Time To Battle Air Pollution
By Maryam Azwer
The toxic fumes released into the air on a daily basis in this country may not have reached a level of high concern yet, but could prove to be a serious problem if more steps to combat air pollution are not taken quickly.
Chairman, Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Charitha Herath, said that “the ambient air quality level [in Sri Lanka] is not as bad as in some industrial countries. We are even better than some South Asian countries.” Air pollution, he explained, is mainly two-fold – industrial air and vehicle emissions. “We have regulated the industrial side and set minimum standards for the issue of Environment Protection Licenses, or EPL. The EPL will be given only if the air quality emissions are under the regulated standards,” said Herath. The issue of vehicle emissions is presently being tackled by the establishment of vehicle emission testing centres, he said. However, the CEA Chairman also admitted that complaints had been received with regard to the operations of some of these centres.
“The CEA and Department of Motor Traffic have started a new programme to monitor these centres, and to develop better arrangements for them to follow,” he said. According to Operations Director, Environmental Foundation Limited, Vimukthi Weeratunga, however, air pollution is a matter of concern and could have a serious impact unless looked into soon. “It is a very serious problem, both economically and environmentally. By not improving the roads, it takes so much time to get to one place. Vehicles spend a lot
of time on the roads, and they are emitting toxic fumes,” he said.
To add to that, he said, the prevalence of so many low efficiency engines, particularly in three wheelers, result in a high emission of toxic gases. Vehicle emission tests have been somewhat effective, he said, in controlling the emission of toxic fumes. “But this is still not the best solution. The best solution would be to bring in the best fuel, and high efficiency engines.” He also noted that European cities have very stringent standards, and are therefore considered cleaner.
“We are fortunate Colombo is a coastal city, so the pollutants get pushed away. But because of this, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay any attention to the issue. And in Kandy, because the city sits in a valley, there is no way to push the pollutants away, so the city itself seems quite polluted,” explained Weeratunga. He added that one way of combating air pollution at present would be to plant large amounts of trees. “There are many health issues related to air pollution. This could result in economic losses. Also, investors won’t come to polluted cities,” he said. “It [air pollution] is not out of hand now, but if you keep ignoring it, it could become an issue. People are not looking at it as an economic loss,” said Weeratunga.
Meanwhile, CEA Chairman, Charitha Herath, said that analysing economic losses resulting from air pollution could not be easily done, and is not being done by any country. On the issue of low efficiency engines, Herath said that “Standards set for vehicle emissions are low, compared to the European standards. If we set it higher, half the vehicles on our roads will have to be removed.” He added that the issue of air quality was one that needed more public awareness. “Air quality monitoring does not make any sense if the public is unaware of air pollution issues. We all have some responsibilities towards maintaining air quality,” he said.