20 July, 2018

Blog

With Every Breath You Take

By Ranil Senanayake – 

Dr Ranil Senanayake

Air pollution has become a very serious and very visible burden on humanity. The WHO estimated that it was responsible for 3 million premature deaths worldwide per year in 2012; much of this mortality is due to exposure to small particulate matter of 2.5-10 microns in diameter (PM10) which cause cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers.

Even healthy people experience health impacts from polluted air, the effects include respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities. The current health status and the pollutant type and concentration, or and the length of exposure to the polluted air, determines the rate of cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and cancers. High air pollution levels can cause immediate health problems.

The air in Colombo is already of poor quality. The PM10 has an annual average of 36 µg/m3 of these particles. That’s 3.6 times the safe level set by the WHO. While the well- being of the citizens of Colombo seem the least important to the the planners of our future, we need to inform ourselves on the cost we have to pay, so that we could defend ourselves from the consequences of ill-informed decision making.

The current air pollution level in all of Sri Lanka has an annual average of 22 µg/m3 of PM2.5 particles which is 2.2 times the WHO safe level. It has also been estimated that in 7,792 people died from air pollution-related disease and that the rate is increasing each year. The top illness caused by air pollution is Ischemic heart disease. Further, 33 children die of air pollution-related diseases every year. Currently The main source of ambient air pollution in Sri Lanka is vehicular emissions, which in Colombo contributes to over 60% of total emissions.  But, lurking in the activities of the proposed Port City, there is a huge hidden danger. The danger that uncontrolled construction debris will pose to air quality and to  the health of the residents of Colombo city.

Construction activities that contribute massively to air pollution include: land filling, operation of diesel engines, demolition, burning, and working with toxic materials. All construction sites generate high levels of dust (typically from concrete, cement, wood, stone, silica) which can carry for large distances over a long period of time. Construction dust is classified as PM10 or particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter, invisible to the naked eye.

Research has shown that PM10 penetrates deeply into the lungs and cause a wide range of health problems including respiratory illness, asthma, bronchitis and even cancer.

Another major source of PM10 on construction sites comes from the diesel engine exhausts of vehicles and heavy equipment. This is known as diesel particulate matter (DPM) and consists of soot, sulphates and silicates, all of which readily combine with other toxins in the atmosphere, increasing the health risks of particle inhalation.

We have witnessed a lame, shameful excuse for an EIA and SEIA on the Port City landfill that was accepted by the Environmental Ministry. The landfill was facilitated without responding to any of the public concerns. While the legality of these actions will be discussed into the future, current public interest should focus on the  Phase 2 EIA: Construction of the buildings and infrastructure of the Port City. This EIA will be based on the concept master plan and infrastructure requirements submitted to the UDA (and described in Chapter 2 of the SEIA ). The construction of permanent structures/built environment on the landfill will take place only upon receiving necessary approvals for the Phase 2 EIA study.

As we have learnt to expect from past performance, there will be a secret Phase 2 EIA which will be approved out of the public eye and construction will be allowed to begin. Land will be sold and we will be told that they cannot control the development activity. Before this happens, we must demand a public hearing of the Phase 2 EIA of the Port City to be conducted before any approvals are given. But irrespective of that, there should be a maximal allowable limit on air pollution set at today’s level. Any activity that contributes to pollution exceeding these levels, must be penalized by the Government.

The price of increasing the air pollution burden will be, accelerated aging of the lungs, Loss of lung capacity and decreased lung function, development of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and possibly cancer, shortened life spans etc. Is this what we want for ourselves when we breathe?

Long-term exposure to polluted air will have permanent health effects, those most affected will be, individuals with heart disease, coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure, Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pregnant women, outdoor workers, older adults and the elderly, children under age 14, athletes who exercise vigorously outdoors.

