Smog an International Problem

SHANGHAI, CHINA - DECEMBER 08: (CHINA OUT) People wearing masks walk along The Bund on December 8, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Heavy smog has been lingering in northern and eastern parts of China since last week, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images)

Smog has become a global concern caused by climate abnormalities as serious smog looms over Beijing and many other cities in North China, while Paris goes through more than a week of the worst winter pollution in a decade and London breached annual air pollution limits. Winter heating, industrial emissions and automobile exhausts are major contributors to smog, but the low air quality is also caused by unfavorable weather conditions linked to a very strong El Nino over the Pacific from 2015.

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the main pollutant that is warming Earth. Though living things emit carbon dioxide when they breathe, carbon dioxide is widely considered to be a pollutant when associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. In the past 150 years, such activities have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years.

Another pollutant associated with climate change is sulphur dioxide, a component of smog. Sulphur dioxide and closely related chemicals are known primarily as a cause of acid rain. But they also reflect light when released in the atmosphere, which keeps sunlight out and causes Earth to cool. Volcanic eruptions can spew massive amounts of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, sometimes causing cooling that lasts for years.

Smog is a serious problem in many cities and continues to harm human health. Ground-level ozone, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide are especially harmful for senior citizens, children, and people with heart and lung conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a good indicator of how much fossil fuel is burned and how much of other pollutants are emitted as a result. Children with underlying chronic lung conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis are soft target of air pollution. Older people are more likely to be affected by air pollution, perhaps due to generally weaker immune systems, or undiagnosed respiratory or cardiovascular health conditions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it can be dangerous to breathe in too much smog. Smog contains a pollutant called ozone, and elevated ozone levels can have a variety of negative effects on your lungs. Sulfur dioxide emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum and other factory combustibles is one the major cause of air pollution. Pollution emitting from vehicles including trucks, jeeps, cars, trains, airplanes cause immense amount of pollution.

United Nations announced the 5 December 2017 as the first International Smog Day, a moment to remember all of the people who have died prematurely, and avoidably, because of air pollution. Smog Day also gives us a chance to advance visions of a world in which the air is fit to breathe. Smog Day grew out of an initiative to share the experiences of people living with air pollution in two very different cities, London in the United Kingdom and New Delhi in India, but its ambition reaches far beyond. Smog Day supports UN Environment’s beat pollution and breate life campaigns, tying its message to concrete actions that people can take to clean up the air they breathe. Smog Day fell on the second day of the UN Environment Assembly, the world’s highest-level gathering on the environment.

Punjab is on the edge due to environmental pollution. Smog causes to effect human health and people have to suffer in case of smog effects. Children are predominantly susceptible to these detrimental consequences. A study reporting the long-term effects of the great London Smog of 1952 concluded that exposure to smog during the first year of life increased the risk of childhood asthma by 19·87%.

Air pollution is constituted of a complex mixture of gases and particles  particles smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is the primary pollutant of concern due to wide-ranging health effects and formation from many sources. Atmospheric particulate matter (PM) that are the major contributor to smog and related health issues. The larger PM10 particles stick to the muscoa and cause irritation in the respiratory tract, aggravating lung infections and asthma.

The finer PM2.5 particles enter into the interior airways, absorb through the pulmonary vein and finally into the bloodstream via the capillary network leading the adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. They also get deep into the alveoli sacs and damage the lungs. These particles comprise of poisonous trace metals such as copper, magnesium, zinc, selenium and arsenic, which can cause cancer and even lead to genetic evilness in later generations.

According to the statistics all cities measured in Pakistan exceed safe levels for air quality recommended by the National Environmental Quality Standards for Ambient Air by the Environmental Protection Agency in Pakistan (PK-EPA). This air quality may result in serious health effects, aggravating lung and heart diseases and causing respiratory effects in the general population. Similarly to fog, pollutants in the air are trapped within the temperature inversion layer close to the ground.

