Detrimental air pollution: another trauma
By Fatehullah Khan Kundi
Clean air is no doubt the biggest blessing of nature and a pre-requisite for the survival of human life. Over the last couple of decades, the massive increase in population, urbanisation and industrialisation has led to the fast degradation of ambient air quality especially in urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The large influx of Afghan refugees during the past 30 years has also led to a greater demand for more food, shelter, transportation and manufacturing activities which has ultimately resulted into the chronic air pollution problem, particularly in Peshawar. Air pollution is certainly a critical threat to this generation and has put a question mark to our survival. Major sources contributing to air pollution are automobile exhaust emissions, industrial emissions, especially from brick kiln factories, domestic burning, massive burning of solid wastes and wind blown dust rising from unpaved roads.
Carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, smoke, dust, hydrocarbons and tetraethyl lead are the main components of vehicular emissions poured into the urban air. Fuel adulteration and use of ill-maintained vehicles enhances emissions from motor vehicle exhaust. A large amount of suspended dust is generated due to vehicles driving on unpaved road shoulders, poorly maintained and overcrowded roads. In Peshawar, being a boarder city of Afghanistan, the large influx of Afghan transporters has greatly increased the problem of air pollution.
Industrial emissions from chimneys are also a source of air pollution in the city. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are about 1,500 industrial units with 305 chip and stone crushers as well as 450 brick kilns. Industrial units in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are scattered over a vast stretch of the province with greater concentration in and around the cities of Peshawar, Haripur, Charsadda, Nowshera and Gadoon Amazai.
Approximately, 450 brick kilns are situated in and around Peshawar. On a monthly average, a brick kiln producing 800,000 bricks uses large amount of rubber to start the fire and burns a total of eight tonnes of fire wood, 200 tonnes of low quality coal and 20 drums of used mobile oil. The combustion of old rubber tyres and used mobil oil in these factories emits hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. The emissions from brick kilns also include many other toxic pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and dioxins, which is believed to be carcinogenic. The increased number of brick kilns in the province, particularly in Peshawar, have almost doubled the level of air pollution mainly due to the use of large amount of rubber, low quality of coal and used oil for burning purposes eg 67 percent PM10, 13 percent CO, six percent NOx, and 49 percent SO2 are contributed by brick kilns. Stake emissions from most of the industries are unregulated and uncontrolled except few industries which have installed treatment facilities.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the generation of municipal solid waste is estimated to be between 0.6 to 0.8 kilogrammes per day per capita and virtually there doesn’t exist any appropriate waste management system. Approximately 40 percent of the generated wastes remain at collection points, or in streets, where they emit a host of pollutants into the air, making it unacceptable for breathing. Also the roadside and dump burning of the municipal solid waste generates air pollution problem. Burning of the wastes generates furan and dioxin gases, which on inhaling, produce diseases even worse than cancer. Domestic burning of fuel such as wood, dung especially in rural areas also contributes to air pollution. The burning of garbage, straw and other things for domestic uses may produce air pollution, although on small scale but a potential cause of health problem. Dust arising from small scale domestic activities also contributes to overall air pollution in the urban areas. In city centre and bazaars, numerous food stalls and restaurants also cause air pollution due to frying meat in oil and roasting on charcoal fires.
The first step taken by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to control the ambient air pollution was the establishment of vehicular emission testing station (VETS) in 1997, and it has tested more than 150,000 vehicles so far. The percentage of passed vehicles was clued very much less (24 percent) in the case of diesel-operated vehicles. All the CNG-driven vehicles were totally passed while five percent of fasoline-driven vehicles were rejected. In order to cope with the brick kiln emissions, the use of rubber in kilns was banned by the provincial government on October 13, 1999.
Accordingly, the EPA issued notices to most of the brick kilns to immediately stop the use of rubber in their kilns. A programme was initiated for the Brick Kiln Owner Association to give them training in good house keeping, energy saving, thus indirectly decreasing the emission levels.
The existing road transport plans of Peshawar do not fulfil the requirement of the entire population residing in the city. Many commercial areas and residential colonies are not accessible by the present public transport system and people are compelled to use private cars, taxies and auto-rickshaws to approach these areas.
The EPA is working on a project to design such a public transport management system, which fulfils the requirement of the public in the city. This is a long-term project, which needs a lot of investment, but the activity is a high priority at the provincial development programme.
An effective monitoring requires reliable ambient air pollution measurements equipment and permanent monitoring stations. Presently, none of the agencies has yet installed permanent monitoring stations for air pollution measurements. The EPA is going to acquire mobile laboratory in the near future through a mega JICA grant, which shall be used for the monitoring of liquid effluent and air emissions from industries, municipalities and motor vehicle exhaust. In the present circumstances, the EPA carries out random monitoring of air pollutant gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxides and noise level with the help of portable pocket gas detectors.
What we need is to come forward and indulge ourselves in the environmental movement individually and collectively to improve the air quality and save ourselves from yet another trauma.
The writer is an undergraduate student of civil engineering and freelance columnist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org