The government is formulating a set of standards, which will impose limits on indoor air pollution, especially in workplaces, and empower itself to punish violators.
This is the first time there will be a legal instrument on maintaining indoor air quality. A set of standards is already there to combat outdoor pollution.
Officials said the new standards will enable the government to monitor air pollution inside workplaces and deal with workers’ health issues.
Because of the absence of a legal framework on indoor air quality, the government earlier could not assess the level of air pollution at garment or cement factories, rerolling mills, medical facilities, and shopping malls.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the US Department of Labour, poor indoor air quality can cause headache, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Also, some specific diseases have been linked to specific air contaminants or indoor environments like asthma in damp indoor environments, it says. In addition, there are some exposures, such as asbestos and radon, which do not cause immediate symptoms but can lead to cancer after many years, it adds.
The Standards for Indoor Air Quality, the legal instrument which deals with air pollution inside homes and workplaces, is part of the government’s effort to ensure clean air amid concerns over poor air quality in major cities of Bangladesh.
In a recent survey, Dhaka has been ranked the second most polluted capital city in the world after New Delhi.
SM Munjurul Hannan Khan, director of the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment (CASE) project on curbing outdoor pollution, said, “As we don’t have any indoor standards, we can’t say to what extent air pollution is happening inside the four walls. The new standards will help us understand this pollution.”
The new set of standards complements the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which deals with outdoor air pollution. The two sets of standards have been incorporated into the proposed Clean Air Act.
Md Ziaul Haque, director (air quality management), Department of Environment (DoE), said the environment, forest and climate change ministry will finalise the draft of the act by this month. It is likely to be passed within this year.
Under the proposed act, the government aims to ensure “effective management of indoor air quality” as part of a time-bound National Air Quality Management Plan.
Md Ali Ahammad Shoukat Choudhury, a professor of chemical engineering at Buet, who was a technical consultant for drafting of the law, said the guidelines of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and World Health Organization have been taken into consideration in writing the draft.
To combat outdoor air pollution, DoE monitors presence of particulate matters (PM10 and PM2.5) and toxic gases including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and sulfur dioxide in cities with a concentration of industries. The monitoring is done through continuous air monitoring stations (CAMS) installed in the cities.
In the case of indoor air quality, the monitoring agency would see the presence of these particulate matters, toxic gases as well as a few other pollutants including formaldehyde, radon, and naphthalene, according to the draft standards.
Officials, however, said monitoring of indoor air quality at any level is difficult all over the world, and they took the challenges in consideration.
“This is a new idea in Bangladesh,” said CASE Project Director Munjurul Hannan.
On the monitoring side, he said, they would set devices known as “compact air quality monitoring” machines inside factories to measure air pollution.
Once the pollution level and its sources are known, the factory authorities would be given the data and asked to take preventive measures, the official said, adding that similar steps could be taken for other establishments like hospitals.
He, however, laid stress on extensive research for combating indoor air pollution, and said the success of the law would depend on collaboration between different ministries including environment, health, and energy.
Md Ziaul Haque, director (air quality management) of DoE, said monitoring measures could be taken at industrial surroundings like knitting or cement factories, and iron rerolling mills where workers are exposed to health hazards.
This would also allow the government to watch large commercial kitchens where firewood and coals are used as fuel and can cause air pollution.
Indoor and outdoor air pollution led to 1.23 lakh deaths in Bangladesh in 2017, according to the State of Global Air 2019 report. As per the study, the major sources of pollution are household solid fuels, dust from construction, coal power plants, brick kilns, vehicle emissions, and diesel-powered machines.
Among the contaminants, PM2.5 poses the greatest health risk and its concentration in Dhaka well exceeds the standard limit of 65 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³). Its density is 97.1 μg/m³ in Dhaka and highest 113.5 μg/m³ in New Delhi, according to the 2018 World Air Quality Report prepared by Greenpeace and AirVisual.