Air pollution, an invisible killer posing serious health hazards to Peshawarites

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PESHAWAR May 5 (APP):Once known as City of Flowers, Peshawar is confronted with a major challenge of air pollution, posing serious threats to humans, environment, ecology and animals due to substantial smoke being emitted by vehicles and industrial units mostly operating in urban areas.

A visitor, who could not remained unimpressed by beautiful fragrance of red roses and flowers during current spring season in Peshawar, inhales growing thick smoke being emitted by hundreds of thousands of vehicles, brick-kilns, marble & chip board factories, hospitals waste’s burning and construction works, which could be seen even with a naked eye.

“The Particulate Matter (PM)’s level (PM 2.5), which enhances an age-specific mortality risk, has crossed the limits of National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS) and its increase is a potential threat to the residents of Peshawar,” said Muhammad Irshad, Chief Analyst, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while taking to APP.

In Peshawar, PM 2.5 is very higher than limits set by NEQS, and that the bigger impact of particulate air pollution on public health is their long term exposure in toxic air, which certainly increases age-specific mortality risk, he maintained.

PM 2.5 pollution is a complex mixture of extremely small and light particles which stay for longer in the air and once inhaled, can affect peoples’ hearts, nose to lungs, respiratory system besides leading to high blood pressure, strokes, asthma, cancers and other chronic diseases.

“The minimum level of PM 2.5 in the Peshawar’s air is about 40 micrograms (mg)per cubicmeter and maximum 52mg per cubicmeter while NEQS recommended level of tiny particles in air should not be more than 15mg per cubicmeter,” the Chief Analyst said.

“With the help of SUPARCO, EPA conducted a scientific study in 2017-18 at different locations of Peshawar and noted about 52mg/m3 higher dust and smoke particulate in air while normally it should be around 15mg/m3 as per NEQS standards,” he said.

The smoke and dust in the air were measured between five to 10 feet height where PM2.5 was almost four times higher than NEQS’ standards, which was very alarming and urgent measures were needed to control such high pollution, he explained.

The quantity of Nitrogen Dioxide at most of the points has also exceeded NEQS’ limits, and that its increase can cause lung irritation and weaken body defense against respiratory infections. However, the level of Carbon Monoxide and percentage of Nitric Oxide in the air was within NEQS’ limits.

“Air pollution hits ENT first and then attacks lungs. It severely affects circulatory and respiratory systems besides causing strokes, asthma and cancers, killing thousands of people mostly children every year globally,” Dr. Riaz Khan, senior medical and children specialist told APP.

Traffic policemen, labourers, fruits and vegetables sellers, vendors, shopkeepers, children etc. were more vulnerable to PM 2.5 because of their long exposures to polluted air.

“Air pollution is the major cause of stillbirth and preterm births besides less cognitive IQ and acute respiratory infections in children besides damaging ozone layer, Dr Riaz said and advised people to wear anti smoke masks, tuning of vehicles and adoption of safe energy resources.

While taking cognizance of air pollution, a high-level commission was constituted by Supreme Court under the chairmanship of Dr Pervez Hassan to prepare workable recommendations and proposals for the provinces including Islamabad to counter air pollution.

“As per decision of the Commission, all brick kilns in Pakistan would be shifted to Zig Zag technology by December this year,” EPA Chief Analyst said, adding at least Rs 4 million were required to shift all brick kilns to Zig Zag technology in Peshawar.

Being cost and time efficient, this technology is commonly used in Nepal and India whereas brick kilns’s shifting to this technology has already been started in Punjab.

Around 400 brick kilns units are currently operating in Peshawar mostly emitting toxic air due to burning of used rubber tyres etc. and if converted on Zig Zag technology not only air pollution would be significantly reduced but time and money of bricks kiln owners would also be saved.

Deedar Ahmed, Assistant Director EPA said health department was being technically assisted for speedy disposal of thousands of tones of solid waste produced by Government and private hospitals every year, adding hospitals were directed to install incinerators for speedy disposal of solid waste and this process has already begun from Peshawar.

“Lady Reading Hospital is the largest solid waste producing hospital with 221,920 kilograms per year and such a large quality can’t be left unattended,” he said, adding first central incinerator plant was installed at LRH for its proper disposal. Hayatabad Medical Complex, Khyber Teaching Hospital and Shaukat Khan Memorial Hospital Peshawar were also equipped with incinerators facility.

“These incinerators work on 1200 degree centigrade to destroy waste in a short time without any adverse effects,” he said, adding a state-of-the art incinerator machine has been brought from Italy that will soon start operation.

The official warned that cases of all those hospitals that do not install incinerators facility would be filed at environmental tribunal.

Following people’s complaints on Pakistan Citizens Portal, he said, a grand operation against pollution emitting steel-mills and chip boards units was launched at Industrial Estate Hayataabad as well as on Warsak Road and notices were issued to those for installation of dry pollution control system besides several were sealed on non-compliance.

He said around 240 marble units were operating on Warsak Road Peshawar and legal proceedings against polluting units were underway in environmental protection tribunal with the power to impose a fine upto Rs 5 million.

The first internet of things (IOT) based Air Quality Monitoring Gadget in KP has been installed at the office of District Nazim Peshawar, especially designed to detect toxic elements in the air. The machine is also designed to sense the temperature, humidity present in it and the dust, carbon dioxide levels present in the air besides allow environmentalists to devise pragmatic solutions to effectively cleanse the atmosphere.

He said ban on use and preparations of unsolvable plastic bags has been imposed and only oxo-biodegradable plastic bags were allowed in markets, adding operation was being conducted in Peshawar, DI Khan, Swat and Peshawar against unsolvable plastic bags units.

VETS needed to be strengthened to regulate unregistered vehicles and impose ban on smoke emitting vehicles besides installation of dry pollution control system, adoption of safe energy resources and whopping plantations in urban areas will help control air pollution.

Afsar Khan, Assistant Director EPA said KP’s first Climate Change’s policy 2018 has been prepared with major focus on combating air pollution through whopping plantations and mass awareness to maintain air quality.

“Air pollution has no border, continent or geography and great responsibility rested with UN to help developing countries like Pakistan in fight against air pollution and climate change,” Manzoorul Haq, former Ambassador of Pakistan told APP.

He said air pollution killed thousands of people mostly children in Asia and Africa and it was also the responsibility of UN besides the respective governments of the affected countries to take cogent measures to protect people from this invisible killer.