ISLAMABAD, Dec 29: It looks as if Islamabad is not getting rid of its air pollution problems.
Just when this year steel furnaces installed gadgets to lessen emissions from their chimneys after pressure from the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), there is a new environmental issue rising.
As many as 20 re-rolling steel mills have started consuming coal excessively due to gas loadshedding to keep their heating systems burning.
According to Pak-Epa, burning coal has dire environment impacts.
The problem came to light after residents of sectors I started registering complaints with the environment watchdog about air pollution over the last few months.
Only three re-rolling mills - Fazal Steel, Itihad Steel and Karachi Steel - have environment-friendly (coal gasification plants) gadgets installed.
The remaining units, according to Pak-Epa, are poisoning the air of Islamabad.Javed Iqbal, the managing director of Karachi Steel, said: “Coal gasification is an 18th century technology.
The cost of this technology can be as high as 50 per cent compared to burning natural gas to heat steel depending on hours of labour put in and the type of coal consumed.”
Steel is made in two stages. First to make billet or blocks of steel, furnaces require enormous amounts of heating (1,650 degrees centigrade) by melting scrap. The melting process produces a black smoke.
Once the blocks cooled, the re-rolling mills heat them again at 1,100 degrees, enough to make steel and give it a shape/form in a smoke-free process.
“There is no check on the quality of coal being used and the technology adopted to burn the coal for fuel,” explained Asif Shuja, the director general of Pakistan Environment Protection Agency.
Some of the re-rolling mills are not just using coal but also furnace oil to produce heating that increased the amount of emissions into the air.
“It is a new environmental concern that we are looking into,” said Mr Shuja who had convinced the owners of the eight steel furnaces to install environment-friendly equipment in June 2011.
Out of the eight steel furnaces, six had installed the filters that controlled release of emissions/exhaust/gases by 99 per cent.
The remaining two were not in compliance, according to Pakistan Environment Protection Agency.
These have been tough days for re-rolling mills and steel furnaces due to the gas and electricity shortages.
The owners of some of the re-rolling steel mills said their units had been functioning without gas for the last two weeks.
“And besides the six-hour-long electricity loadshedding daily, operations also come to a halt due to another three to four hours of unscheduled power outages,” said Shaban Khalid, the owner of Itihad Steel Mill.
“The entire process of making steel is wasted when there is a prolonged gas and electricity breakdown. The waste is a complete loss to the mills,” he added.