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The air pollution condition is worsening in Taiwan with over 14 inspection stations around the island issuing the severe “Purple Alert.” The Ministry of Education has devised air quality standards regarding class suspension for senior high schools and under when PM2.5 exceeds 350 micrograms, but PM2.5 going over 71 micrograms is already the maximum amount in the Purple Alert.

Environmental groups therefore express their concern, stating citizens may already feel uncomfortable under a Purple Alert and criticizes the school suspension standard of 350 micrograms to be absurd.

Liberty Times reports, according to the Ministry’s current air pollution class suspension standards, classes are cancelled for senior high schools and under once the air quality forecast hits PSI (Pollution Standards Index) 400, coarse particulate matter PM10 reaches 500 micrograms per cubic meter, or fine particulate matter PM2.5 exceeds 350 micrograms. This standard has only been breached once or twice in the past decade. The maximum PM2.5 levels in various Purple Alert areas in the past few days were only 120 micrograms, indicating that the criteria is too harsh.

China Times reports, Director of Coalition for Taiwan’s Healthy and Clean Air and obstetrician Dr. Ye Peng-guang indicates that Canada’s average PM2.5 level is seven micrograms, yet approximately 21 thousand people die prematurely due to air pollution. On the other hand, the average PM2.5 level in the US is 12 micrograms, bringing about 110 thousand premature deaths. According to this estimation, there ought to be 30 thousand to 60 thousand casualties in Taiwan, making air pollution more deadly than typhoons.

Ye says that there is no safe level for PM2.5. The lower it is, the safer. We should be alarmed when particle concentration reaches the “Red Alert” of 54 micrograms, and outdoor activities are absolutely forbidden when the Purple Alert is signaled.

However, the governmental measures taken whenever the Purple Alert is issued simply remind citizens to shorten their time outdoors, rather than taking practical means, such as withholding outdoor activity by jurisdiction, thus leaving people to inhale hazardous gases. General Director of Chunghua Environmental Protection Union Shi Yue-ying points out, “the criteria for days-off is too high,” believing that it should be loosened when children are still growing.

Central News Agency reports, Deputy Director of IT and Education Department under the Ministry of Education Liu Wen-hui implies there is no regulation regarding class suspension in the US or Japan at present, and the ones in China are even harsher than Taiwan.

Liu says that there are various issues relating to canceling school. As air quality is constantly changing, how are parents going to pick up their children in middle of work if standards are reached during class? She is also concerned that if the criteria are too low, students will wander around instead of going home.

Minister of Education Wu Se-hwa said during an interview that suspending class due to air pollution might not be in the best interests of students. The current criteria for canceling outdoors classes and suspending school are respectively 250 and 350 micrograms of PM2.5, so the ministry would prefer to review the standard of 250 micrograms.

UDN reports, as for the working class, the Ministry of Labor implies labors do get days off as long as local authorities make the official announcement. Employers are thus refrained from depriving attendance bonuses or related dispositions that are unfavorable. Yet salaries can still be subtracted under such conditions. Unlike typhoon leaves with specific regulations for wind and rainfall, it is up to the local authorities for suspension evaluation. For instance, when the gas explosion case occurred in Kaohsiung, under the consideration of “other natural hazards,” mayor Kiku Chen (also known as Chen Chu) announced work and school to be cancelled in the stricken regions.

Translated by Wade Cheng
Edited by Olivia Yang