LAHORE: Smog in the provincial capital has crossed all the international benchmarks as PM2.5 level, which is termed the most dangerous pollutant in the air across the world, remained between 450ug/m3 and 500ug/m3 against the notified standards of 35ug/m3 per day.
As per World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, the daily average level of PM2.5 should not be more than 10ug/m3 and aggregated annual mean 25ug/m3 in a day whereas as per a gazette notification of the Punjab government, the daily limit of PM2.5 is 15ug/m3 and aggregated annual mean 35ug/m3 per day.
It is pertinent to mention that Environmental Protection Department (EPD) is concealing data about air quality and pollutants present in it whereas the above-mentioned scary data was revealed by air monitoring laboratories established by private sector.
As per Section 6 (O) of Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997, the department is bound to “provide information and guidance to the public about environmental matters,” but for the past several years EPD had not released any kind of data about different kinds of pollution, especially air quality, in the provincial metropolis as well as rest of the Punjab.
Around 2004-05, EPD had installed digital screens at various points of the city where levels of air pollutants were displayed while data about air pollutants was also released to media on a daily basis but after sometime they suddenly removed those digital screens and stopped issuance of data to media. Since then, data about pollution was kept in lock and key and no one was allowed to share it with anyone.
According to Section 6 (d) of Punjab Environmental Protection Act, 1997, the department should have published Punjab Environment Report on an annual basis to describe the state of the environment but ironically this report was not issued in the year 2016 as well as no homework has so far been done to issue this report in the present year.
Abid Omar, founder of Pakistan Air Quality Initiative, a Karachi-based organisation, said his company has installed two ambient air quality monitors in Lahore, one in the Lahore Cantt near airport and the other one on Upper Mall. “For the past one week, level of PM2.5 in Lahore remained between 450 and 500ug/m3, which is considered to be extraordinary high and needs a state of emergency to handle this situation, “he claimed. Pakistan Air Quality Initiative provides community-driven air quality reports to increase social awareness, he said, adding he himself is monitoring the situation and ambient air quality of Lahore is made public on twitter after every hour with a hash tag of #LahoreSmog for the information of the general public.
Aleem Butt, owner of a private environmental testing laboratory in Lahore, said he had tested the air quality of Lahore on October 31, 2017, and the results were shocking. He said as per the report, the average level of PM2.5 was 211.78ug/m3. He said his testing machine was the same as of EPD but he can’t test ambient air quality on a daily basis because of its high cost. “It is the statutory duty of EPD to test and notify results of ambient air,” he maintained.
As per WHO’s report, 98 percent of cities in low- and middle income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet WHO air quality guidelines. As urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for the people who live in these polluted cities, the report warned.
Dr Tariq Chishti, a family physician, said air pollution is a major cause of disease and death. He said PM2.5 includes pollutants such as sulfate, nitrate and black carbon that penetrate deep into the lungs and cardiovascular system, posing a greater risk to human health. He said it is crucial for the city and governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority because when air quality improves, health cost from air pollution-related diseases shrinks, worker productivity expands and life expectancy grows. Environmental experts said if such a situation had happened in any developed country, they should have declared a national emergency. Rafy Alam, an environmental expert, said the government needs to take immediate and radical short-term solutions, including closing of schools, banning of all kinds of vehicular movement at points of concentration, closing down smoke-emitting industrial units and educating farmers and garbage disposal companies on hazards of trash burning.
When contacted, Provincial Minister for Environment Zakiya Shahnawaz admitted the fact that EPD lacks on various counts. She, however, didn’t give any data about air pollution to the scribe and asked him to come to her office and then she will see what kind of data she can give.
The scribe repeatedly tried to contact the EPD secretary EPD to get official data about ambient air but he didn’t come online. A detailed SMS regarding the issue was also sent to the secretary but he didn’t reply.