The smog season is almost around the corner. What are we doing to combat it successfully?
usy already with helping the flood victims, for the first time the Punjab government’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has adopted a proactive approach to combat the looming threat of smog in the coming months.
For several years now, the smog has impacted almost all big cities in the Punjab, especially Lahore. Some environmental experts see it as one of the major impacts of climate change. Unplanned urbanisation, use of low-quality fuel by industrial units and an increase in vehicular pollution are the other factors contributing to the smog in the provincial capital.
Over the recent years citizens have seen thick layers of smog engulfing the city, causing serious health problems to many. The impact of smog is particularly severe on the citizens who travel on motorcycles and on pedestrians.
“I have experienced a burning feeling in the eyes and shortness of breath while travelling on my motorcycle in the city during the last smog season,” says Khurram, a resident of Bhati Gate. He adds that his minor daughter would start vomiting on her way back from school.
The proactive approach of the EPD towards the smog is indeed good news. It shows the seriousness of the department about handling the environmental disasters. Dr Naeem Rauf, the EPD secretary, has constituted special anti-smog squads to expedite action against major polluters in the province.
Dr Rauf tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that the smog season is around the corner. He says he is increasing the number of inspection squads all over the Punjab. Three extra squads have been ordered in Lahore and one each for Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Multan. These have the mandate to take necessary action against the industrial units working without emission control systems or having a role in smog production.
Besides the addition of three anti-smog squads in Lahore, for the first time, the department has constituted a Green Force to check vehicular emissions on a daily basis across the province. The EPD secretary says officials of traffic police, Transport Department and EPA will jointly carry out operations against smoke-emitting vehicles across the province.
Long-term exposure to smog at low levels can affect lung elasticity and the lungs’ ability to resist disease, ageing lungs prematurely… Children, the elderly, asthmatics and those suffering from chronic lung diseases are more susceptible to the effects of smog.
Dr Naeem Rauf says that during the past three months the number of actions against the industry has increased but there is still room for improvement. He says that the department’s actions will only be considered to have borne fruit if Air-Quality Index figures do not register a worsening associated with the smog season.
He says he had issued directions for a weekly performance report to besubmitted to him. In case of any complaint of laxity on the part of the district officers, a zero-tolerance policy is in place.
Dr Rauf says that he will not wait to take preventive measures till the arrival of smog. Instead, he says, the field staff should speed up their actions. Not even minor negligence will be tolerated, he says. He says he has held a number of meetings with leaders of the chambers of commerce and industry and brick kiln associations and clearly told them that if they do not adopt environment-friendly methods they will have to face the consequences.
According to EPD data, the department has increased its anti-smog activities from August 13. So far, 537 factories, 1,128 brick kilns, 88 stone crushing units and 20 pyrolysis plants have been inspected. Fines have been imposed on those found violating the environmental laws.
Shahid Saleem, an environmentalist, says “Smog is the product of a chemical reaction caused by sunlight between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere, airborne particles (called particulate matter) and ground-level ozone.” He says the pollutants stick to water vapours. He says smog can travel long distances in the atmosphere and is therefore considered a trans-boundary problem.
Talking about the health problems caused by the smog, Dr Faisal Zubair, a family physician, says that smog, when inhaled, is very harmful to humans, especially senior citizens and children.
“People with heart and lung problems like emphysema, bronchitis and asthma,” should avoid going out in the smog,” he warns. He says smog can cause inflammation in the breathing passages, which decreases the working capacity of lungs and causes shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing and coughing.
Long-term exposure to the smog at low levels can affect lung elasticity and the lungs’ ability to resist disease, ageing lungs prematurely. He adds that children, the elderly, asthmatics and those suffering from chronic lung diseases are more susceptible to the effects of smog.
The writer is a senior reporter at The News