The lowdown on NCR’s air quality

What is it?

  • Swinging between ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ air quality for the past two weeks, the National Capital Region seems set for another lung-clogging winter this year. Figures released by the Union Health Ministry early this week showed the total emissions of Particulate Matter (PM) less than 2.5 micrometre in diameter increased by 15% in 2018, compared to 2010. Government figures show the levels of PM 2.5, a known carcinogenic, have gone up, with the transport sector contributing 40%, and wind-blown dust from road and other sources 21.5%.
  • The Central Pollution Control Board said PM 10 levels mid-week this time stood at 326.8 micrograms per cubic metre, three times higher than the prescribed limit.
  • “Dropped wind speed, change in the direction of wind to northwest bringing in pollution from stubble- burning in Punjab and Haryana, increasing vehicular traffic owing to the festive season, lowered temperature, garbage dumping and waste burning are contributing to the rising pollution levels in the city,” said a senior official of the Ministry.

How did it come about?

  • Winter air will turn more toxic soon, warned Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Research and Advocacy, Centre For Science and Environment, due to toxic emissions from vehicles, industrial units, waste-burning, land-fill fires, and dust from construction and roads and stubble- burning.
  • Current data from the Ministry of Earth Sciences show vehicles and industrial share in Delhi’s air pollution has increased over time by 40% and 48% respectively. There is, however, some relief expected from the closure of the Badarpur power plant, generator sets, and brick kilns and also from the ban on pet coke and furnace oil and introduction of BSVI fuels in Delhi, she said.

Why does it matter?

  • The present air quality has become a threat to the people. High pollution levels directly harm skin. It can cause watering of eyes and nose.
  • Smaller particles less than 2.5 micron can directly enter our body through the respiratory pathway. Sandeep Nayar, head of the department, respiratory medicine, allergy & sleep disorder, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, said: “The immediate symptoms include breathlessness, cough, fever and even choking sensation.
  • Our nervous system also gets affected and we may have headache and dizziness. Nausea and vomiting may occur. Studies have shown direct harmful effect of pollution on our heart also.” Within a week of pollution spiking, Delhi has registered a jump in the number of patients coming to out-patient departments.
  • Dr. Puneet Khanna, interventional pulmonology, respiratory and sleep medicine, Aakash Healthcare Super Specialty Hospital, said that with winter approaching, smog increases in Delhi. This causes a rise in cardiac risks such as heart attack and chest pain.

What lies ahead?

  • Experts have listed measures to lower the ill-effects of pollution. Delhi has brought in a graded action plan for emergency response. The plan includes shutting of the Badarpur thermal power station and water sprinkling and mechanised sweeping of select roads. “We know what to do, whom to hold responsible and the time line for implementation. But the next big challenge is to ensure that these plans are implemented with utmost stringency, with strong compliance across all sectors,” said Ms. Roychowdhury.
  • These plans seek a transition to clean energy in all sectors and an overhaul of waste management practices. Experts want the State governments to micro-map pollution hotspots across Delhi and the NCR for customised action.
  • The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority has also asked all agencies to enforce the graded response action plan. Ms. Roychowdhury emphasised the need to have a comprehensive plan for systemic reforms round the year.


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