National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) senior scientist Muhayatun Santoso said on March 8 that the body had been able to master a nuclear analysis technique (TAN) which was considered the only non-destructive method to detect air pollutant sized below 2.5 micrometer.

Air pollution has been seen as a serious concern in many cities because it could negatively impact people’s health. World Health Organisation (WHO) 2012 data showed there were 2.6 million deaths in the West Pacific and Southeast Asian regions caused by air pollution.

“People in Asia are at the maximum risk from air pollution because more than 50 percent of the world’s major cities is located in Asia. Half of them has problems of rapid population growth, urbanisation, transportation and industrialisation,” said Muhayatun.

Air quality assessments have been done on CO, SO2, NOx, O3 and PM 10 to calculate air pollution standard index, said Muhayatun. Meanwhile, there are also hazardous particles sized below 2.5 micrometer (PM-2.5) which can even penetrate through the deepest part of humans’ lungs.

Indonesia needs comprehensive assessment and studies on PM-2.5 because the Southeast Asian nation lacks data and research on that matter, said Muhayatun. Together with the environment and forestry ministry, Batan has studied air quality in 16 major cities in Indonesia, such as Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Medan and Jayapura.

Not only it enables Batan to measure the concentration of masses of PM-2.5 and PM-10, the nuclear analysis technique helped the agency determined chemical composition in air particulates.

One of important parameters used as the study’s focus is measurement of heavy metal especially lead (Pb) in PM-2.5. If inhaled, lead in the air could reduce intelligence and cause learning disability in children, among other devastating impacts.

Government-initiated use of non-lead gasoline, which has been in place since July 2006, has greatly benefited the environment. Muhayatun said the program had significantly reduced the average lead concentration in the city of Bandung. But in other cities, lead concentration in PM-2.5 and PM-10 is still relatively high.

Muhayatun said air pollution was a global phenomenon. Pollution taking place in one area can easily cross boundaries. That is why efforts to overcome this problem need concrete partnership at regional level.