LAHORE, June 7: Air pollution levels in the city of Lahore have reached an all-time high since records began, Environment Protection Agency officials told Dawn on Saturday.
The agency officials blame the unusually high levels of pollutants such as ozone, sulphur dioxide, respirable dusts and nitrogen oxides on high traffic density combined with bright sunlight and high temperatures, while recommending stricter control of traffic and higher taxation for older vehicles as a possible solution.
The latest weekly report by the EPA shows that the air quality monitoring station at Lower Mall (Town Hall) has given readings of 127.4ug/m3 (microgrammes per metre cubed) of ozone, which exceeds the international World Health Organisation guidelines of 100ug/m3, while the level of sulphur dioxide stands at 56.40ug/m3 over a 24-hour period – over three times the WHO guideline of 20ug/m3.
The annual level of nitrous oxides stands at 112.50ug/m3 – again, over three times the WHO guidelines of 25ug/m3. The testing took place between May 26 and June 6.
EPA research official Muhammad Farooq Alam said these levels represented a “record high” since data was first collected in April last year. “Levels of ozone are alarmingly high – until summer they remained within the WHO guidelines,” he said.
According to Alam, ozone is a leading cause of respiratory illnesses such as throat and lung irritation, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and headaches. Sulphur dioxide, besides causing acid rain, also leads to other respiratory illnesses, while nitrous oxides have been linked to cardiovascular problems and cancer.
Air quality in Lahore is measured by two fixed monitoring stations, installed by the federal government. Similar types of stations are installed in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta. The project is being funded and monitored by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
In Lahore, one station is installed in the Town Hall and the other in Township. Continuous data has been collected since April 2007. At present, no provisions exist for monitoring non-methane hydrocarbons or respirable dust, though Alam said the equipment would be installed by next month.
A candid analysis compiled by the EPA offers a list of contributory factors to the increase in pollution as well as 16 recommendations for reducing it. It describes the major reasons for air pollution as being “poor motor examination system”, “no standard of [emissions levels]”, traffic jams at crossings, and high density of traffic on the road.
According to the figures recently released by the Punjab Excise & Taxation Department, almost 900,000 new vehicles were registered between 2002-2007, including 15,784 ‘luxury cars’, 4,626 pickup trucks and 252,940 ordinary cars.
The report adds that though there is less sunlight and heat during winter, air pollutants disperse less due to “unfavourable meteorological conditions”.
The report recommends a higher road tax premium for older vehicles, and states that “every vehicle must pass emission standard criteria before coming on the road”. To implement this, the report recommends that motor workshops be equipped with emission testing kits and vehicles are routinely tuned. It advocates a switch-over to CNG and a public sensitisation drive about the health impacts of various pollutants.
It also recommends an effective campaign against fuel adulteration and describes an efficient mass transport system as “a fundamental step which must be implemented.”