- Punjab Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality monitoring stations have been broken for years
The Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AAQMS), run by the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which are supposed to monitor the air quality and pollution in the city have been lying dysfunctional for months, Pakistan Today has learnt reliably.
In the absence of the monitoring stations, nobody knows the actual situation of air pollution in not just the city but also the entire province with a population of more than 100 million.
This is especially a bad time for the stations to be in-operational as the Orange Line Metro Train project is having a highly adverse effect on the environment but there is no way to find out the extent of the damage without the monitoring stations.
MUSHARRAF BUILT IT, SHEHBAZ BROKE IT:
In 2005, the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), started a project named Establishment of Environmental Monitoring System in Pakistan to strengthen the monitoring capacity of federal and provincial environment protection agencies (EPAs). This project was aimed at building the capacity of EPA Punjab in order to enhance regulatory compliance and environmental management.
Following the agreement, the Punjab government received three ambient air monitoring stations which were installed in Lahore in 2007. Among those, two AAQMS were earth-bound while the third was a mobile one. The two earth-bound stations were installed in Town Hall and Township areas of Lahore while the third was mobile so it could monitor air quality all over Punjab.
All three ambient air quality monitoring stations were equipped with 16 analysers including Particulate Matter 2.5/10 Analyser, Nitrogen Oxide Analyser, Ozone Analyser, Carbon Monoxide Analyser, Hydrocarbon Analyser, as well as the meteorological instruments to measure relative humidity, temperature, wind speed, wind direction and solar radiation.
Sources said that all three AAQMS remained fully functioning for three years, from 2008 to 2010. During this period the JICA was responsible for maintaining the system. At the end of 2010, a three-year laboratory report was released with the remarks that inhalable (respirable) dust, PM 2.5, was found to be almost five times higher than the National Environmental Quality Standard while Nitrogen oxide (NO2) was also reaching dangerous levels.
Sources told Pakistan Today that since 2010, it was Punjab government’s responsibility to run the AAQMS but it failed to maintain the station. Sources said that an amount of Rs 81 million was allocated for five years—2011 to 2016. However, not a single penny was spent in the first three years to repair and maintain the three AAQMS.
In 2014, the EPA once again started running the AAQMS after spending Rs 29 million to fix the systems. By May 2015, however, the systems had once again stopped working. A recent laboratory report of the two earth-bound AAQMS shows too many errors in various readings for the results to be reliable.
A recent laboratory report of AAQMS installed at the Quaid-e-Azam Industrial Estate, Township Lahore shows that the analysers to measure methane gas, non methane hydrocarbon and Tetrahydrocannabinol have not been operational since October 2014.
Another laboratory report of AAQMS installed at Town Hall Lahore shows that most of the analysers here are not working properly. Digital readings for most of the analysers were marked as ANO (Analyser is not operational due to lamp/pump alarm in HC) or SNO (Sensor Not operational).
Remarks on both AAQMS reports mention that the missing values are due to load shedding and AVR tripping.
During the current fiscal year (2015-16), a sum of Rs 28 million was allocated for the maintenance and repair but the AAQMS are still not in proper working condition.
A senior official in EPA said on condition of anonymity that the repairing and maintenance of these AAQMS provided by JICA was very costly. He said that right now, the department has no idea regarding actual air quality situation in the city.
This scribe tried to contact EPA’s Director Monitoring Lab and Implementation (ML&I) Tauqeer Ahmad Qureshi but he did not respond.
However, during a conversation a few months ago he told this scribe that the department was planning to purchase new AAQMS which will be cheaper and may be repaired at a lower cost.
“The repairing and maintenance of these AAQMS provided by JICA is very costly”, he said.
Qureshi also claimed that while two earth-bound AAQMS were not working he was maintaining three of the most essential analysers to measure dust and dangerous gases. He also claimed that the mobile AAQMS was functional.
Sources, however, said that right now all three AAQMS are non-functional as the analysers installed in them are not giving proper readings.