LAHORE: Air pollution levels have risen once again after heavy rains brought some respite for the residents of Lahore last week. According to the data published by the Environment Protection Department (EPD), (Fine Particulate Matter) PM2.5 values at Jail Road are beyond what Lahore High Court’s (LHC) Smog Health Emergency Action Plan labels ‘very poor’ quality and calls for shutting down all educational institutions among other measures if such air quality is reached.
After LHC’s order on November 14, EPD had started posting data regarding concentration of air pollutants in Lahore the following day. However, only monitoring stations at Jail Road and Gulberg are completely functional and data for these two stations is available for all the pollutants. Tauqeer Qureshi who is the director at data monitoring department at the EPD said that since the equipments require monthly overhaul, they are not displaying readings at certain locations of Lahore. “At certain stations, the equipment we have is not calibrated to measure the concentration of certain gasses,” he said.
Abid Omar, who is the founder of Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI) said that although PM2.5 is not the only significant air pollutant, it carries severe health risks. “All over the world we see that the most important measure of air quality is PM2.5,” he said. He further explained that PM2.5 not only constitutes dust, it also includes sulfates and nitrates which makes it a serious health hazard.
Omar who founded PAQI last year, has the experience of living in Beijing; another city that has seen high pollution levels in the past few years. “At the start, even the residents of Beijing didn’t take air pollution seriously, however, with time data led the way to more research and precautionary measures,” he said.
He further said that it was heartening to see people in Pakistan coming together to raise the issue of air pollution in Lahore. “The issue can only be resolved by spreading awareness, when people will know that it is an issue that concerns them, they will definitely come out to resolve it,” he said.
According to the data published by EPD, the PM2.5 levels, which are considered safe when their concentration is 35 (ug/m3) have reached to an average 157 (ug/m3) for the last eight days at Jail Road. However, Omar restrained from blaming EPD for the the hazardous levels of air pollution. “EPD is low on resources and requires greater technical support to manage the complex equipments at hand,” he said.
The data on other air pollutants shared by the EPD also shows a stark increase in air pollution which is tipping beyond the hazardous levels. For instance the levels of Nitrogen Oxide (NO) are well over the satisfactory level of 80 (ug/m3) as the graph shows below.
Rafay Alam, who is an environmentalist and an advocate, said that it is only with the help of data that we will be able to devise a policy to eliminate air pollution. “Right now, we don’t even know what has hit us, with the help of consistent monitoring of data we will be able to know where we stand and what standards we should set in the future.”