusion was reached after analysing satellite data.

In an investigative report it carried out two years ago focused on the P & O cruise liner company, the UK Television Channel 4 concluded that a cruise liner carrying around two thousand passengers had a daily pollution equivalent to one million cars. Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which contains 3.5% sulphur – 3,500 times what is permitted in road fuel. There may be a lack of agreement on the exact figures for emissions from the shipping industry, but no one contests that they are substantial.

The international community continuously deals with what happens on the high seas. We can, however, deal more appropriately with what goes on in our ports. Particulate emissions in our ports by the shipping industry has a direct bearing on the residential communities surrounding our ports, notably Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay.

There are two specific issues which need to be prioritised. The first is for the regulatory authorities to ensure that EU legislation on restricting fuel use to the low sulphur type is observed. The second concerns the need to focus on infrastructural improvements in our ports to facilitate supplying the shipping industry with shore-based electricity, as a result ensuring that the ships’ generators – and consequently the resulting emissions to air –  stops when the ship berthed.

Two studies have already been carried out in Malta on the implications of a shore-to-ship electricity supply for the shipping industry. The first, which was completed in 2014, was carried out by Transport Malta and the second, carried out on behalf of the Malta Freeport Terminals, was completed in 2018. Both studies came to the conclusion that if the shipping industry changed to shore-side electricity there would be a substantial improvement in air quality in our ports. The issue of feasibility, however, is substantially dependent on what our competitors decide!

Does it make sense to keep encouraging economic activity that harms our health? The answer to this question is a definite “no”. Our ports are a most precious natural resource that we should use to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 August 2019

Beyond the trees

The public debate of the Central Link project is currently concentrated on the manner in which it will impact the tree population along its route. It is an important discussion because it is concentrating on one of the visible impacts of the project. The trees should definitely by protected and preferably increased in number.

However the number of trees impacted is just an (important) detail. There are other “important details” which need to be considered, amongst which the agricultural land to be taken up, the emissions – which need to be reduced, in particular the minute particulate matter- as well as noise pollution.

Little discussion has, however, ensued on the basic question: do we need the proposed improvement of the road network?

To answer this basic issue, we need to consider the different options available to facilitate sustainable mobility around our islands. These are options that are available to each and every one of us, but do we make use of them?

Why do we make use of private cars for very short distances? Are we aware of the fact that around 50 per cent of journeys in private cars on our roads are of under 15 minutes duration?

To answer the basic question we cannot just focus on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is, in reality, the effect and not the cause of our transport problems: it means that our roads are bursting at the seams. We need to consider the issue in depth and in a holistic manner.

The National Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands does just that. When considering the proposals listed in the Master Plan, it is not a question of pick and choose: it is an integrated plan. Some of the proposals are easy to implement, others are tough as they strike at the real cause of our transport problems: our behaviour. Little effort is being expended in this direction.

The operational objectives for road transport in the Master Plan place great emphasis on the need to reduce the role of the car in the busy congested urban areas as well as on the provision of alternatives to private vehicular demand in these areas.

Unfortunately, instead of implementing these basic operational objectives Transport Malta is focusing on increasing the capacity of the road network in order to address traffic congestion. As a result, it is addressing the effects and ignoring the cause of the miserable state of our road network.

Government’s policy of massive investment in the road network, will, in the long term, be counter-productive as it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads and, consequently, cause more congestion.

Just throwing money at problems in the form of substantial subsidies of public transport is not as effective as we would like. The positive impacts of these and other subsidies are being cancelled out through the massive road network investment: a declaration that the private car is the preferred mode of transport of the policy maker.

As a result, the clear message of Malta’s transport policy is that public transport is only tolerated as life is only made easy for the users of private vehicles. It should, in fact, be the other way around.

The National Transport Master Plan clearly emphasises that the lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

It is about time that the government starts implementing its own Master Plan which so far it has consistently ignored.

published in The Independent on Sunday : 24 June 2018

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?

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