Urban Gazette on Smog in Urban Punjab

Smog in Urban Punjab

What is Smog?

Smog is a yellowish/ blackish atmospheric haze created by a mixture of air pollutants. It gets its name from the words ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’. Smog can also be defined as a mixture of various gases with dust and water vapour. it results in a thick hazy air that makes breathing difficult.

What Is Smog Made up of?

The following types of pollutants make up smog:

Carbon Monoxide is a pollutant that is mainly produced by road transport.

Hydrocarbons are produced when petrol is not fully burnt.

Nitrogen Oxides are emitted from vehicles and power stations.

Ozone is a harmful form of oxygen produced when Nitrogen Oxides and Hydrocarbons react in sunlight.

Particulate Matter are small bits of solid or liquid matter in the air. They are produced by industry, vehicles and domestic coal burning.

Smoke is a type of pollution that can be seen because it is made up of solid bits. You can often see it coming out of chimneys.

Sulphur Dioxide is a colourless gas mainly emitted from power stations. It combines with water in the air to produce acid rain.

Why is Smog a Problem?

The pollutants found inside smog have been linked to negative health impacts such as respiratory disease and vision problems. Cities with unhealthy smog levels have to bear a serious social cost in the form of public health safety. Certain groups face a higher risk of health damage due to smog,

How can we measure Smog?

Smog and air pollutants can be measured using Air Quality Monitors. These monitors provide readings that are interpreted through an Ambient Air Quality Index commonly referred to as the AQI. The Index rates the readings according to the Punjab Environmental Quality Standards (PEQs). The AQI translates air quality data into numbers and colours that help people understand when to take action to protect their health. Particulate Matter (PM) is the main measurable component of smog. Based on size in micrometers, particulate matter is divided into two main groups: PM2.5 and PM10. The composition of particulate matter varies according to place, season and weather conditions.

Where is this Smog coming from?

Urban smog exists all year round and is made up for various air pollutants as mentioned earlier. Not able to afford gas or electric stoves and heaters, poor people across the country use firewood to cook food and provide heat during the coldest months of winter. Biomass burning is problematic because of the high level of particulate matter produced as well as Carbon Monoxide and other harmful gases. Additionally in urban Punjab, vehicular emissions are the main source of sulphur dioxide and solid particulate matter in smog. Alongside the above contributors to smog, issue of annual crop burning in northern India has further worsened smog conditions in Pakistan. Satellite data below captures 40,510 fire incidents in Indian Punjab alone, between September 27 and November 9 2017. This time period coincides with 'Smog Season' in the city of Lahore. The link between crop burning and smog is strong and must be addressed in mitigation efforts.

International Best Practices -Lessons from our Neighbors

China: Health and Economic Cost of Air Pollution in China

  • Air pollution due to coal burning in Northern China causes reduction in average life expectancy by 5.5 years.
  • An ADB and Tsinghua Univ. study indicates the economic cost of air pollution amounts to 3.8% of GDP per year.
  • 75% of water sources and 19% of arable land are contaminated.
  • Total cost of pollution could amount to 9% of GDP per year, according to the World Bank.

Policies adopted by Beijing & Shanghai

  • Cut coal consumption
  • Cap the city’s motor vehicles number
  • Raise the kilometer length of subway
  • Promote electric and LNG buses and taxis
  • Eliminate the polluting IPPs and cement capacity
  • Relocate polluting sectors like steel, oil and chemical production to elsewhere;
  • Lower the percentage of heavy industry
  • Control the total motor vehicle number by 2022;
  • Increase use of subway from 30% to 60%;
  • Lift the clean energy as % of total energy
  • Consumption from 15% to 45%.
  • Cut shipping port emissions by 50%.

What does our law say about Air Pollution

  • Every man, woman and child has the right to take a deep breath of air w i t h o u t getting sick and the State must protect against any violations of this right,
  • National Environmental Air Quality Standards must be framed and adhered to. Anujum Irfan vs. LDA (1997)
  • Clean Air Commission (2003) and enforcement of 4-stroke CNG Rickshaws Mansoor Ali Shah vs. Gov. of Punjab (2007)
  • Cannot pollute air beyond PEQs, Must get EPA approval of construction projects, Regulate vehicle use Punjab Environment Protection Act, 1997
  • City Governments are responsible for environmental control in accordance with laws and standards Punjab Local Government Act, 2013