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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has ordered owners of steel mills in I-9 and I-10 to deposit Rs5 million each as security until they install equipment to filter emissions before they are released into the air, the climate change secretary said on Sunday.

Secretary Khizar Hayat told Dawn this was the first time “such a strong action has been taken against these callous and rich industrialists”.

He said that in addition to praising the efforts of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), the SC has reminded owners of the steel industry to abide by environmental laws and the agency’s rules.

“The SC has also directed owners of steel mills [to submit] reports of emissions released from the chimneys of their establishments. The apex court has warned further legal action in case the Pak-EPA is not satisfied with the reports and feels that emissions are high,” Mr Hayat said.

According to him, the Pak-EPA has been drawing the SC’s attention towards increasing air pollution, and steel mills’ emissions in particular, for nearly three decades.

“The environment watchdog has extended maximum cooperation and leniency towards owners of steel mills for the last 20 years. Now, the apex court has finally taken a decision in favour of the residents of I-9, I-10 and I-8, and adjacent Rawalpindi, who have been breathing poisonous air for many years. Bringing the owners of steel mills under the ambit of the law would not have been possible without the intervention of the SC,” Mr Hayat said.

According to environmentalists in the climate change ministry, Islamabad owes its high air pollution to steel mills, with are a dominant source of air pollution aside from other factors, such as mega-development projects.

Ministry officials said the smoke residents see rising from chimneys is black carbon that contains particulate matter.

Inhaling particulate pollution – mixtures of solid and liquid particles that circulate in the air a– can increase risks of lung cancer, cardiac arrest, stroke and emergency room visits for people with asthma and heart problems, as well as a host of other health problems, they said.

The officials said black smoke is caused by poor quality scrap used by steel mills and steel furnaces. The scrap includes oil and paint canisters, which is one of the actual sources of black smoke.

A senior official said that despite reminders from the Pak-EPA, steel mills and furnaces have continued to operate without switching on their filtering equipment. He said the agency was monitoring air quality around I-9 and I-19, where these mills are located.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2018