The increasing use of generators at homes and offices is not being regulated, resulting in additional air and noise pollution. Environmental regulators say that there is little awareness of the hazards from the proliferation of these fuel-intensive machines.
Many houses in upper class areas such as Defence, Model Town, Cantt, Gulberg and Bahria Town have installed generators of 8 KVA or above. These generators emit particulate matter containing burnt hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, which add to air pollution. If the generator is not in good condition, it can also emit unburnt hydrocarbons, which are even worse for the environment.
They are noisy too. After a review of the National Environment Quality Standards (NEQS) in November last year, the limit for noise in residential areas was set at 55 decibels during the day and 45 db during the night.
Diesel generators generate 88db of noise, while generators running on petrol or gas can go above 95db, according to. Farooq Alam, senior research officer for air quality at the Environment Protection Department.
The upper limit for particulate matter (dust) in the air is 300 mg per litre and for oxides of nitrogen is 600 mg/l. The actual levels in residential areas in Lahore easily exceed 500 mg/l and 1,000 mg/l for these substances respectively, said Alam.
“If a generator is installed in every house in a society and you add up all the emissions from these generators, it far exceeds the emissions from a thermal power plant supplying electricity to the entire society,” he said.
“People think of generators as an effective power alternative but its environmental hazards are very high,” he said. He said that there were no laws regulating the use of generators and some houses install industrial generators of up to 15 KVA, which cause more noise and air pollution.
Zahid Younas, the assistant district officer for the EPD, said there were various reasons that it was difficult to regulate the use of generators. He said that the department used the public nuisance laws in Sections 269, 270, 290 and 291 of the Pakistan Penal Code to act when it received complaints about generators causing excessive noise or smoke.
Younas said that most houses that had generators were owned by rich, well-connected people whom it was difficult to prosecute. He said last year, an EPD inspector was accused of breaking into a house after receiving complaints about the illegal use of a generator on the property. He said the EPD case against the violator was quickly wrapped up, but a case was registered by the police against the inspector and it took over a year to convince them to drop the charge.
He said that in many cases where the EPD issued orders after finding illegal generator use, the defendants had been able to get the order overturned in court by showing that someone sick or elderly lived on the property and had been advised by doctors to stay in an air-conditioned room. Others ran small businesses from home, such as a tailor, and needed a regular power supply. “It is unethical to deny someone their right to earn or stay in a cool environment if sick,” he said.
Another EPD level official admitted that the department itself used a generator at the EPD building opposite Gaddafi Stadium, though it was covered by a canopy.
EPD Director General Shagufta Shahjehan said the department would soon issue notices to housing societies to prevent excess emissions and noise pollution from generators. “Generators cannot be declared illegal and destroyed, but certain preventive measures such as making sure the machine is clean and tuned, or that it is covered by a canopy to cut noise pollution, can curb the environmental damage,” she said.
An official of Model Town Society said they had never issued guidelines to residents for the safe use of generators.
Shahzad Wazir Bhatti runs a generator repair shop on Ferozepur Road and spends his day at houses in Defence, Model Town and Cantt fixing generators. “Rarely do I see a generator encased in a canopy,” he said. “They are usually placed on the roof or at a distance from the main building to avoid the noise.”
He said that the oil and filter for new generators needed to be changed after every 50 hours of use. Generators more than a year old only needed changes every 80 hours. He said canopies or rooms to house the generators should be built that are much bigger than the machine.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.