Can we expect the Municipality or Ministry of Health to follow the example in the United states, where eight northeastern states sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force it to impose more stringent controls on a group of mostly Midwestern states whose air pollution they claim is being blown in their direction and creating public health problems in their communities? The airborne pollution was being created by burning fossil fuels and through the use of cement and construction chemicals in the Midwestern states. They should place stringent controls on air quality now.

As the skyline to the sea around Colombo will be increasingly blocked by current unplanned construction happening today, the through flow of air will be reduced. We can already see this happening. Allowing another barricade to airflow to be created in front of that, should be seen as an infringement of one’s basic right to a healthy breath. It seems tragic that no politician wants to act of the defense of public health, our only hope is that it is the president himself who is the Minister for the Environment, can direct his ministry to act in the defense of the quality of air.  If not, we will begin to lose our health, with every breath we take…

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    It is refreshing to know there are people like Mr Ranil Senanayaka to remind us of pressing issues, such as, the environment, pollution, health & well being of all citizens, etc which are down in the list of concerns when other matters like large scale frauds, corruption, nepotism & mismanagement take priority.

    The damage to the environment & the ecosystem from large scale ‘development’ projects which have not been properly analyzed & long term repercussions not taken into consideration is obvious to us all but of no interest to the average man on the street who can be easily manipulated with political rhetoric & other religious or racial distractions. The Parliament, consisting of a majority of uneducated yobs, are interested only if there is a personal gain in the form of backhanders, so, as the saying goes, ‘the dogs bark but the caravan moves along’ Nevertheless, we need constant reminders to, hopefully, force the politicians to take responsibility for possible catastrophes that may happen in the future.

    Apart from the industrial pollution, the emissions of aging vehicles, particularly, old diesel engines is something that can be controlled but due to the stupid & unfair import tax system, we have an ageing population of vehicles well passed their useful service life. In UK, road tax (equivalent to revenue license in SL) is based on vehicle emissions. The City of London recently introduced an additional £2 per hour fee for parking older pre Euro 5 (before 2007) diesels vehicles, as well as, an increase in the congestion charge for entering the city. Aren’t there any professional bodies who can advise & pressure our Govt. on such matters?

    • 3
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      Raj,


      Are you seriously suggesting the import of even more motor vehicles? Do you live in Sri Lanka? Have you experienced the congestion in ALL urban areas in the country?

      The real problem is one of values and the desire to indulge. Vehicles which can carry five of more people being driven by the owner – or by a chauffeur with the owner in the rear seat? No, not much of that. Most guys who’ve made some money (how? So many seem able to run around in automobiles) consider it infra dig to be even seen using public transport.

      By all means play around with the tax structure. Discourage fuel guzzlers, especially Diesel, if you say it is so harmful. I think that hybrid vehicles make sense. Charging of the battery is a sort of by-product of running the petrol engine.

      This is like population growth itself. If you make people live longer, you’ve GOT to bring down birth rates. Instead supposedly celibate monks ask women to produce more children. We have not yet raised marriage age for Muslim girls. We just can’t go on like this.

      Once more, what is My3 doing? In Paris, early in 2015, he was in the forefront promising the phasing out of the internal combustion engine. Electric cars? How are you going to charge them? Much less than half our electricity is from renewable sources. Does anybody mean what he says?

      It is possible, Raj, that I’m unfairly attributing to you arguments for increasing our vehicle fleet, but be careful when criticising aging vehicles. Most vehicles can be better looked after, and serve longer. But newness is all for the rich. The poor have nothing. Don’t talk about a “Middle Class”. We have the ostentatious, and the desperately poor. Frightfully little between them.

      • 1
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        Sinhala Man

        I don’t want to split hairs over birth rates, population, etc but since you brought up the subject of congestion, let me clarify some of the issues you have raised.

