LAHORE: As the weekend approaches, major plains of the Punjab remained under a thick blanket of toxic smog as locals complained of breathing difficulties and irritable eyes.
Visibility plunged to less than 20 metres in the province and citizens wore face masks to help with breathing.
Motorway authorities said its portions M2 from Lahore to Sial Morr, M3 from Pindi Bhattian to Faisalabad and M4 from Faisalabad to Gojra remained closed on Saturday because of dense fog that reduced visibility to almost zero, making travelling conditions highly risky.
Parts of the Punjab including the walled city Lahore, Hafizabad, Kot Momin, Manga Mandi, Okara and Chiniot struggled under intense patched of freezing smog.
At least two people late Friday were injured when two cars collided in Pindi Bhattian near the interchange, confirmed motorway police officials. In another smog related accidents, at least nine people were injured in Okara, officials said on Saturday.
Separately, at least 15 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded early Friday in two pile-ups involving 15 vehicles on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway due to dense smog, local police official Aslam Gondal said.
Readings of dangerous “fine particulate matter” were more than four times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended level, exceeding 104 microgrammes per cubic metre in the worst-hit parts of the city of around 10 million.
The Environment Protection Agency blamed the pollution on less-than-average rainfall over the Punjab region, traffic standing still through various points of the city, and tyre-burning factories located to the city’s north.
While a recent New York Times said NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) satellite images also confirmed that an old practice of burning straw leftover from rice harvests by Indian farmers could be the biggest reason why the air quality in Pakistan’s Punjab particularly Lahore refuses to clear.
So-called fine particulate matters are particles 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller produced by combustion, and some industrial processes. They are linked to eye irritation, coughing, asthma and even heart attacks as well as premature death.