Most residents of Kathmandu are aware of the dust and smoke in the air, but few know that their masks do not protect them from the poisonous gas emissions from the capital’s ubiquitous motorcycles.
Because of the nature of their engines, two-wheeler exhausts give off carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and elevate the concentration of street-level ozone. Doctors say these poisonous gases have led to a worrying increase in respiratory ailments, cancers, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes and heart attacks.
“A few motorcycles would not be so dangerous, but there are now nearly 1 million of them on the city streets and their emission is a great public health hazard,” warns respiratory health expert Raju Pangeni at HAMS Hospital in Dhumbarahi.
Although motorcycles burn much less petrol than four-wheelers, they are up to ten times more polluting per passenger- kilometre than buses and cars. The internal combustion engine of motorcycles is also less efficient, and their exhaust systems lack catalytic converters.
Because there are fewer two-wheelers on the roads in the West, emission standards for them are more lax than for four-wheelers. However, in places like Nepal, Vietnam or Indonesia, where motorcycles outnumber cars, their cumulative emissions poison the city’s air with noxious gases.
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