Recent study finds unplanned road and construction works were causing 30% of the air pollution
Unfit vehicles are responsible for 15% of the air pollution in Dhaka, according to a recent study.
The study by Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Study (CAPS) also found that 30% of the air pollution is caused by unplanned and uncontrolled road digging and construction work in the capital.
Other sources of air pollution include brick kilns and factories (29%), vehicle exhaust fumes (15%), transboundary air pollution (10%), household and cooking stove (9%), and waste incineration (7%).
Smoke from run-down vehicles still remains a concern as the amount has increased in the last two years since a crackdown on black smoke in 2003, experts say.
According to Stamford University Department of Environmental Science Chairman Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, poorly maintained vehicles are behind the emission of black smoke that is polluting the air.
He said that not only are vehicles running without fitness, even a large number of fitness certified vehicles also produce black smoke.
The harmful substances emitted by vehicles burning liquefied petroleum while stuck in traffic, is also harmful to the environment.
According to the latest government study in 2019 , there are 1.6 million registered vehicles in Dhaka.
Out of those, the total number of vehicles with expired fitness is 500,000—and the number is increasing by 20% to 30% every year.
The fitness issuance and verification authorities BRTA (Bangladesh Road Transport Authority) uses manual methods 90% of the time in order to check the fitness of the car. The test usually takes one to five minutes for every vehicle.
Meanwhile, the Vehicle Inspection Center (VIC) has limited capacity to digitally test the black smoke of the vehicle through emission test machines at the BRTA Mirpur offices.
Given that there are only two such machines, the fitness test is conducted manually most of the time, according to the BRTA officials.
“Diesel-powered heavy vehicles usually emit black smoke,” BRTA Assistant Director (fitness section) Morshedul Alam told Dhaka Tribune.
He says that the problem occurs when the engine oil is not changed timely and the engine is not properly maintained.
During manual testing the inspectors and experts identify the markers and manually mark how much black smoke is emitted, added Alam.
According to him, only 32 vehicles are tested everyday as it takes about 15 minutes to check the fitness of each vehicle.
“Police are fining those vehicles that do not come to us for fitness,” he said adding that while the BRTA provides one-year fitness certificates.
Black smoke is emitted from the vehicles if they are not maintained for three months, Alam said before adding: “So, in some cases, even if they have a certificate, they aren’t actually fit,” he said.
During a visit to the BRTA offices earlier this week, it was found that the authorities machine-inspected only one vehicle for fitness between 11am and 2pm. Another car was in the queue but the server crashed.
The Department of Environment says they regularly conduct mobile court operations to penalize vehicles emitting black smoke.
“In addition, some of our projects are working to make people aware of the adverse effects of air pollution,” said Md Ziaul Haque, its director for Dhaka region.
“But we need a big project to reduce emissions from vehicles and other sources. Which is what we are planning with other government agencies like BRTA,” he added.
According to the CAPS study, the amount of small particulate matter Dhaka air is about 80% of the total particulate matter which is one of the causes of lung disease.
Harmful substances like chromium, mercury, lead, copper, nickel and silver are regularly found in the air and if inhaled in high amounts, these metals can cause severe illnesses including heart diseases.
Dhaka has been grappling with air pollution, consistently topping the list of world cities with the worst air quality.
On April 24, Dhaka's air quality index (AQI) at 6:29am read 489 which is considered “severe.”
An AQI between 201 and 300 is considered “poor,” while a reading of 301 to 400 is said to be “hazardous,” posing serious health risks to city residents. And an AQI between 401 and 500 is said to be “severe.”
During the 90 days between January 2021-March 2021 Dhaka’s air was “hazardous” for 12 days, “very unhealthy” for 58 days, “unhealthy” for 19 days and “unhealthy for sensitive groups” on one day.
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.