We have previously discussed the unhealthy pollution in China, particularly air pollution that has set records in the last couple years in Beijing. The situation is little better in Taipei, where a recent report found that more than 20 percent of first-graders suffer from asthma and 50 percent have allergic rhinitis, the inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. The findings of the Taiwan Association of Asthma Education reflect the human cost — particularly among children — of pollution — a cost often ignored even in this country by politicians who espouse economic over environmental values.
I recall going to Taipei over 15 years ago on a delegation and meeting with the president and top ministers. The pollution was so bad that I lost my voice within three days. They called it an “American cough” because Westerners unaccustomed to high levels of air pollution would often experience the loss of their voice or persistent coughing. At the time, the environmental minister took me to a window and pointed down into the street and told me the problem was right before my eyes. Down below the street was covered with scooters, which he said were the main cause of their problems due to their high pollution factor. The other problem is obviously congestion on the island.
To the credit of the Taiwanese, they have always been more open and public about their pollution problem than the Communist Chinese. The mainland Chinese only recently began to release pollution figures, which are still routinely criticized as manipulated. The government is particularly fearful of releasing data on the impact of the runaway pollution on children given the country’s “one child” policy. On a separate trip to Beijing about 5 years ago, I raised the likely impact on children with asthma at a conference due to the failure to address pollution. The government continues to suppress the figures on such illnesses and the links to pollution. The health impact on the mainland is likely worse than the figures in this Taipei study.
In this study, 50 percent of the first-graders in Taipei have allergic rhinitis, 20 percent have asthma and nearly 10 percent suffer from atopic dermatitis.” What is particularly alarming is that of those who were been diagnosed with asthma in 2009, 72.4 percent have failed to visit doctors regularly in the past year.
Even in this country, it is difficult to get politicians to address the deaths and illnesses caused by pollution despite studies showing the impact of truck pollution and ship pollution on the population. While politicians often profess “family values,” they routinely side with industry in fighting environmental protections needed to protect families from asthma, cancer, and other environmental hazards.