This build-up of pollutants is hazardous to health during the winter months from October to December. Citizens are advised to take precautions to avoid exposure to this dangerous air. The sources of air pollution are from diesel emissions, burning of biomass (crop burning), coal combustion (brick kilns and coal power), two-stroke vehicles (motorcycles and rickshaws), industrial emissions. Furthermore, the fact that only around 1% of the country’s industrial establishments report their emissions raises distressing concerns over the neglected air quality of the city and its effect on public health.

Smog accounts for a rapid sprout in fatal health problems, including exacerbation of asthma, allergies, eye infections, respiratory tract infections, and cardiac pathologies leading to premature death. A study in Karachi has found that an increase in air pollution directly correlates to an increase in hospital admission rates, and exacerbation of symptoms especially in the young and the elderly. The Lahore High Court has constituted a 10-memebr commission to come up with policy recommendations for handing smog as a public health emergency in Punjab.
The Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) and the provincial EPAs are in charge of monitoring air pollution in Pakistan. In 2010, the Pak-EPA drafted the National Air Quality Standard (NEQS) for ambient air quality. However, the proposed annual mean levels for the ambient particulate matter, PM2.5 and PM10, were higher than the stricter World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, which are 10 μg/m3 and 20 μg/m3 respectively.

According to data, the levels of the ambient particulate matter reported in Lahore far exceed the recommended values of both WHO guidelines and NEQS guidelines. A study conducted in Lahore over, aiming to compare the level of fine particles with the aforementioned guidelines, concluded that the annual average PM2.5 of the areas studied was 136.5 ± 34.1 μg/m3 , which is roughly 14 folds higher than the WHO guidelines. This study also mentions that this level of particulate matter was comparable to one of the most polluted megacities of the world, Delhi, at 143.0 ± 17.8 μg/m3. This elucidates the worsening state of air pollution in the city of Lahore.

The agriculture department is monitoring and reporting incident of burning rice stubble this year under directions of Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdaar. Due to rice stubble burning produce effects of dense smog in atmosphere and it causes photosynthesis process in leaves of crops is affected and plants cannot make their necessary food. Plants, under the effect of smoggy clouds, cannot prepare necessary hormones for its growth and per acre yield of crops may affect due to this situation. In a bid to mitigate the effects of smog, farmers must avoid burning of crop residual e.g rice stubble burning etc. Instead of burning farmers must mix the crop residual into the soil through deep plough via Rotavator and disc harrow etc with consultation of local Agriculture expert of department.

Given the damage that smog can incur, it is imperative that prudent measures be undertaken to improve air quality. Most environmental regulatory organizations fall behind due to the lack of specialized equipment, standardized protocols, trained personnel, and funds. The government could start by allocating appropriate funds for monitoring and reducing harmful emissions, carrying out nationwide forestation programs, and switching to renewable resources. Considering the bleak outlook that the current situation portrays, the need of the hour is establishing a stringent action plan to prevent adverse outcomes on public health and reduce the economic burden on the health sector of the country.

Last but not the least, the public needs to be made aware of the possible health issues that can be encountered during this environmental hazard and educated on ways they can protect themselves and prevent exacerbations of pre-existing medical conditions. Public service messages on television, radio, and the Internet, along with the distribution of educational pamphlets and brochures can be a few of the effective steps for ensuring this.

Industrialized countries have worked to reduce levels of sulfur dioxide, smog, and smoke in order to improve people’s health. But a result, not predicted until recently, is that the lower sulfur dioxide levels may actually make global warming worse. Just as sulfur dioxide from volcanoes can cool the planet by blocking sunlight, cutting the amount of the compound in the atmosphere lets more sunlight through, warming the Earth. This effect is exaggerated when elevated levels of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap the additional heat.
Most people agree that to curb global warming, a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s carbon footprint the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.

On a larger scale, governments are taking measures to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Paris Agreement, a voluntary agreement among 118 nations ratified on November 4, 2016, is one effort being enacted on a global scale to combat climate change. As a part of the agreement, each country agreed to take measures to combat climate change, with the ultimate goal of keeping the post-industrial global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. Another method is to put taxes on carbon emissions or higher taxes on gasoline, so that individuals and companies will have greater incentives to conserve energy and pollute less.

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