        I live in UK & work in the automotive industry with the privilege of traveling around Europe & US frequently. All these countries face the problem of vehicle congestion, in fact, London charges a ‘congestion’ tax on vehicles entering central London on week days with an additional surcharge on pre 2007 diesel vehicles which do not confirm to Euro 5 Emission standards. Most big cities in Europe have ‘vehicle free zones’ where bicycles can be hired or the use of ‘park & ride’ bus facility to get around. The road network & the infrastructure to ease congestion in urban areas with remote traffic management is an evolving process. SL can start by controlling & regulating the population of high polluting 3 wheelers but such a suggestion would be ‘politically incorrect’ as everybody aspires &, indeed, entitled to purchase a motor vehicle, & depending on the income, a realistic goal for some would only be a motor cycle or a 3 wheeler.

        Modern vehicles are more reliable, economical, safer & less polluting compared to equivalent vehicles 10 years ago. Every product has an effective life span which is determined at the design stage. Accordingly, vehicles have a life span of 10-15 years with some European brands having 20 years, beyond which, the manufacturer has no legal obligation to provide spare parts. Keeping an old vehicle running is like propping up an old man with pep pills & expecting the performance of a young man. SL, with an aging population of vehicles, would be spending more on importing spare parts (usually spurious parts by Panchikawatta dealers), as well as, on fuel, not to mention the cost on health caused harmful emissions, particularly, minute carbon particles from diesel engines (in the absence of a particulate filter as fitted to modern vehicles) which are carcinogenic .

        • 0
          0

          Thanks, Raj.

          Yes, one must always take account of people’s aspirations. I’m pretty sure that what you have said is sound.

          I have extremely little knowledge of vehicles. I still run, in Bandarawela, a re-conditioned Honda CM 125 bike that I purchased as an excellent reconditioned in 1991. My second bike. You’ll find my car experience even more hilarious: in March last year I managed to sell my 1963 Japanese Hillman Minx, which I had owned for 22 years, doing all of twelve thousand kilometers in it, and the (quite wealthy) decent guy who bought it says he just can’t find spares. I’d been hoping he’d be more expert at maintaining than I.

          All that I said so that you’d know that I’m a simpleton. Tell me, aren’t Hybrids sensible? In all those traffic jams, isn’t it possible to keep them on electric when idling, this consuming very little energy?

          I wonder if it is even possible for you to explain to a guy with my level of ignorance.

          • 1
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            Sinhala Man

            We are not experts in everything but we can still appreciate things of beauty & excellence without the expertise. If you own a classic car or aspire to own a classic, it is essential to become a member of a marque related club for advise & sourcing of parts. Most marques, such as, Hillman are now obsolete but car clubs are able to commission specialist independent manufacturers to produce some parts, such as, body panels, lights, certain trim items & mechanical parts to fulfill the needs of it’s members. I suggest the new owner of your Minx to contact the Hillman Minx owners’ club in UK if he has not done so already. He can get the details with a Google search on the Internet.

            The future is Fuel Cell (Hydrogen) vehicles or ‘plug-in’ electric vehicles but the jury is still out. Until electricity can be generated totally from renewable sources or Hydrogen gas can be manufactured in large quantities & stored economically and compact large capacity batteries are developed, hybrid technology fills the gap. Plug in electrics have range of about 60-100 miles on a single charge & charging points in car parks are now becoming available in developed countries but not enough just yet to accommodate huge numbers, & even then, it takes about 4 hrs for a 80% charge. In that respect, hybrids are more practical with a petrol or diesel engine charging the battery. The battery range of a hybrid is about 15-30 miles & is good only for pottering around in town, requiring the engine power for rapid acceleration, climbing hills / gradients & full throttle driving. Hybrids are usually powered with engines over 1.5 liters & though there may be savings in some cases, considering the relatively higher purchase price of a hybrid, the overall cost of ownership may be the same as for a regular economical car unless there are other financial incentives, such as, lower taxation.

            • 2
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              Technology does amazing things, but will it ever be able to control sizable quantities of Hydrogen? With Oxygen being everywhere will it not explode? There really is no need for YOU to come up with an answer to that question, but there really are limits to how far we humans ought to push our luck.

