EPA fails to update air quality monitoring stations ahead of smog season


–All air quality monitoring stations in city currently down, laboratories virtually dysfunctional

–EPA spokesperson says agency monitoring air quality through existing equipment

LAHORE: Despite the suggestions of the smog commission that was formed on the directions of Lahore High Court (LHC), the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has failed to update its air quality monitoring systems, Pakistan Today has learnt.

After the spells of toxic smog that residents of Lahore, as well as other parts of Punjab, experienced in 2016 and 2017, a score of petitions were filed in the LHC. The petitioners claimed that Punjab Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to monitor the state of environment in the province.

To discover the root causes of smog, LHC formed a 13-member commission that was headed by Dr Pervez Hassan. After getting mandate from LHC, the smog commission conducted several meetings with EPA officials and other departments concerned and completed its report in May 2018, which was made a part of the court’s earlier order of December 19, 2017.

Smog commission had learnt that data of air quality was scanted. It founded that ambient air standards for particulate matter with size finer than 2.5 microns (PM2.5), oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and Sulphur (SOx) were exceeding frequently. The commission stated in its report that air quality of the province was further impaired by the widespread use of small diesel electric generators in commercial and residential areas in the wake of power outages.

According to sources, the smog commission was informed that EPA had six monitoring stations that were collecting data regarding air quality in the provincial capital. They revealed that though EPA had installed six air quality monitoring stations, the data they were providing was not realistic and could not help in determining the state of environment.

The smog commission suggested that there was a need to execute an effective programme to monitor air quality emissions from stationary and diffused sources. Under this programme, the air quality monitoring stations had to be linked to a Central Environmental Monitoring Centre to collect information on high air pollution.

Despite the passage of four months, EPA officials have failed to implement the suggestions of the smog commission. Moreover, the incompetence of the EPA officials has been revealed regarding the project of procurement of 30 air quality monitoring stations which had to be installed in different cities of the province.

To procure these monitoring stations, an amount of at least Rs1.008 billion was sanctioned under the ADP scheme. The amount was later made a part of the $271 million “Punjab Green Development Program (PGDP)” for which World Bank will provide $200 million while $73 million will be contributed by the Punjab government.

Sources in EPA informed that due to the negligence of EPA officials, the delay in completion of PC-1 had also caused a delay in the securing of the amount to update its system. “Currently, all the air quality monitoring stations have been shut down while all the laboratories are virtually dysfunctional as they are working below their capacity,” they said.

Sources added that October was the month when they had to receive air quality data but had failed due to the lack of air quality monitoring systems. “Nobody can predict the intensity of pollution that will engulf the province.”

EPA spokesperson Naseemur Rehman Shah, while speaking to Pakistan Today, said that the agency was monitoring air quality through its existing equipment; air pointers. He admitted that there was a need to install more air quality monitoring stations immediately and for which the department had finalised the plan.