Till the dust settles

March 13, 2016

Orange Line related construction work, currently going on at different sites in the city, has contributed massively to air pollution

Till the dust settles

The volume of dust in the air has hit an all-time high at different points in the city, particularly at places where the construction work, related to the Orange Line Metro Train project, is underway.

Layers of dust seem to fill the air everywhere including roads, footpaths, shops, residential areas that happen to fall close to a construction site. The locals are totally helpless. They have no option but to inhale the polluted air, as they go about their everyday chores.

This has affected the state of business also. As a shopkeeper at Singh Pura Morr on GT Road says, "The buyers won’t stop to indulge window shopping, when the air outside is so dusty."

"At home, our women get tired of cleaning the house," he adds. "There’s no end to dust."

The owner of an optical shop tells TNS, "The Orange Line project shall take another two years to complete. I don’t see my business return to normal before that time."

The polluted air is, above all, a health hazard, especially for patients of asthma. "People can easily catch lungs and respiratory problems," says Ahmed Hassan, a resident of Naulakha Church where the construction work has been going on for the past some time now.

"I don’t think it should be a problem for the government to get rid of dust. A single water tank would suffice for a five-kilometre stretch of land. There is a 50km long track which means 100 water tanks are required for at least twice a day to spray water so that the dust can settle.

"I know it [the OMT] is a public welfare project, and it should have long-term benefits for the Lahorites. But the arrangements should have been made in advance to prepare people to deal with the polluted air," Hassan continues.

"My house is not too far away from my office. It’s a 15-minute walk. But this short journey has become troublesome for me lately. I have to change my shirt every time I reach the workplace; it becomes so dirty, especially inside the collar and around the cuffs. As for my shoes, I can’t even begin to tell you what becomes of them!"

Cases of flu and other allergies are on the rise, chiefly among the people living in the areas where the construction work is going on.

Ali, who is based in Lakshmi Chowk, says he is not a smoker, "but I cough like the smokers would.

"The problem has aggravated over time, as there is no respite from dust. My throat is constantly itchy and I have developed sinus issues too. The doctors have advised me to use a mask when I step out on the road."

When quizzed, a medical practitioner says, "The best way [to deal with the situation is that] to keep your home windows shut. Those out on the road must use a mask or keep a handkerchief."

Tauqir Ahmed, Director, Monitoring Lab and Implementation (ML&I), in the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab says the Orange Line is "not the only cause of air pollution.

"The problem is temporary. Dust particles remain in the air for a very short period of time, they are eventually diluted. Higher levels of air pollutants from vehicular emissions and industrialisation are the actual cause of ever-worsening air pollution.

"Pakistan is the most urbanised country in South Asia, and it is experiencing rapid motorisation and increasing use of energy," Ahmed adds. "From 2007 to 2011, the reported levels of particulate matter (PM) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) were many times higher than the air quality guidelines given by the World Health Organisation (WHO)."

According to him, "The number of vehicles in the province has jumped from approximately 3 million to 11.34 million in the last 10 years. Industrial facilities, particularly those consuming fossil fuels, emit significant amounts of pollutants in the air. Brick kilns, steel re-rolling, and plastic moulding contribute to urban air pollution through their use of waste fuels that includes old tires, paper, wood, and textile waste. Air quality is further deteriorated by the widespread use of small diesel electric generators in commercial and residential areas in response to the electricity outages."

In order to help matters, Tauqir Ahmed has a few recommendations: "We must reduce levels of sulphur in diesel and fuel oil, retrofit in-use diesel vehicles with PM emission-control technology, convert diesel-fuelled minibuses and vans to CNG, control PM emissions from motorcycles, convert three-wheelers (rickshaws) to CNG, and curtail burning of solid waste in the city.

"Also, control PM emissions from ferrous metal sources (steel re-rolling mills) and other industrial sources, improve street cleaning, and control construction related dust."

As regards the monitoring of air quality, he says, "Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is providing financial and technical assistance to the Punjab Environmental Protection Agency in designing and installing the relevant monitoring system through a network of measurement stations that includes fixed and mobile air monitoring stations, a data centre and a central laboratory.

"The EPA collects data from its two stations in Town Hall and Township."

Talking to TNS, an inspector at Town Hall’s ambient air quality monitoring station says, "Dust pollution is increasing by the day. When you sprinkle too much water, the dust particles turn to mud that sticks to car tyres. And when it dries, it flies about in the air, polluting the environment. So, there should be a moderate sprinkling of water along the sides that are dug.

"Secondly, construction work always slows down the traffic. The longer the vehicles stay on the roads, the higher smoke they emit, which is mixed in dust in the air."

The inspector who does not want to be named says that dust gathers where there are no greenbelts or a roadside is unpaved. "The Park and Horticulture Authority (PHA) created many greenbelts along the city roads but in the areas where the train project is underway, these have been simply overlooked."

Till the dust settles