High pollution levels hit major cities in Metro Manila as millions celebrated the start of the new year last Sunday.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said that PM2.5, a micro particle matter that causes hazardous smog, was a major pollutant.

Based on the data gathered from various air quality monitoring stations in the metropolis, many of the cities were monitored as severely polluted during the early hours of Sunday.

As of 12 a.m. of January 1, the monitoring station at the De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila recorded a PM2.5 level of 448 micrograms per normal cubic meter (ug/Ncm), while pollution levels in the cities of Paranaque, Taguig, Valenzuela and Muntinlupa were 433, 324, 285 and 175 ug/Ncm, respectively.

As of 2 a.m. of the same day, the air quality monitoring stations in Pasig City and the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City recorded PM2.5 levels of 397 and 369 ug/Ncm, respectively.

The PM2.5 levels in the cities mentioned fall under the category of extremely dangerous. This means it is no longer deemed safe to go outside without wearing a face mask, and that is not always safe.

The healthy guideline values for PM2.5 is 25 ug/Ncm annually and 50 ug/Ncm for 24-hour averaging. All stations have registered higher levels of PM2.5 compared to last year’s festivities.

On regular days, however, such as in the month of April 2015, PM2.5 readings in selected air quality monitoring stations are generally lower values: DLSU with 7 to 182 ug/Ncm ; Paranaque, 6 to 18 ug/Ncm; and Muntinlupa with 8 to 42 ug/Ncm.

The DENR attributed the high pollution levels to the continued use of fireworks and firecrackers by New Year revellers.

This was precisely the reason why the DENR has been supportive of the proposed ban on firecrackers and pyrotechnics display, according to Assistant Director Jacqueline Caancan, officer-in-charge at the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB).

The EMB, an attached agency of the DENR, regularly monitors fine particulates like PM2.5 and other pollutants present in the air.

“The DENR supports all efforts to reduce the use of firecrackers during the New Year’s Eve celebration as it significantly affects the air pollution situation in the country," Caancan said.

She added: "Experts have advised that particles in PM2.5 are able to travel deeply into a person’s respiratory tract and can cause short-term health effects and worsen medical conditions of people with asthma or heart disease."

Air pollution accounts for 1 in 8 deaths worldwide - approximately 7 million deaths in 2012, according to latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The findings doubled previous estimates from just a few years ago in 2008. WHO now characterizes air pollution as "the world’s largest single environmental health risk."

The EMB-National Capital Region operates and maintains 13 air quality monitoring stations in Metro Manila. For Quezon City, Manila and Valenzuela City, these are maintained by the EMB-Central Office.

Air quality monitoring stations are also operated and maintained in other parts of the country. A total of 14 stations are located in areas outside Metro Manila. ###