PESHAWAR, April 12: The quality of air in Peshawar and five other cities of the country is rapidly deteriorating, affecting economy and increasing health costs, say studies conducted recently. The studies carried out with foreign assistance in 2003 and 2004 in Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Rawalpindi by environmental experts of the federal ministry of environment revealed that air pollution had attained serious proportions in several parts of these cities because of growing levels of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide. Greater concentration of volatile organic carbon (VOC) and total suspended particulate (TSP) were found in the air.

Increased health costs, losses to crops and properties, declining revenue in the tourism sector have been reported as a result causing growing economic costs.

Increased mortality rate and rise in diseases have also been attributed to air pollution and morbidity, besides rising health costs.

According to official sources, the studies were conducted in the cities to establish air quality by compiling year-long records of concentration levels of different gases and particulate matters, meteorological data and traffic count to determine magnitude of air pollution.

The studies, which drew comparative analysis between air quality of the major cities of Pakistan and US standards, found that the concentration of sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, VOC and TSP in the six cities were not only much higher in Pakistan, but they touched alarmingly high levels exposing citizens to a number of diseases.

Ill-planned rapid urbanization, growing energy needs, uncontrolled industrial growth, increase in traffic and indiscriminate burning of refuse have been termed as some of the major reasons responsible for falling air quality in these cities which, according to conservative official estimates, jointly house between 25 and 30 million people.

The studies reported that ambient air quality had fallen below quality standards (in comparison with US levels) and that alarming trends of vehicular growth were responsible for increasing levels of poisonous gases had been found in all the six cities of Pakistan. The total energy consumed in these cities stood at 22.6 per cent in domestic sector, 3.1 per cent in commercial sector, 34.3 per cent in industrial sector, 2.7 per cent in the agriculture sector and 34.7 per cent in the transport sector.

TSP level, according to the studies, has been found highest in Lahore followed by Quetta, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar and Karachi.

Similarly, PM 10 (particulate matter) was found alarmingly high as compared to the US standards.

In Karachi the level of carbon dioxide was found to be 24 part per million (ppm) in comparison to the US standards of 10 ppm. Similarly, the level of carbon dioxide was found to be at the higher side in the other five cities with Peshawar involving 16 ppm, Lahore over 26 ppm, Quetta over 17 ppm, Rawalpindi over 16 ppm and Islamabad over 12 ppm.

Lead concentration in Lahore was found to be highest. The sulphur dioxide concentration was found to be 50 parts per billion (ppb) in Lahore, 44 ppb in Quetta, 42 ppb in Peshawar, 43 ppb in Karachi and 37 ppb in Rawalpindi, as compared to the US standard of 38 ppb.

Maximum level of TSP and PM 10 were found in Baloch colony in Karachi, whereas in other areas including Nazimabad, Gulistan-i- Johar, Gizri, Korangi, industrial area, Karachi Creek, SITE, Rashid Minhas Road, Garden road, Elender road, West Wharf, I.I. Chundrigar road and the Civic Centre also found to be have greater level of TSP and PM 10, which results in lungs and heart problems.

The studies have also put forth certain measures to control air pollution. The measures include a phase-out programme for gasoline involving lead, phase-out programme for diesel sulphur, control on the entry of old vehicles in the urban limits of the cities, greater use of compressed natural gas (CNG) and putting in place an improved road network in all the six cities to contain problems relating to traffic congestion.

Similarly, enforcement of regulations concerning environmental protection has also been emphasized under the recommendations.