LAHORE: Conflicting reports from Punjab Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently installed air quality monitoring stations (“airpointers”) and experts’ opinion suggest that the authorities have been reporting the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Lahore inaccurately, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The ongoing spell of smog in Lahore and other parts of the province has been a source of concern for environmental experts and citizens alike. However, it appears that EPA is bent upon reporting forged data, or at least that its newly acquired instruments are malfunctioning.
The persistent spell of smog has converted Lahore into a “gas chamber” akin to New Delhi and Beijing, and is a combination of various pollutants present in the environment. These pollutants can be measured through scientific means. For several years, experts have been raising concerns about the amount of pollutants in the metropolis’s air, but the major regulatory body EPA has lacked both instruments and initiative to monitor and address the issue.
This year, EPA procured five airpointers worth Rs86 million in June but delayed their installation till smog had already settled over the city. The five airpointers were then installed in UET, Met Office, National Hockey Stadium, Thokar Niaz Baig and a landfill site. The EPA had one more airpointer previously which it had procured in 2016 for Rs21 million.
Experts have raised reservations over the ability of these airpointers to measure the levels of various pollutants in the air accurately. According to the experts, the instruments are citing unreliable levels of the measure particulate matters 2.5 (PM 2.5), which is the most important parameter to measure in smog, and also of particulate matters 10 (PM10), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) which are globally considered as the major causes of smog.
One of the airpointers installed at National Hockey Stadium on November 8 indicated the PM10 level at 132 microgrammes per cubic meter (µg/m³) which lies under permissible limits. Similarly, the levels of SO2 and O3 were indicated at 7.137parts per billion (20.39µg/m³) and 4.498ppb (9.63µg/m³) respectively which also fall within permissible limits as per the directions of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS). The NEQS prescribe permissible limits of the three pollutants at 150ug/m3, 120ug/m3, 130ug/m3 for PM10, SO2 and O3 respectively. Figures from studies conducted by World Bank and other institutions do not check out with these figures.
Talking to Pakistan Today, an official expressed his concerns over the situation and remarked that the results from the airpointers were either fabricated or were the result of some instrumental error. He said further that the crucial measuring part “analysers” assembled in the airpointers were not certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
Providing details, the official said that among the five airpointers, two had Grimm analysers which were only certified to measure PM10 and not PM2.5. The other three airpointers have been equipped with Beta Attenuation Monitor (BAM) analysers, which were already available with EPA and which are able to measure both parameters but not at the same time, he said. Moreover, the equipment can only operate at temperatures less than 35 degrees Celsius. The official revealed that experts had detected and warned the government of dishonesty on the part of EPA officials who had vested interests in procuring the particular equipment, which was not up to the mark.
Environmentalist Dr Sajid Rashid told Pakistan Today that the measure PM2.5 was the most important parameter to gauge air quality. He said that the failure of the new equipment to measure PM2.5 revealed the inefficiency of EPA.
“The practices of other countries faced with smog reveal that they are most concerned with measuring PM2.5,” he said, adding that the current practice would not lead to the making of effective policies to cope with the issue.
It is worth mentioning that although EPA has claimed to have installed six airpointers, one of the said equipment is kept with the authority at its office. Sources suggest that the reason EPA is reluctant to use all its equipment is because they are not certified by USEPA to measure PM2.5 and PM10.
A spokesman from EPA rejected the allegations of inaccurate reporting of data and said that the equipment was calibrated and producing the right data.