Air pollution, a silent killer | Sunday Observer

Air pollution, a silent killer

11 October, 2020

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, it is estimated that approximately seven million people die annually due to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia, mainly caused by exposure to polluted air. South-East Asia, which includes Sri Lanka accounts for two million deaths.

Unlike other illnesses where remedial action can be taken immediately, air pollution is not visible, and is silent, with very few taking the problem seriously and only doing so when the situation is dire, putting their life, health and well-being at risk.

In Sri Lanka too, it is cause for serious concern. Health authorities estimate over 45% of children admitted to hospitals was due to air pollution related illnesses. WHO’s ‘Ambient air pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease’ also estimates that 7,792 deaths occur annually in Sri Lanka due to air pollution-related disease.

In Sri Lanka, the main source of ambient air pollution is vehicular emissions. Ambient air pollution is mainly caused by pollutants such as Nitrogen Oxides, Sulfur Oxides, Hydro Carbon and Carbon Monoxide, air toxics, and fine particulate matter. While it is important to ensure ambient air is at safe levels, according to the 2019 IQAir AirVisual World Air Quality Report, Sri Lanka’s PM2.5 concentration, weighted by population, is a moderate average of 25.20. Notably, this is a marked improvement from last year’s average of 32.00.

Sri Lanka also fares positively in air quality compared to other South Asian countries with Bangladesh highlighted as the most polluted country with an alarming 83.3 PM2.5.

Among the main factors contributing towards this positive outlook is the ongoing Vehicle Emission Testing (VET) program, which is mandatory for a majority of the vehicles. Despite the number of vehicles in the country having increased exponentially and ensuing traffic congestions, the ambient air quality continues to remain at satisfactory levels.

It is the responsibility of all vehicle owners to understand the importance of the emission test which not only helps to ensure their vehicles are well maintained and benefitting from savings on fuel costs but also the vital role the program plays in improving air quality in urban areas.

Despite air pollution having been identified as a silent killer destroying lives, constructive action such as vehicle emission testing can positively contribute to reducing the amount of pollution thus improving the quality of life.