KARACHI, July 19: The air and water pollution levels in Karachi have crossed national and international environment quality standards posing serious threat to the lives of 12 million residents of the city.
In a report prepared by the Pakistan Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), scientists have warned the government to take immediate measures to check the factors responsible for deteriorating environment.
The research report, which was prepared for the city government, also warned that the metropolis had already reached the critical sustenance limits of pollution on roads.
The scientists stated: “The impact of a reduced oxygen level on roads is already apparent from the blood picture of the people residing in or making a living at various traffic intersections. Any addition of a polluting system or technology that may increase the concentration of the pollutants by a mere 1 micro gram per cubic meter (µg/m3) is likely to be catastrophic.
“Accordingly further addition of automobiles to the existing fleet of vehicles should be stopped forthwith,” the scientists of the prime research body recommended.
Suparco conducted a survey over a period of six months last year for the transport and communication department of city government, under a project ‘Feasibility Study and Development of Transportation Control Plan of Karachi Metropolitan’, final report of which was recently submitted to the city government.
The main tasks assigned for the project included creation of baseline on status of pollution on the corridors of vehicular traffic in Karachi by measurement of level of pollutants viz. sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxides (CO2), ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM10), hydrocarbons (methane and non-methane) in ambient air and noise level.
Suparco also assessed the impact of vehicular traffic on the physical environment through surveys on quality of air, groundwater, wastewater, soil and vegetation at designated intersections across the city.
Assessment of impact on the living environment was also done by collecting samples of tree leaves and blood samples from volunteers working or making a living at 26 designated intersections.
Some of the factors that contributed to the overall mismanaged system and needed to be removed, according to scientists, were lack of infrastructure facilities; majority of vehicles being not road-worthy; large sections of roads being not vehicle worthy; poor standard of vehicle maintenance; limited use of fuel-efficient technologies.
The report also held that the existing government policies were not directly addressing provision of efficient mass transit system or fuel efficiency and emissions issues.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to improve fuel efficiency of vehicles; monitor the performance of vehicles on road by emission related testing/tuning procedures; introduce a well-managed transportation plan; introduce new vehicles only if they are fuel efficient; set up workshops for emission related tuning of all vehicles. Vehicles, old or new, should be allowed to run on city roads after checking for their emission-related efficiency, it was further stressed.
Suparco’s report said that the environmental conditions on road and transport sector had deteriorated considerably and would likely to continue deteriorating further while policies and standard operating procedures for checking the unabated deterioration of environment were non-existent.
It was further said that there was a dire need to develop ‘Transport Pollution Control Plan’ for environmental up-gradation and to arrest colossal damage and loss to life and property of the citizens due to vehicular traffic.
For the survey, the designated sites included 26 traffic intersections divided in five corridors, while Suparco headquarters and the Maritime Museum premises were selected as the two reference sites where impact of vehicular emission is least and vegetation density is high. The volume of traffic was also recorded at the designated locations.
According to the research report, the peak SO2 concentration of 40ppb (parts per billion) was noted at Garden Road and Preedy Street intersection and Burns Road intersection, while the maximum NOx concentration of 239ppb was recorded at Burns Road intersection.
The maximum CO2 concentration of 615ppm (parts per million) was found at Korangi Road and Baloch Colony bypass intersection, whereas the maximum CO concentration of 17ppm was noted at Empress Market.
The area around FTC was found with maximum concentration of ozone (i.e. 43ppb) while the maximum PM10 concentration of 480µg/m3 was found at Korangi Road and Baloch Colony bypass intersection.
Taking toluene concentration as representing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Garden Road and Preedy Street intersection was found with maximum concentration of 68ppb.
The report mentioned that Korangi Road and Baloch Colony bypass intersection had the highest noise level i.e. 99 decibels (dB) in the city while according to the National Environmental Quality Standards the noise limit must not exceed 85dB.
It was further said that the 24-hour average concentration of SO2 was the only point of consolation; otherwise each pollutant had a concentration much higher than desired, according to the World Bank Guidelines and the National Environmental Quality Standards.
In the case of NOx it was stated that its concentration at all the intersections exceeded the limit of 150µg/m3 as prescribed by the World Bank and the WHO.
For the Total Suspended Particulate (TSP) Matter, street sweeping was analysed for hydrocarbon, lead, cadmium and asbestos and groundwater and wastewater for oil and grease to assess the impact of vehicular traffic on the quality of corridor of impact (COI).
It was found that concentration of TSP exceeds 450µg/m3 at Garden Road, Tibet Centre, Maulvi Musafir Khana, Tower & Preedy Street intersections and at congested observation points like Karimabad, Liaquatabad No10 and Gurumandir. It is at 300-380µg/m3 at observation points which are sufficiently open to the flushing action of wind, for example at Tin Hatti, Burns Road and Empress Market, Metropole Hotel, FTC, Sunset Boulevard and Baloch Colony Bypass.
When compared with WHO guidelines limit of 120µg/m3 for Suspended Particulate Matter; the increase shows that the living areas in the city are likely to be highly impacted by suspended particulate matter in ambient air. Similar is the case with lead and cadmium in TSP whose concentration ranges in each case between 2.5 and 4.12µg/m3. This level is higher than the 0.5 to 1.0µg/m3 limits suggested by the WHO and 1.5µg/m3 set by the USEPA or 2µg/m3 by the EU.
From the measurements of concentration of different pollutants particularly the primary pollutants CO, NOx, and PM10 (inhale-able) in the exhaust emissions from different modes of vehicles, it was noted that the vehicles using diesel oil as fuel or contaminated fuel; using lubricant in their fuel tank; operating with inappropriately tuned engines were responsible for contribution of more than the desired level of pollutants.
Observations on the performance of engines on roads suggest that present tuning practices dealt too inadequately with optimising the engines of vehicles with respect to emissions. Besides, operation of vehicular traffic has been proceeding without adequate awareness on control of emissions by emission-related tuning and monitoring and vehicles operating on roads and highways observed no schedule for regular repair and maintenance, the report stated.
Suparco surveyors found that the hearing of about 70 per cent of the volunteers at the surveyed sites was impaired. “The results of survey indicate that there has been substantial impact on the quality of life of those who earn a living at the traffic intersections," the researchers observed.
The report stated that persons inhaling at high concentrations of CO might suffer sour taste in mouth and stinging sensation in the nose and throat. People breathing seven to 10 per cent carbon dioxide could produce unconsciousness in only a few minutes, it added.
CO is an odourless, tasteless and highly poisonous gas, which interacts directly with blood haemoglobin and causes its reduction. At concentrations higher than 9ppm for eight hours, it is very toxic, causing headaches, dizziness, reduced ability to think, and nausea.
NOx are acidic gases, which on reaction with water vapour produce nitrous and nitric acids and therefore can cause acid rain. NOx gases are potential health hazards.