              Yesterday I tried to send you my gmail address. I thought that my own address would be allowed, not that of the really nice guy who bought my car. Yes, it is necessary to have rules on what can be posted; else the unscrupulous exploit.

              By the way, the purchase price of hybrids is not all that high because of tax concessions, which to me make sense, since we are not only irresponsibly consuming lots of irreplaceable resources, but also, from the point of view of our country’s economy, sending out a good deal of foreign exchange. By now, I think that mechanics would have learnt through trial and error how to maintain a hybrid. A few days ago I heard that there’d be dire consequences if one jump-started such a car.

              I believe that a huge battery has to be replaced every five years at a cost of about half a million rupees. It’s good to be able address an expert who understands out own currency and our straitened circumstances!

        • 1
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          Raj,

          I notice that you’ve asked about Professional bodies. I’ve just left the Classic Car Club of Ceylon after a dozen enjoyable years of membership. I now have no car!

          The average member of the club would have about five old cars (a few guys have fifty). All very wealthy people, but nice guys. For their regular travel they obviously use modern cars. Almost without exception they are extremely nice guys, and they are concerned about transport issues. You could become an Associate Member even without owning a car – but for me there now is no purpose.

          My Hillman I kept close to Colombo, and it was exhibited at the BMICH. At those exhibitions there always is a section where dealers exhibit new cars. Obviously the sort of cars that people here actually purchase. Some rallies organised by them are also most enjoyable – but you’ve got to participate in a Classic Car. There are a few other clubs as well.

          I’m sure that you could make a real contribution with your knowledge. If you need a contact person, I could put down my e-mail address right here.

          Yes, we need more people like Ranil S. and you!

          • 0
            0

            Thank you Sinhala Man. I would like your contact details as I am also a classic car enthusiast & I hope to own a Triumph GT6 (as parts are cheap & available) or my dream car, a Datsun 240Z/260Z when I retire in a few years & can move to the country where I can have a barn keep them.

            I am kept informed of the classic car scene in SL by a friend & I have also attended many classic car shows & parades when holidaying. I am aware the Classic Car Club,as well as, the British & Italian Car Clubs are very active but these are enthusiast clubs & would be concerned with legislation & matters related to their hobby. There is a Motor Traders’ Association & Vehicle Importers’ Association but obviously they too are interested in matters related to their business, profit being the bottom line. I was a founding member (although I was considered too young to be a full member at the time) of the Institute of the Automotive Engineers back in the late 80s & being a professional body, it is they who should lobby the Govt. in the best interest of the people of SL.

            • 0
              0

              [Edited out]

            • 0
              0

              Sorry, Raj, that was my attempt at sending you my e-mail address. It looks as though that was considered inappropriate. Never mind. There have to be ground rules.

              Owing to some technical problem faced by the site, it is not possible to post a link to any of the three articles that I dared to publish under my own name in CT. However it will be possible for you to see the articles that appear when you google these two words that don’t usually collocate: Thomian Pharisees

              Just done that myself, and find that CT articles are seized upon by other websites if they think them significant. Well the address given to me by Google is just my two names together, with no punctuation between them and no capitals. Unusual spelling of my surname.

              In your opening comment you welcomed the appearance of an article that goes beyond the ephemeral political concerns that so dominate our thinking. I hope that Colombo Telegraph recognises that we are guys who are groping for solutions to real problems, and allows THIS comment in.

    • 0
      0

      Dear Raj,

      Early confirmation of your having got my contact details will be appreciated. It’ll allow me to stop checking here.

      Got the urgent task of converting racists to moderates before the elections. Probably bound to fail in that, as in most other things.

      Cheers!

      • 0
        0

        Dear Raj,

        I haven’t yet received an email from you. We’ve got to exchange contact details before comments on this article cease on Tuesday, the 9th.

