Air quality index yet to get ministry clearance
Two years past being sent to the environment and forests ministry, a draft national air quality index (AQI), giving real time information about rising and health-endangering pollution levels in major cities, is yet to get clearance, said senior officials of the Department of Environment (DoE) which prepared it.
“We will 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 at the ministry.
He alleged that the policymakers do not have adequate knowledge about air pollution although it has been posing adverse effects on public health.
“The air pollution issue does not get priority. We prepared an AQI long ago but we could not announce it for lack of political willingness. We have been asked not to announce the AQI,” a DoE senior official told the news agency preferring anonymity.
He said the first step to introduce an AQI was taken during a tenure of BNP but the initiative fell flat.
According to him, top government officials and political leaders fear that announcing the AQI would expose the hazardous scenario of air pollution and subsequently discourage foreigners from visiting Bangladesh.
Dr Khan, also the project director of 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 World Bank support, is currently generating AQI daily on an experimental basis using data from 11 air monitoring stations in Dhaka, Gazipur, Narayangani, Chittagong, Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet.
The data showed the air relatively cleaner during the monsoon in June when average wind speed and precipitation increased.
The average concentration levels of the most critical pollutants, particulate matter (PM) of 2.5 and 10 micrometres or less in diameter, in 24-hour periods were 19-31 μg/m3 (microgram per cubic metre) and 40-93 μg/m3 respectively.
Previously during the dry season in February, these were found to be 109-153 μg/m3 and 165-317 μg/m3 respectively.
Other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides also exceeded the limit values of local standards.
According to World Health Organization'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 and 50μg/m3.
A 2011 study says air pollution causes about 15,000 premature deaths in Bangladesh.
“PM2.5 and PM10 are severely injurious to health. If we can check air pollution, we can save lives and cut cost of treatment of diseases caused by air pollution,” Dr Khan said.