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Smog a serious threat to Lahore

Hamad Abbas

Lahore, the capital of Punjab and the second largest city of Pakistan, has been engulfed by a thick layer of Smog. Declared as the most polluted city of Pakistan, Lahore is currently facing serious health issues as the air quality is much worse than the normal living standards. Last week, on 6th November, 2019, a thick layer of toxic black smog covered the entire city, forcing many citizens to gasp for breath or suffer different kinds of infections, specially related to throat and eyes. The condition was so worse that government had to immediately suspend schools the next day. The situation was so threatening that it was claimed as hazardous for humans to breath. In fact, an estimated 60,000 Pakistanis died in 2015 due to smog, as per World Health Organization.

According to The Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the provincial EPAs in charge of monitoring air pollution in Pakistan, a 5-yearlong study was conducted in Lahore, aiming to compare the level of fine particles with the WHO standards. The study concluded an average of 136.5 ± 34.1 μg/m3 ambient particulate matter, which was approximately 14 times higher than the WHO standards. The results were comparable to the world’s most polluted city, Delhi, which stands at 143.0 ± 17.8 μg/m3. According to AQI, the last level of hazardous is between 250 and 300. At such levels, people with heart and lung disease, old and the young, and everyone else must keep minimum outdoor activity and must remain indoors. The average levels of smog crossed 600 in Gulberg and 640 in Zaman park whereas the overall level of smog was accounted at 550. With such levels, it is considered as hazardous for humans to breath and wearing a regular medical mask wouldn’t simply help. It is recommended to use N99 air masks when moving outdoors as it can filter up to 99% of the particulate matter 2.5 from the air.

The major reason for such levels of smog include car fumes, industrial emissions, dust from building sites, smoke from brick kilns and burning of rubbish and crop residue in nearby fields. Vehicles with minimum or no environment friendly devices, such as catalytic converters are being used and that too, with poor quality fuel. Brick kilns again use dirty fuel such as rubber tires which emit extremely dangerous fumes against which no action has been taken. All these factors have jointly contributed to such levels of smog while the government kept on ignoring the increasingly alarming situation in the city.

The atmospheric pollutants or gases that form smog are released in the air when fuels are burnt. When sunlight and its heat react with these gases and fine particles in the atmosphere, smog is formed. It is purely caused by air pollution. Ground level ozone and fine particles are released in the air due to complex photochemical reactions between volatile organic compounds (VOC), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx). During the winter months when the wind speeds are low, it helps the smoke and fog to become stagnate at a place forming smog and increasing pollution levels near the ground closer to where people are respiring. It hampers visibility and disturbs the environment. The time that smog takes to form depends directly on the temperature. Temperature inversions are situations when warm air does not rise instead stays near the ground. During situations of temperature inversions, if the wind is calm, smog may get trapped and remain over a place for days.

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