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Polluted air is choking the city - Buses, cars are the main culprits

Published:Wednesday | November 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

By Eulalee Thompson

I couldn't be the only one concerned about how increasingly polluted the ambient air around Kingston and St Andrew has become in recent times. Every other vehicle is spitting out thick, black smoke. One whiff of those vehicular emissions and my throat becomes sore, my head aches and my lips start burning - sure signs that the toxic emissions have just poisoned me.

These poisonous vehicular emissions consist of pollutants such as lead, carbon monoxide, suspended sulphates, nitrates, dirt, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and soot. Drive around town with your windows down at your own risk.

Fumes from JUTC buses

Public transport vehicles, especially taxis, minibuses and the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses, seem to be the worst offenders. They spew out the thickest, blackest smoke around town. Don't the authorities, supported with taxpayers' money, drive on the roads too and see and smell the pollution?

I sent some questions last week to Reginald Allen, JUTC's corporate communications manager. He said that the problem of vehicular emissions "is definitely of concern to the JUTC, as we are aware of the health concerns relative to excessive emission into the atmosphere", and he further indicated that "the intricate issue that relates to this problem is the high sulphur content that exists in our diesel fuel locally, which is 5,000 parts per million (5,000 PPM)".

The important question posed to Mr Allen was, "Are there going to be any efforts to mitigate this public-health concern?" He said: "The JUTC is focused on doing all that can be done to reduce the emission of black smoke from our fleet to a minimum level, by sticking to a strict preventative maintenance programme, based on the manufacturer's specifications."

Well, readers, what do you think about these responses?

Traffic offence

Last time I checked, the Road Traffic Act (1938), section 43 (2), made it an offence that 'a person having control or charge of a motor vehicle' should not permit 'any unreasonable amount of smoke to escape' from said vehicle. Further, persons committing this offence, on conviction, can be made to pay a fine not exceeding $4,000. Do the traffic police pay any attention to this offence? They should; it is the law, and pollution is killing us softly.

The agency responsible for monitoring the country's air quality is the National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA). Gary Campbell, coordinator of NEPA's Air Quality Management Unit, indicated that the agency currently has 10 testing sites in Kingston and St Andrew in areas such as Cross Roads, Old Hope Road, Mona, and Marcus Garvey Drive.

Yes, only 10 testing sites in the whole capital city. He said that they are currently monitoring for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and ozone. NEPA only started monitoring ozone this year and are still collecting data on this pollutant. And, get this, they are not monitoring for the dangerous pollutant lead because of a lack of equipment!

Sections of city are polluted

Campbell admits that sections of the city are polluted. The smog or haze hanging over the city is caused by open burning by citizens, coastal industry and vehicular emissions. Campbell said that the main contributor to air pollution within the last two years has been traffic and vehicular emissions. He said that within the last two years there "has been an increase in the fleet and vehicles on roads of Kingston and St Andrew and this has adversely affected air quality".

"In terms of air quality in some high-density, high-traffic areas, ambient air quality is not above the recommended standards but quite close to them. One such area on the radar is Cross Roads. For two years the levels of particulate matter in this area has been of concern. NEPA is looking at putting a project in place in this area," he said.

"Our project will entail proving where points of emissions are then making recommendations to relevant agencies for improvements based on the models. Rockfort is another area on the radar because of the cement plant in that area, but NEPA is already working with that company to bring down the levels of particulate matter."

Where's the 2003 emission standards?

Campbell said that the transport ministry is working on the vehicular emission standards. These standards were actually drafted in 2003, but Campbell said that there are "some infrastructure and other technical input" to be sorted out before these standards can be implemented. He spoke of, for example, testing facilities for vehicles, recordkeeping and so on. The vehicular emission testing when finally implemented, would perhaps operate in a similar fashion to the annual car-fitness testing and certification.

Another major air-pollution problem is that most of the industrial plants in the Kingston metropolitan area are located on the coast.

"The city is backed up by the mountains behind us, it is a dense area, the breeze is coming inland from the south east and industry is located on the coast. So when the wind blows, it blows the pollution inwards. So it is a combination of factors contributing to the photochemical smog and traffic seems to be the outstanding contributor," Campbell said.

Readers, this is an issue to start pressuring your Government and members of parliament to address because pollution is slowly damaging our immune systems, making us more prone to disease and silently killing us.

Eulalee Thompson is freelance health editor and a therapist & counsellor in private practice; email: