Cars, trucks and other vehicles that are heavy emitters of smoke, also called super-emitters, are really a menace to environment and urban air quality. The really old vehicles, which are not kept well burn a lot of oil with the fuel and emit tons of smoke and other dangerous criteria pollutants. These pollutants, such as unburnt hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, soot, and heavy metal particles from lubricant oil (ash) are considered to be many times more (more than 10x) dangerous to the human health than the pollution of even the most polluting new engines.
In mega-cities of developing world, such as Karachi, Lahore and Mexico City, the average age of vehicles is ununsually long. People keep their cars for long periods of time (not always well maintained as well due to cost burdens involved), and cars change many owners before seeing the graveyard. Old cars are typically less clean to begin with as far as their technology is concerned, but they also do not have good fuel control systems for stoichiometric combustion, or after treatment devices such as catalytic converters for emission control.
As these cars age, their pistons and rings give way, leading to lubrication oil entering the combustion cylinders, and a drmaatic increase in exhaust and crank case emissions. If you are behind an old car and see blue smoke coming out, be warned that you are breathing in tiny droplets of nasty oil. As a sum total, older vehicles quickly become super-emitters if not kept excellently maintained, and in the absence of easy & affordable retrofit emissions control technologies, they pollute like nobody’s business.
In that context, the following news item from Daily Times about Islamabad Police impounding and fining the smoky/dirty cars is very encouraging. Most developed countries now have control systems in place for regular monitoing of emissions from all registered automobiles, and to determine the average life/usage of cars and their pollution indices as a function of age. Such data is frequently used to make policy changes – including appropriating money in heavily polluted areas to even ‘buy’ the super-emitters out.
According to the news source, Police in Islamabad (not exactly the most polluted city in Pakistan, but still…) fined more than 1200 cars in order to clamp down on super-emitters.
The Islamabad Model Traffic Police (IMTP) has fined 1,241 smoke-emitting vehicles, including that of State Minister for Environment Malik Amin Aslam, over the last two months and has impounded 231 vehicles for violating traffic rules, Daily Times has learnt.
Sources said that 58 smoke-emitting vehicles of various government departments have also been impounded. These vehicles were handed over to the authorities concerned after they assured the police that they would repair the vehicles before putting them back on the road. Sources said the prime minister had directed the IMTP to ensure a pollution-free atmosphere in the capital and the police checked 8,816 vehicles over the last two months and fined 1,241 vehicles for emitting excess smoke. They said 200 vehicles were impounded and the rest were given traffic tickets.
One thing that was quite interesting in this ‘operation’ was the discovery that many of the super-emitters were actually government owned (and army) vehicles. That is shameful (though not surprising since government owned vehicles are typically not well maintained. Ofcourse money allocated to repairs often ‘disappears’ ):
The sources said that a majority of the smoke-emitting vehicles belonged to government departments and that 350 government vehicles were in a “miserable” condition but the authorities concerned failed to have them repaired.
Even more shameful for the government bodies is their reply back to the Police (or lack there of) when informed that they needed to fix their vehicles:
IMTP Senior Superintendent Sultan Azam Tamuri said 41 government institutions, including ministries and autonomous bodies, had been asked to get their vehicles repaired within three weeks otherwise the vehicles would be fined. However, only 15 departments had assured the police that they would follow the instructions while the rest did not heed the warning.
Kudos to the Islamabad Police for this action. I hope their colleagues in the more polluted cities such as Karachi and Lahore will also learn something from them and emulate. The adverse health effects, and loss in direct economic terms due to acute and chronic lung/pulmonary diseases caused by air pollution is no joke. Our children’s future is at stake, and the Police can certainly help.