Following the eruption of the Taal volcano on Sunday afternoon, ashfall spread to neighboring areas including Metro Manila, sending residents into a frenzy in buying dust masks and N95 masks for protection. However, reports of hoarding and overpricing soon followed, prompting the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to send out a warning that “those found to have unreasonably increased their prices” shall be dealt with “to the fullest extent of the law."
If you do not have dust masks at hand, there is no need to panic just yet. According to information provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), air quality in parts of Metro Manila had improved by Monday evening, with the highest level of dust (called Particulate Matter or PM 10) registering at 77 in North Caloocan, which is considered moderate or fair.
There may not even be a need to hoard face masks if you are living in Metro Manila, says Dr. Gerry Bagtasa of the University of the Philippines Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology. In a report by Inquirer.net, the scientist, who specializes in researching air quality, explained that the weather, along with land cooling at nighttime, actually prevented volcanic ash from descending to the surface in Metro Manila.
“But most of the ash plume [blown toward Metro Manila] descended only up to 3 km,” he told reporters. “The finer ash was not able to reach the ground surface… The ashfall observed in some areas [is] relatively huge, which [was] pulled down by gravity.”
He added that the ash and dust that covered vehicles in the metro were too large to be inhaled. But since residents felt much of the ashfall, this led to the panic buying of masks.
Dr. Balagtasa says most of the population does not need to use N95 masks since air quality has improved. However, those who are vulnerable to respiratory conditions like asthma will benefit from wearing one.
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“’Pag sinabing moderate, hindi naman lahat ng tao magkakasakit or mauubo. So ‘yung mga vulnerable na tao — mga bata, matatanda, mga may sakit sa lungs, may asthma — sila ang unang makakaramdam nitong air pollution na ito. Sila, kailangan nila noong mask na iyon, even at relatively low levels, [to] moderate levels,” Balagtasa said as reported by Rappler.
But ashfall or not, face masks can still be helpful on ordinary days. Try layering surgical masks on your mouth and nose — three layers will increase your protection from ashfall and small particles by 75 to 90 percent — and can be helpful when dealing with Metro Manila’s daily pollution.
Dealing with ashfall in your home? Click here for a guide on how to properly clean it.