LAHORE: The Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stopped monitoring the Air Quality Index (AQI) of the provincial metropolis by making excuses that the air monitoring stations (Airpointers) are undergoing maintenance work, Pakistan Today has observed.
Amid the recent spell of toxic smog in the city, the EPA in October had installed Airpointers to monitor the AQI under severe pressure of the civil society. The matter of not monitoring the air quality by the provincial government was also taken up in the Lahore High Court (LHC) where EPA officials promised to publish the real-time data on its website on a daily basis.
These Airpointers were installed at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Lahore, Meteorological Office Jail Road, Thokar Niaz Baig, Lakhodair and EPA Headquarters in Gulberg.
The EPA somehow managed to monitor the AQI for about one month but could not share the complete data accumulated by all monitoring stations. However, many experts showed their concern by saying that the data was incomplete and faulty.
Reliable sources inside the EPA informed this scribe that the department stopped monitoring the air quality after its monitoring stations started reporting inaccurate AQI data. They said that EPA had procured five Airpointers worth Rs 86 million and despite spending huge amounts of money on the equipment, they were still not able to monitor the air quality levels in the city accurately.
“A score of experts had raised their reservations over the ability of these Airpointers to measure the level of different pollutants in the environment,” they said, while adding that these Airpointers were not measuring the most important air pollutant—fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
They further said that besides PM2.5, the EPA equipment was not producing accurate data for the other hazardous air pollutants like particulate matters 10 (PM10), ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), which are globally considered as the major ingredients of smog.
An official seeking anonymity told Pakistan Today that the data gathered through these air monitoring stations was unrealistic because ambient air quality depended on the weather conditions, and it was necessary to mention the weather condition of a particular location while producing the final results. “While preparing the air quality monitoring results, the EPA has ignored the weather conditions of a particular area,” he said.
Moreover, he said that EPA had highly qualified and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) trained staff which was transferred to other districts, and in their place the agency had hired untrained and inefficient staff who lacked the basic experience to run these stations.
The official further revealed that the results from the Airpointers were either fabricated or were the result of some instrumental error. He also said that the crucial measuring part of the Airpointers, called analysers, were not even certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
On its website, the EPA could just publish the data from November 14 to 30, where the agency stopped publishing the air quality data from four other locations from November 22 onwards, including UET, Jail Road, Thokar Niaz Baig and Lakhodair. On the other hand, the data regarding PM2.5 and PM10 was also not in accordance with the existing standards.
This scribe tried to contact EPA spokesman many times but was unable to reach the person concerned for comments.