  • 3
    0

    All lies..
    Vote for JVP and see how corruption is wiped out ..
    All others are bad people and corrupted ones ..
    Take this chance to punish all wrong people who looted public money ..
    Be clever

  • 0
    1

    Dear Dr Ranil Senanayake,

    I know little of the technicalities of all this. When you say that taking all of Sri Lanka the average pollution level is 2.2 times higher than safety levels, does that mean that even rural areas which are away from main roads are also affected.

    I know that you had an “Analog Forest” project in Mirahawatte, Bandarawela. Do you still have it? How are the levels there?

    I know that the area is not so very remote, and now some of the Uma Oya work is being done in that locality.

  • 2
    0

    The warning on pollution raised by Ranil Senanayake must be taken seriously. The GoSL will take the attitude that this will go away. It will NOT. It is more important than providing STF protection to sycophants.

  • 1
    0

    Today people are clearer enough to know who are honest and who are thieves..
    So do not worry ..
    JVP will get a lot of vote this time.
    People will vote for JVP.as protesting vote. Ranil agents who loot public money .
    All M&S agent
    All MR agents will learn a lesson this time.
    Go with your families and vote for JVP.

  • 0
    1

    But who’s going stop all of this? It’s good it is mentioned of course, so it can be meditated and prayed upon. But why isn’t Gnanasara at least, shaking his fists? Is the C’mb area beyond his understanding?
    ***
    The Catholic Ranjith spoke against it, I think. But where are the Buddhist-priest protests against the potential destruction of capital city that is supposed to give life to the whole country for the sake of the Buddhist majority? Is it, that they don’t care about the coastline, for it is where the minorities dwell, and not the Buddhists?
    ***
    Well, the minorities (and political Sinhalese) on the coastline are going to become more richer and prosperous (pollution and all). And when the interior Buddhists are not able to match up their finances with the coast, and start crowing Colombo, rich minorities (and political Sinhalese) will take their wealth and prosperity to cleaner Western lands.
    ***
    Oh well, after 5 generations have come and gone, and all the wealthy minorities and rich political Sinhalese are dancing bialas in Western lands, it will be all Sinhala Buddhists on a dirty poor island.

    • 0
      1

      Pathetic Ramona: why Priests or Buddhist monks should talk to every thing. Are you not stupid enough. Sri lanka says, it has an educated population. Take statistics and see how many politicians and how many bureaucrats are visiting overseas for official purposes. Why the cabinet ministers who are the experts in everything use helicopters instead driving in their luxury vehicles via metropoltian – colombo streets. Why educated are silent about cancer rates rising because of pollution and increases in Asthma and allergies.

      • 0
        1

        Jim,
        Educated are only looking at Western-style statistics and want to fulfill those statistics. Roman Catholic Ranjith at least spoke for the coastal fishermen. Buddhist-priests don’t care about the coast, or have yet to realize the effects it will have on the interior. Buddhist priests have to speak up more, for they are the guardians of the heritage. No use for big shot Sinhalese sitting and speaking of panas and pujas, rabannas and lavarias, and lighting wood fires to cook milk-rice on concrete floors. Heritage needs to have more depth. Sorbitha (rest his soul) was a useless case.

    • 0
      1

      , and start crowding* (not crowing) Colombo…..

  • 1
    1

    Oh dear friend stop this fear mongering. When I first went to Dubai in 1975, they had only three major roads, that’s the roads on either sides of the creek and the one from Sharjah to Abu Dhabi via the Sindhaga Tunnel and Al Macktoom Brigde. The rest they built day and night, right in front our eyes. They tore apart big mountains in Ras Al Khaima and Fujairah, transported the whole gravels, sand and rocks from them to make so many man made islands, hundred of tower buildings, villas, roads etc. In those days, if one gone on Dubai Fujairah/ Ras Al Khaima roads could see 28 wheels dumper tippers carrying loads up to above 70 tons stretched to hundreds KMs as far as the eyes could see. Brooge Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, the Business Bay development is bigger than the size of entire Singapore, there many like that. The Gated communities of Arabian rangers, Meaudes, Greens etc each with over 5000 villas. Then Dubai Abu Dhabi road and Emirates road are with six lanes on either direction, air crafts could land on them, in addition to these, there so many multi lanes roads, bridges, tunnels, driverless metro system, one of the worlds biggest ports – Jebel Ali port, two major airports – the old one and new one which is the biggest in the world with six run ways., and many more. Why I took so much pain to write all these is none of what you are saying happened there with so much construction activities went on. One time Dubai had more tower cranes than any other place in the plant. Thousands of Sri Lankans worked in these projects, and most of them still there, all are perfectly ok and very healthy.

