Authorities inactive as vehicular pollution keeps growing


The high level of hazardous air pollutants due to vehicular emissions are posing serious threats to health and lives of the millions of citizens in metropolis Lahore and other major cities of the province but authorities seem reluctant to deal with the issue, Pakistan Today has observed.

Pakistan is the country which has been considered among those where air pollution is contributing to airborne diseases and premature deaths. Where authorities remained reluctant to deal other pollution related issues it also let the vehicles to pollute the air.

Currently, the air quality index of Lahore has reached its dangerous level and the toxic smog observed in November was also due to a high level of air pollutants present in the air.

World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank reports which were released in 2015, stated that the Pakistan’s urban air pollution may cause severe damages to human health and the national economy, as the country undergoes rapid motorisation and emerges as the most urbanised country in South Asia. According to report the reported levels of particulate matters (PM), sulphur dioxide (SO2), and lead (Pb) were found to be many times higher than the WHO air quality guidelines. More alarming was the fact that the metropolis of Lahore had been declared as the second most polluted city in the world in the 2014 WHO & WB reports.

Pakistan has high concentrations of lead (a chemical element in the carbon group which is banned internationally), according to the WHO and WB reports.

This is pertinent to mention here that the chemical being illegally used in fuel to increase fuel efficiency but the EPA has no data whether this chemical element exists in ambient air.

Broadly speaking, there are two main sources which added to air pollution; Static and mobile. The mobile source of air pollution is meant to automobiles and other moving sources on roads. Vehicles contribute to air pollution through emission of poisonous gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides (NO2), respirable particulate matters (PM2.5) and lead (Pb).

To combat air pollution, the government has formulated acts and policies: the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP) and the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 (PEPA-97) which covers air, water, soil and noise pollution, including hazardous waste disposal and vehicular pollution. It’s section 15 (sub-sections 1 to 3) pertains to regulation of motor vehicles.

Where this is the prime responsibility of traffic police and transport department, this is also among the responsibilities of Environment Protection Department (EPD). To check vehicular pollution, the EPD has to comply with the EURO-II standards of emissions. These standards were established following the standards of Punjab Environment Protection Agency under Clause (E) of Session 6 (1) of the Pakistan Environment Protection Act (PEPA), 1997. In 2009, the National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) were established with the approval of Pakistan Environment Protection Council.

Sources in EPA told Pakistan Today that the basic equipment like dynamometer is needed for testing and enforcing Euro-II standards, but the EPD has consistently failed to enforce the standards or comply with them. They said that in the past, the EPD along with traffic police officials used to monitor vehicles for air pollution, but this practice was stopped later.

The EURO-II standards were introduced by European countries to check vehicular pollution in 1993 but this system was replaced with more stringent standards, Euro-VI, in 2014.

Sources further informed that in 2007, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) donated equipment to test lead in outdoor air but after 2010, the EPD failed to run the equipment for testing PM2.5 and other vehicular pollutants. “Now the EPD does not estimate what annual level of PM.2.5 and other vehicular emission gases is and what level of polluted air is being inhaled by the citizens of Punjab, especially in big cities, high level” sources said adding that the EPD never used this equipment but left it to rust away. However, they informed high-level meeting held last year in May, which was chaired by Environment Minister Begum Zakya Shahnawaz, was decided to enforce the strict rules and laws to protect citizens from vehicular pollution.

The said meeting was told that the monitoring exercised conducted by the EPD, indicated that Ambient Air Quality especially in urban centers of the province were not fit as noise, smoke and other parameters were not only exceeding the limits prescribed by World Health Organization (WHO) and Pakistan Environmental Quality Standards (PEQS). This was also told that two stroke engine rickshaws and old diesel engine vehicles were the major causes of vehicular pollution.

Environmentalist Dr Sajid Rashid was of the view that in Pakistan no department was keen to pay attention toward the sensitivity of vehicular pollution. While talking to Pakistan Today, he said that not just two-stroke auto-rickshaws and motorcycle-rickshaws discharged poisonous gases, buses, trucks and other vehicles also contributed to greenhouse gases like volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, hydro carbons, carbon dioxide, lead, suspended particulate matters, sulphur dioxide, aldehydes and organic acids and unburned lubricating oil.

EPA’s Spokesman Naseemur Rehman, while talking to Pakistan Today, said that the department was fully aware of the situation. He said that in the past EPA teams fined those motorists whose vehicles polluted air, but added that primarily this was traffic police’s duty to monitor vehicles involved in polluting air as per the Motor Vehicle Rules, 1969. He however added that the department would soon make rules to check vehicular pollution.

Naseem further said that EPD Punjab has done a lot of work for the creation of the awareness amongst the concerned federal and provincial departments and to aware the users about the ill effects of two stroke engine rickshaws and old diesel engine vehicles since its creation in 1996. “Department had reminded concerned department to take action against vehicles involved in polluting air” he added.