Pollution

Poor Air Quality, Diwali Smog and policies that could have been

Diwali is just a couple of days away and the Delhi’s air quality has already plunged to the ‘very poor’ category, breaching the hazardous ‘red zone’ on October 23 for the first time this season.

According to the data collected on October 23 by Central Pollution control Board (CPCB) and System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), Delhi’s air quality index had a reading of 318 on an average for the whole day. An AQI of more than 300 is considered “very poor”.

Dr. Gufran Beig, Project Head, SAFAR, informed G’nY team and said that, “under the SAFAR programme, ten air quality monitoring station measuring ten different air quality parameters and also connected to several automatic weather stations have been set up all over Delhi. This technology helps in predicting air quality three days in advance which can be useful for common people to decide their preferred time of venturing outdoors. People can check the data on their smartphones as well.”

Delhi’s air quality falls to even more hazardous levels during winter. Winter is yet to be seen in Delhi and already the pollution levels are alarming. The main reason for high pollution at this time of the year is due to the meteorological reasons, added to which is the burning of agricultural waste in adjoining regions coupled with heavy pre-Diwali traffic and burning of fire crackers.

With accompanying air pollution and the festival of Diwali around the corner, the Delhi government has written to the Customs Department to prohibit imports of harmful crackers from any country, especially Chinese and has also written to the Delhi Police to ensure that action is taken against any violation of law.

However, this only applies to the firecrackers being imported from other countries. Majority of the crackers that are made and used in India itself, are beyond this legislature. Though this step is a measure to control Delhi’s air pollution, it does not provide an apt solution. As winter progresses, the poor quality of air is bound to exacerbate.

Air pollutants have been documented to be associated with a wide variety of adverse health impacts in children as well as senior citizens. Increased general rate of mortality, increased acute respiratory disease, aggravation of asthma, increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms and infectious episodes of longer duration; lowered lung function and increased sickness rates are some of the ways a child can be affected due to high pollution levels.

Air pollution is a health concern for everyone, but even more so for the elderly. Due to the factors that affect seniors, what would cause a younger and healthier person a mild discomfort, can turn into a chronic and even fatal infection for an older person. Elderly people are more vulnerable to particulate matter (PM) than to other pollutants.

Chronic exposure to elevated levels of air pollution has been related to the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis (CB), asthma, and emphysema. There is also growing evidence suggesting adverse effects on lung function related to long-term exposure to ambient air pollution. (https://goo.gl/bO0DBF)

On October 13, the Delhi government directed the authorities to intensify the anti-firecrackers campaign aimed at controlling air and noise pollution and sought strict action against violators to ensure a pollution-free Diwali. In order to have effective coordination among all the pollution controlling agencies, a meeting was convened by the Environment Department which was attended by the District Magistrates, Sub Divisional Magistrates (Revenue Department), DPCC, Delhi Police, Traffic Police, Petroleum & Exposure Safety Organisation (PESO) of the Department of Explosives and the Directorate of Education.

According to the guidelines provided by the Supreme Court this season, a complete ban on bursting of sound emitting firecrackers between 10 pm and 6 am has been imposed. The court has also ordered setting up of inspection teams, comprising area SDMs and Executive Engineers (DPCC), to check availability of imported firecrackers in the market. Officers from the licensing unit are directed to check godowns randomly for availability of imported firecrackers in the market.

Dr Manoj Goel, Director and Unit Head, Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Memorial Research Institute speaking with G’nY team informed us that, “During this season, particulate matter remains suspended at very low levels for a very long time. Crackers are a health hazard irrespective of its country of manufacturing. There has to be a blanket ban on bursting of all types of crackers. Not only that, the candles and Diyas also cause high level of pollution especially indoors which could be equally dangerous for patients of asthma, allergy, bronchitis, COPD, emphysema and sinusitis. It is suggested that these patients should continue their preventive medication under the supervision of their doctors. A lung function test is helpful in the evaluation of these conditions. There is an increase of 15-20 per cent patients in the last one year already owing to weather change and stubble burning incidents. There would be considerable rise post Diwali as well.”

However, several other policies could have been put in place for severely affected cities such as Delhi. For one, specific areas can be designated, locality based, where firecrackers may be burst. No roads, lanes, or open grounds other than the designated one may be permitted to be used for burning crackers. Not only will this keep pollution in check, it will on the side, also help abate littering.

Also possible is a change in pricing of the firecrackers, with the Delhi government levying a heavy tax on them to curb usage. Many will not be able to afford the exorbitant product, which will help reduce the levels of pollution in the city during Diwali. Also, medical teams should be kept on high alert to help people affected during such times.

Vehicular pollution is beyond control during Diwali. The business community engages in multiple trips to present ostentatious gifts to all and sundry. These trips, that commence from almost a month before Diwali, cause road blockages and traffic jams. The Indian government, and the high level officers, recipients of most of the these gifts, remain impervious to the demands such celebrations make on the common man. As vehicular pollution abatement is a lost cause, it is perhaps a stronger legislation on firecrackers that can turn the tables for countering the Diwali smog.

Thinking about others before indulging oneself, coupling it with the joy of giving (not food) to the needy, can turn this Diwali into a fresh and clean one.

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