–EPA fails to fulfill its duties as experts warn of serious health calamities in near future
–Environmental Protection spokesperson assures soonest enhancement of laboratories’ capacity
LAHORE: Amid rising levels of air pollution in the country, especially in the largest province, the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to monitor stack emissions owing to the lack of facilities in its laboratories, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Out of the 98 parameters, as mentioned in the Punjab Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS), at least 16 are related to stack emissions produced by different industrial units and vehicles. These emissions, in form of hazardous gases, are directly injurious to humans, animals and plants besides also posing a serious threat to the aquatic ecosystem.
Among 16 parameters of stack emissions are smoke, particulate matters (PM) and seven parameters of metal emission i. e lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), Cadmium (Cd), Arsenic (Ar), Copper (Cu), Antimony (Sb) and Zinc (Zn) while seven parameters acidic gases include Hydrogen Chloride (HCl), Chlorine (Cl), Hydrogen Fluoride (HFl), Hydrogen Sulphide (SOx) oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Carbon Monoxide (CO).
Sources revealed that EPA had continued to fail in fulfilling its duties to monitor the stack emissions properly. They informed that such parameters were not being monitored due to the lack of capacity available in EPA’s laboratories, including its central laboratory and seven other laboratories established in different districts of Punjab.
They also told that the authority, since the re-functioning of its laboratories in May 2017, could only monitor two out of 16 parameters pertaining to stack emission, due to lack of capacity as well as the shortage of staff and outdated equipment.
“EPA laboratories that were established by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2007 had the capacity to monitor all the parameters mentioned in NEQS. After JICA handed over the laboratories to Punjab government in 2010, its capacity decreased gradually,” they said, adding that EPA had the capacity to conduct stack monitoring for 12 parameters till 2015, but now it had the capacity to monitor just two parameters which were smoke and PM.
“These laboratories also monitor SOx and NOx, but are unable to conduct their tests as per the requirements.” As the stack emissions include poisonous gases, they said, these were among the top priorities of the authority.
“Currently, EPA is unable to inform about the state of gaseous emissions in Punjab despite spending a huge amount to establish its central laboratory while enhancing the capacity of other seven laboratories,” sources said.
They revealed that the central laboratory could monitor stack emission of fewer than 10 industries in the province.
Experts have warned that if EPA remained reluctant to conduct proper tests, calamities related to human health in the near future were likely.
Environmental Scientist Nihal Asghar Hashmi, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that HCl and Cl were the gases that directly damaged human health while also adding into the Green House Gases (GHGs) that contributed in damaging the ozone layer.
He said that gases like Carbon Monoxide went directly into human lungs and caused cancer, especially among kids. “Chemical industries in the province are mostly unchecked by EPA which are producing poisonous gases like HCl, HF and H2SO4, and these gases have become a solid reason of reducing life expectancy rates in adults,” said Hashmi.
Meanwhile, EPA spokesperson told this scribe that some issues had arisen in the department recently; however, he said, they had been overcome. The spokesperson further said that all laboratories’ capacity would be enhanced soon and they would be ready to conduct all tests including stack emissions.