Every year, Punjab experiences periods of low visibility due to fog in November and February for around 10 to 25 days. However, over the recent years, the situation has worsened considerably due to local and international factors. ‘Smog’ has become a major concern for Lahore’s residents.
Read on to learn more about the latest environmental issue that Lahore and surrounding areas are facing.
What is smog?
The term ‘smog’ was first used in the 1900s to describe a mixture of smoke and fog. Initially the smoke usually came from burning coal. However, most of the smog we see today is known as photochemical smog. This is produced when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere.
Nitrogen oxides come from car exhausts, coal power plants and factory emissions. VOCs are released from gasoline, paint and other cleaning solvents. When the sunlight reacts with these chemicals it forms airborne particles and ground level ozone-smog.
Smog is essentially air pollution that reduces visibility.
What factors are causing smog in Lahore and surrounding areas?
According to the Punjab Environment Protection Department, there are three major causes that result in the air pollutants surrounding Lahore and adjoining areas:
1. One of the main reasons is the billowing of smog-forming particles from India due to burning of rice stubbles in the province of Punjab and coal plant emissions. The Indian authorities are doing their best to put an end to these environmentally damaging practises.
2. Local factors have also contributed greatly to the worsening air pollution. In a city of 11 million people, there are currently 7 million registered vehicles. This results in year round air pollution that is worsened during the winter season.
3. The industrial sector in the urban area is also adding to Lahore’s smog. In the last year alone, 200 units of steel factories in northern Lahore have been shut down by the government. The factories will only be allowed to open once they have adopted environment-friendly measures.
How harmful is smog?
Ozone(a component of smog) can be healthy and harmful. However, when we talk about about the ground-level ozone, it can have the following harmful effects on an individual’s health:
Irritation of the respiratory system
This can result in coughing, a feeling of irritation in the throat or an uncomfortable sensation in the chest.
Exacerbation of asthma
Ozone increases the susceptibility of an individual to allergens, which many trigger an asthmatic attack.
Reduced lung function
Ozone can make it more difficult for you to breathe as deeply and vigorously as you normally would. When this happens, you may notice that breathing starts to feel uncomfortable.
Sensation of burning of eyes
Children, adults who are active outdoors and adults with respiratory conditions are most at risk from exposure to smog.
What is the government doing about it?
Government of the Punjab, Environment Protection Department released a ‘Policy on controlling smog 2017’ on October the 21, 2017.
The document details that the department will closely monitor the burning of rice stubbles in the Punjab district using inter alia satellite monitoring. The Home Department will impose a ban on the open burning of crops, solid wastes and other hazardous materials.
Multiple short to long term action plans have been devised which include the following: introduction of low sulphur fuels; installation of vehicular pollution control devices; better traffic management; building capacity to monitor and forecast episodes of high air pollution e.t.c.
The policy will come into effect immediately upon approval from the Punjab Environmental Protection Council.
What can you do to help?
The following steps have been suggested by the Environment Protection Department to lessen your contribution to an already worsening situation:
- Always keep your vehicle in good condition
- Prefer 4 stroke engine vehicles
- Limit the industrial effluents as per National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS)
- Do not establish industrial units within the residential areas
- Apply 3R formula i.e. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
- Plant as many trees as possible
Weather forecasts predict that the situation will continue for another week since there is no chance
of rain or strong winds until Wednesday, which will help dissipate the smog.