    • 0
      1

      Jim,
      Educated are only looking at Western-style statistics and want to fulfill those statistics. Roman Catholic Ranjith at least spoke for the coastal fishermen. Buddhist-priests don’t care about the coast, or have yet to realize the effects it will have on the interior. Buddhist priests have to speak up more, for they are the guardians of the heritage. No use for big shot Sinhalese sitting and speaking of panas and pujas, rabannas and lavarias, and lighting wood fires to cook milk-rice on concrete floors. Heritage needs to have more depth. Sorbitha (rest his soul) was a useless case.

      • 1
        1

        Catholics and christian churches involve politics. buddhist Sangha involve in politics only when Country is in trouble and in those issues. Other wise, they do not like to involve. On the other hand, that politicians are simply gutter rats and unbelievably corrupt. they just freely allowed vehicles they should haveknown about Pollution, then asthma, cancer allergies and the need of more hospital wards and the lose of time as human resources, and the money wanted. “Instead, Ravi KArunanayake gave Rs 500 million tax cut and Who ever it is ordered Helicopters to get through colombo. Just blame your self as VOTER. What ever they politicians do, there are people to say cheers to that. Sri lankans are that low. It is dog eats dog country.

        • 0
          1

          Country is in trouble right now with impending Port City. Anyway isn’t Buddhist Priest Gnanasara involved in inland politics against Muslims trying to set up some business enterprise? How come he is not involved in stopping Rich Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims , Burghers, and the many cosmopolitan mixtures from taking money from the struggling masses to place on the Port City?

    • 2
      1

      Sunil, are you so unaware of the difference between the desert and a tropical isle? Are you so unaware of the oil wealth of Dubai vs. agrarian-fishing Sri Lanka (now being forced to become GMO’d and trawler_fished so as to match up with Dubai finances)?

      • 0
        0

        Very much to the point, dear RTF.

        Do you realise that you are many times more intelligent than your President Donald Duck Trump?

    • 0
      0

      Sunil what you have stated is correct but nothing would have been possible until they struck oil. That is the source of their wealth. Money can work wonders even baiting young women from SRI Lanka for employment and some ending up as sex slaves. The newly acquired wealth of the Middle east has not however inspired the rulers to stand by their brethren in Palestine who are tormented, subject to untold discrimination, and terrorised into silence in their own land.

  • 1
    0

    Other sources of pollution are the quarries, which supply the stones for this huge project. The main quarry used to be the historic and archaeologically important Koratota Kanda, situated near Kaduwela. The granite dust, which contains a small amount of radioactive material, the noise of the blasting, the damage done to properties belonging to low middle class families by falling rocks, the damage done to the flora and fauna and hence the water resources in this idyllic area, has also got to be counted.

    But I wonder whether anyone would be able to stop this juggernaut as the families there are trying to do. This is a multibillion rupee business, which the quarry owners are not going to let go easily.

  • 0
    0

    Air Pollution is all over which include Sound and Smell. I live at Hampden lane Wellawtte where Traffic Noise KFC Chicken frying odor is far too much. Traffic pollution is mostly during early mornings and there after in the evenings till around 8 pm. But the KFC’s cooking odor continues from about 10AM to Late night, often with with nauseating effect. The exhaust noise from KFC continues late into the night and till early morning. Thus Noise and Odor goes together. The CMC appear to have turned a blind eye despite President Mithripala trying to stop all types of pollution.

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