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Clean air still scarce in the capital

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite aggressive campaigning for more eco-friendly fuel usage in the capital, the number of clean-air days has continued its downward spiral, an official air quality quarterly report reveals.

As of April 17, Jakartans enjoyed "good" air quality for only 23 days, which were thanks largely to frequent rains that swept the city's dust, known as particulate matter PM10, from the air and into the atmosphere.

Last year, for the same period -- the first four months of the year -- the city had 32 days of good air.

"Healthier air quality comes on rainy days," the City Environmental Board's (BPLHD) head of natural resources monitoring, Rina Suryani, said Saturday.

Rina said the PM10 average for this year's first quarter was 43 micrograms per cubic meter, far lower than the tolerable standard of 150 micrograms per cubic meter.

"However, we also recorded several days during which the PM10 parameter exceeded the standard."

Rina predicts that air quality will continue to decline with the coming dry season, which is expected to begin next month.

The city administration was elated when it learned that in Q1 last year, 32 days earned a "good" air grading, which it claimed was a direct and immediate result of the implementation of the air pollution control bylaw.

Throughout 2005, Jakarta recorded 45 good air days.

The 2005 bylaw on air pollution control requires all modes of public transportation to use compressed natural gas (CNG) and that all private vehicles undergo biannual emissions tests.

None of the programs, which were first launched last year, run well -- with the exception of the CNG scheme.

First introduced in 2004, the busway project was also designed to alleviate the use of fossil fuels. Of the 15 planned routes, the city currently operates seven busway corridors spanning 99.95 kilometers across Jakarta.

The seven routes are serviced by around 225 buses, of which 126 run on CNG. The administration plans to eventually have 363 units operating in the seven corridors.

In light of the transportation sector contributing 80 percent of the city's air pollution, the busway project was aimed at promoting public transportation and encouraging Jakartans to leave their private vehicles at home.

Data from the administration shows that some 2.5 million private cars and 3.8 million motorcycles are on the city's roads during weekdays.

The sheer magnitude of vehicles on the city's streets then causes daily severe traffic congestion. As traffic congestion worsens, the city's air becomes more polluted.

However, clean air campaigners have long doubted the validity of the city's air quality tests because of the poorly-maintained state of the five existing air quality monitors.

The monitors measure the concentrations of five main pollutants -- PM10, nitrogen oxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and ozone (O3)-- all of which can have detrimental effects on health, can harm the environment and can cause property damage.

The higher the percentage of the five pollutants, the worse the city's air quality will be.

Rina identified ozone (O3), which exceeds the standard of 30 micrograms per cubic meter, as the most prevalent of the pollutants.

In January, the ozone composition reached 43.59 micrograms per cubic meter.

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