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Date: August 2010 - Tahiti

ECO FENUA
Status of atmosphere pollution in French Polynesia

Air pollution in Tahiti. If it exists, it cannot be quantified.
Announced more than ten years ago the project of a network monitoring air quality in Polynesia, and namely for "Greater Papeete" (over 35 km of coastal plain) still hasn't taken off. In the absence of official measurements, it is therefore impossible to know today the level of atmospheric pollution in Tahiti.

A priori, it is certain that the islands and even Tahiti, except for its urban area, are not affected by any air pollution. The trade winds and the small industrial development generate a full serenity on 95% of the Polynesian ground.
But there is still "Greater Papeete". And if you go there early in the morning when the winds are not very powerful, you will "smell" that air pollution is more than real. The smof generated by the big traffic jams is simply hard to breath, but not measurable in the absence of necessary equipment. 

First responsible for this truly real pollution, is transportation. The infernal increase in the number of cars on the island blows one's mind. Nearly 120,000 vehicles enter and leave Papeete every day. As to public transportation, while buses are not very present and their schedules still poorly suited, their average age and their general maintenance conditions pose some real questions about the pollution they must generate. In the absence of mandatory technical control, nearly 50% of local automobiles would not be authorized to run in Metropolitan France for example.

 But this is not the only source of pollution in our urban area. Industrial zones around the city also generate pollution, the Electricité de Tahiti factories to start with, also generate pollution with their power plants running on heavy fuel (70% of production).  The implementation of a network to control air quality has been studied for much too long. It is more than time to concretize it.   

The first steps of the implementation of an air quality control system in Tahiti.

Sulfur Dioxide (power plants), Nitric dioxide and carbon monoxide (road traffic) are the main components of air pollution. But to get this problem under control, we have first to measure the rate of particles in the air.

This desire to control air quality in Tahiti goes back to more than 20 years. Two decades later we are still at the same point, after long and costly studies and so many Ministers of the Environment.   Starting in 1991, a study showed that Papeete's center city (namely around the market) had lead and volatile organic components in frightening quantities.
In 1999, another study was supposed to delimit the risk of atmospheric pollution. It showed that road traffic and industries were mainly responsible of increasing air pollution around Papeete.
A strong and frightening alert signal, but before everything, did we need to order such a study to know what we already knew. And above all, not take any measures after reading such conclusions? In the meantime, an important increase in respiratory diseases in Tahiti made it possible to verify, if we still needed it, that air pollution was reaching frightening levels.

In 2005, two companies called by the Ministry of the Environment conducted a great study on the implementation of a network to monitor air quality. A French measuring devices manufacturer was contacted for the purchase and the setting up of adequate equipment. The declared objective was to measure with precision the pollution peaks in order to quickly warn the affected populations.   Water has flowed under the bridges and the population is still waiting, Meanwhile "Greater Papeete's" air pollution never stops to increase. Bring in the electric cars:
But let's reassure our tourists: in the other islands and all around Tahiti, air pollution is quasi inexistent.

See other articles in the series Eco-Fenua:
  In Brief (5 species of migratory birds protected in Polynesia - Killer snails - Brown seaweeds Turbinaria ornata)
  The lavatubes
  Pearl farming
  Agriculture


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