‘Air to the throne’

Smog is upon us!

It isn’t the most wonderful time of the year, contrary to what the famous Christmas jingle popularised by Andy Williams entails. Anyone who steps a foot outside is bound to experience an unpleasant odor in the air, and his or her eyes will be subjected to toxins reminiscent of the by-product of smoke in an industrial factory. The season of Smog is upon us, and gives new meaning to the immortalised phrase in popular culture, “Winter is Coming.”

Making clean air in Lahore and other cities of Pakistan — a very real objective in the coming years — is a tougher task than it seems. Unlike most other environmental initiatives, such as for clean water, plantation of trees, and recycling of plastic, the effects of trying to monitor and implement change in the realm of clean air are not instantaneous, and rely upon certain environmental factors that are not really under our control. For example, many in this country have a theory that our unbreathable air during this particular time of year is accredited to Diwali celebrations in India, the burning of coal in Pakistan which yields high sulfur emissions, and through negligence of farmers in surrounding regions in both India and Pakistan. What farmers traditionally have done, albeit amidst heavy discouragement from agricultural and environmental experts alike, is burn their rice paddy residues during this specific time of year to allow for the harvesting of different crops suited for the winter-time.

In order to counter and monitor these issues, the Lahore Waste Management Company and the (LWMC) and Environmental Protection Department (EPD) have partnered up to tackle environmental challenges in the city, namely for Clean Air. The Environmental Protection Department acquired a number of Air Quality Monitors over the years. Though these monitors were primarily set up for monitoring air quality in Lahore, it has been understood that Sialkot, Gujaranwala, and Faisalabad have also had these monitors installed in their respective localities. Initially, the Lahore Clean Air Commission had come in to being in 2003 for the specific purpose of addressing the issue of pollution created by transportation vehicles, which now seems to be the tip of the iceberg in dealing with poor air quality in the times we live in.

As per the past few years, air quality monitors have been installed privately in certain corporations’ offices and homes in prominent areas of Lahore, which have been developed by an international company. It is these monitors and the contributions of private individuals that have allowed to monitor the cleanliness of Lahore’s air, which is measured through an Air Quality Index(API). This index takes in to account five major pollutants when evaluating a score: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide

Lahore has consistently ranked as one of the top five cities with the worst quality in the past three years. If there are six categories for the Air Quality Index, then Lahore has consistently been in the “hazardous” zone during the winter season

The results have been, unsurprisingly, horrific, to say the least. Lahore has consistently ranked as one of the top five cities with the worst quality in the past three years. If there are six categories for the Air Quality Index, then Lahore has consistently been in the “hazardous” zone during the winter season in the aforementioned time frame. The categories are good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), very unhealthy (201-300), and hazardous (301 and higher).

Such drastic air quality has made people more aware of the term “PM 2.5” when describing the smog. The smog is known to contain particulate matter that is approximately 2.5 microns (or 2.5 thousandths of a millimeter) in size, which is so drastic that it can enter into the lungs and exacerbate respiratory illnesses in an individual such as asthma and bronchitis. Henceforth, the demand for face masks (be they dust respirator masks, surgical masks in 2ply or 3ply form, or self-proclaimed anti microbial face masks) shoots up tremendously in smog season. There actually was a prominent Ted Talk held by Kamal Meattle on how to ‘grow fresh air’, through the advent of three simple plants: the areca palm (four shoulder height plants of which convert CO2 to oxygen per person – ideal for living rooms), the mother-in-law’s tongue (which converts CO2 in to oxygen at night – ideal for bedrooms), and the money plant (which removes formaldehydes and other pollutants from the air). Kamal’s talk reflected the issues of those living in Delhi to provide clean air for homes, a city that consistently ranks as “very unhealthy” on the AQI Index. The question is, can it work for Lahore?

Concluding this analysis, I’d like to give the example of Beijing as a city that drastically improved its air quality, by cutting PM 2.5 emissions by 54pc from 4Q 2016 to 4Q 2017. They vowed to cut down on coal consumption and start implementing more environmentally friendly energy sources. Beijing has even built a smog tower, dubbed as the world’s largest air purifier, that stands at seven meters tall and can produce eight cubic meters or 282.5 cubic feet of clean air per second. More can be examined in terms of the sterilisation technology of the purifiers, and what diseases they can tackle like many nascent air purifiers in the market meant for use by medical institutions. All in all, the measures needed to be taken to make Lahore’s air clean once and for all begin and end with us. Let’s hope for cleaner air for a brighter tomorrow we can all see and inherit.

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