The fight for clean air starts with data

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, August 18th, 2016

Bangladesh air is relatively cleaner during monsoon


Although the air pollution is worsening in urban areas, the proposed national Air Quality Index (AQI) to identify the level of air pollution in major cities, including Dhaka, could not be launched yet for lack of clearance from the Environment and Forests Ministry.


The Department of Environment (DoE) prepared a draft of national AQI two years ago and sent it to the ministry for its approval but the ministry did not give its official clearance to launch it, according to senior officials at the DoE.


“We’ll be able to start work on announcement of AQI after finalising the standard for measuring air pollution,” said Dr Manzurul Hannan Khan, a joint secretary of the ministry.


He alleged that policymakers do not have adequate knowledge about air pollution although it has been having adverse effects on public health.


“The air pollution issue doesn’t get priority. We prepared an AQI long ago, but we couldn’t announce it for lack of political willingness. We’ve been asked not to announce the AQI,” a DoE senior official told UNB preferring anonymity.


He said the first step to introduce an AQI was taken during BNP’s previous tenure, but the initiative fell flat.


According to him, top government officials and political leaders think if the AQI is announced, the hazardous scenario of air pollution will get exposed which will discourage foreigners to visit Bangladesh.


The AQI is a tool for reporting daily air quality of any city or country that provides a measure of how clean or polluted the air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for public.


Globally, AQI is used as an effective tool to build public awareness and support for aggressive action for pollution control and bring down daily peak pollution levels. It focuses on health effects that one person might experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air.


Dr Khan, also project director of the DoE’s Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project, said an inter-ministerial meeting involving various stakeholders will be held after Eid-ul-Azha to discuss the air pollution issue and finalise a national standard of it.


The CASE project, being implemented with support from the World Bank, is currently releasing AQI daily on experimental basis. It has set up 11 Continuous Air Monitoring Stations (CAMSs) in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayangani, Chittagong, Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet. The DoE is now preparing the daily AQI based on the data generated from the CAMSs.


According to the data generated at CAMSs, Bangladesh air is relatively cleaner during monsoon. The data show that dispersion and washout of pollutants increases during June in 2016 due to increasing average wind speed and precipitation, and thus the pollution concentration level decreases.


Although particulate matter (PM) 10 and PM 2.5 are the most critical pollutants, but 24-hour average for both PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations during June last were found lower than previous months. It is observed that the average concentration level of PM2.5 and PM10 measured at different CAMS were 19-31 μg/m3 (microgram per cubic metre) and 40-93 μg/m3 respectively during June, 2016. The gaseous pollutants except NOx also did not exceed limit values of local standard.


But, the data obtained from the CAMSs show that the air quality was extremely unhealthy during dry season. The 24-hour average for both PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations during February in 2016 were found 109-153 μg/m3 and 165-317 μg/m3 respectively at different CAMSs. The gaseous pollutants like NOx and SO2 also exceed the limit values of local standard.


According to WHO’s air quality guidelines, the permissible level of PM2.5 was 10 μg/m3 annually and 25 μg/m3 a day (24-hour), while PM10 20μg/m3 annually and 50μg/m3 a day. A 2011 study says air pollution causes about 15,000 premature deaths in Bangladesh.


“PM2.5 and PM10 are severely injurious to health. If could check air pollution, we can save lives and cut cost of treatment of the diseases caused by air pollution,” Dr Khan said.


According to experts, once AQI is introduced, it will inform people about the daily air quality and provide advisories on health consequences. As a result, people will push the authorities concerned to take effective measures to ensure cleaner air. An AQI should be launched immediately in Dhaka and other cities as air pollution is increasing fast in the country due to unplanned industrialisation and unfit vehicles plying on city streets, said Dr Abdul Matin, general secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa).

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