The air quality in Barishal city has gone far beyond the acceptable level as a government agency has been inactive for around eight years to stop toxic gas-emitting vehicles -- the major pollutant.
Official measurements show pollution level has increased continually during the period.
The Department of Environment (DoE) monitored air quality every year in January, except for 2014 [when the monitoring was done in August], in Rupatoli and Nathullabad -- the worst polluted areas.
It found lead and all kinds of toxic gases including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide in the air.
Muntasir Rahman, an assistant biochemist of DoE, said vehicles are the main anthropogenic factor in air pollution.
Apart from this, industrial smog, brick kilns and dust from construction sites are causing air pollution in the city, said Abdul Halim, director of DoE, Barishal.
According to globally-accepted Air Quality Index (AQI), air quality level of 0-50 microgram (μg) per cubic metre (m3) is considered good, 51-100 moderate and 101-150 unhealthy.
Muntasir said 200 μg/m3 is tolerable for human health.
But pollution level in both the bus terminal areas has exceeded the tolerable level since 2011, when the DoE stopped taking actions against liable vehicles.
On February 1 the same year, at least 50 people -- including five policemen and a journalist -- were injured in a clash between ruling party-backed road transport workers and law enforcers over a DoE mobile court drive.
When asked about the inaction, a DoE official, wishing anonymity, told The Daily Star that they did not receive enough assistance from law enforcers after the clash.
However, Nasiruddin Mallik, assistant commissioner and media wing spokesperson of Barishal Metropolitan Police, who was posted two years ago, said there was no such example in his tenure that DoE did not get help on demand.
DoE Director Abdul Halim said their efforts are on to curb air pollution and they are continuing drives against illegal brick kilns and factories.
Debasish Biswas, an assistant director of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA), said, “Sometimes, we conduct mobile court drives but it is not adequate.”
Around 20 percent of buses and 30 percent of three-wheelers contribute to the pollution, he added.
IMPACT ON PUBLIC HEALTH
More than five lakh people are currently living in the city, according to the public relations section of Barishal City Corporation.
Nathullabad is located in the city's western part while Rupatoli on the southern side. Residents are exposed to air pollution as they have to traverse the areas on a regular basis.
Lipika Begum of Natun Bazar area takes her sixth-grader daughter Karishma to nearby Kashipur School and College regularly. “It's unsafe and unhealthy to cross Nathullabad bus stand amid smoke,” said the 35-year-old.
Around 13 government establishments -- including hospital and educational institutions -- are in those areas. Patients are the worst sufferers as they and their attendants have to travel through the areas.
Anwara Begum, 46, living in Rupatoli area, regularly takes a family member to nearby Sher-e-Bangla Medical College Hospital for treatment. “We sometimes get stuck in traffic jam at Rupatoli amid polluted air, which is quite harmful to the patient.”
Akkas Hossain, 84, from the same area, said he has to get treatment at the hospital due to respiratory problems. “Often times, my situation worsens while crossing the bus stand area.”
Lung diseases like asthma, bronchitis and respiratory problems are caused by air pollution, which has taken an alarming turn, said Civil Surgeon Dr Monwar Hossain.
On an average, 500 lung patients are admitted to Sher-e-Bangla hospital annually, said Associate Professor Dr Siddikur Rahman. “The figure used to be much lower before at this major public hospital.”
WHAT GREEN ACTIVISTS SAY
A clash should not be an excuse to refrain from taking actions against vehicles emitting toxic gas, said Lincon Bayen, divisional coordinator, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association.
“They [DoE officials] should inform the higher authorities of the current situation,” he said.
Shuvankar Chakrabarty, secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon's Barishal chapter, said if anyone is unable to serve people, he or she should not be in government service.