ISLAMABAD, May 16: Regular air quality monitoring in the city’s industrial area began on Wednesday and initial readings showed the air contained pollutants four times more than the internationally accepted level.

What made the finding more alarming was the fact that the samples tested were taken after overnight showers which should have cleaned the air in the area a bit, according to sources in the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) which carried out the tests.

The Pak-EPA employed the state-of-the-art mobile lab given to it by Japan to monitor the emissions produced by steel mills and marble factories in the I-9 and I-10 sectors.

People living there and the surroundings had been increasingly reporting respiratory problems.

“Though air pollution was quite evident, it was shocking to learn its level in the lab,” an official of the agency said.

Lab results showed the air in the area contained suspended particulate 2.5 micro grams per cubic meter - four times higher than the accepted level set internationally.

Gases such as SO2 sulphur dioxide, CO carbon mono-oxide, nitrogen, methane, total hydro carbons, O3 etc. in the air were found to be within the limits, probably due to the last night rains, according to Pak-EPA sources.

Regular monitoring would determine the real emissions.

“We are here for one week in the first leg and have selected five locations to collect data on air pollutants,” said agency’s officials operating the mobile lab.

They said the lab would enable them to collect exact data on individual factories round the clock. Monitors sitting in their offices would be able to check the data online.

That would deny factory owners the chance to blame others for the pollution produced by them. “We will be able to confront a polluting factory with data on exact location,” they said.

A senior Pak-EPA official said factory owners were feeling tense with the monitoring unit in their sight but most of them assured cooperation in the exercise.

He stressed on his staff to make “effective use” of the lab equipment which he said was “the best available in the world”. With authentic data in its hand the agency would persuade the polluters to implement the clean environment guidelines or face punishment, he added.

“This time, if found guilty, the agency would immediately issue Environmental Protection Order under which a fine of up to Rs1 million could be imposed on the respondent.

“In case of continued violation, an additional fine of Rs100,000 could be enforced for each day the contravention lasts,” he warned.

The environmental tribunal, if satisfied with the agency’s observations, can sentence a polluting factory owner to jail for up to two years. It can also order closure of a factory, or confiscation of its equipment and material used against the provision of the environment protection act.

Air pollutants that are inhaled have serious impact on human health affecting the lungs and the respiratory system.

They are also taken up by the blood and pumped all round the body. These pollutants are also deposited on soil, plants, and in the water, further contributing to human exposure.