Time to clean up Mumbai's air

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Burning of leaves and a dead tree right in the middle of WEH are perfect examples of lack of greenery in the city


Only 10 days between January1-June4, 2014, the air samples collected by the air quality monitoring station of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) at Sion, were found to have the levels of Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) falling in the prescribed standard of 100 ug/m3. That means on remaining days, the air you breath was loaded with pollutants, much above the prescribed standards.

Going by the data updated by the MPCB on its official website for the Mumbai Sion station, out of 119 days on which the air quality standards were measured, on 109 days the RSPM levels consistently remained much higher than the prescribed standard to the extent of touching up to 370 ug/m3 during winters. Not just that, even the levels of Nitrogen Oxide in the air has been on a much higher side than the prescribed standard of 80 ug/m3 throughout the first three months of the year.

The results are just marginally better for the Bandra station, which is closer to the sea and witness more wind action. The RSPM levels here were found in control on close to 25 days for the same period between January -June 4.

Experts, however, say the real test for the air quality is required to be done closer to the Western Express Highway (WEH), particularly on the Borivali side, which is expected to be the most polluted part of the city. However, the MPBC only updates data collected from the two stations situated in Sion and Bandra, which are directly managed by it.

But a recent study conducted by three city professors throws alarming facts about the air quality around Borivli region of WEH. The stretch was found to be most polluted as it see the highest traffic density with 76 vehicles crossing the test spot every minute as against the 27 vehicles a minute at Marine Drive, which has the lowest presence of dust particles in the air. The study was a part of a research paper accepted by the international journal, Annals of Plant Sciences, in May this year.

"This is where the unhappiness starts. The MPCB is merely fulfilling a formality by updating the air quality standard monitored at Sion and Bandra alone. The two spots cannot represent the entire city. Moreover, there is no questioning on how this data is collected? What mechanism is used?," said Rishi Aggarwal, a leading environmentalist.

Experts also blame heavy "unchecked" construction activities as one of the major factors that adds to the air pollution. "In most developed countries of Europe, North America and Australia, government imposes a heavy penalty on builders if the construction remains are left unattended during or after the construction work. It is the lack of a stringent law in India that makes it so easy for builders to get away despite adding so much nuisance to the air," said Aggarwal.

Also, in most developed countries the vehicles loaded with construction materials are sprayed with a chemical dust suppressant, which restricts the dust particles from re-suspending in the atmosphere, added Rakesh Kumar, scientist and head, Mumbai zonal center of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

Despite repeated attempts MPCB officials could not be contacted.

Ambient air quality in residential areas at major monitoring stations,
January - December, 2013, released by govt in Economic Survey of Maharshtra on June4,2014
Station Sulphardioxide Nitrogen Oxide Respirable suspended particulate matter
Limit 80 80 100
Mumbai 9.1 116.9 137.9

Health impact of air pollutants
The level of effect mostly depends on the length of time of exposure, as well the kind and concentration of chemicals and particles exposed to. Broadly the effects are divided into two sub-heads:-
Short-term health effects include irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Others include headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions. Short-term air pollution can aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with asthma and emphysema.
Long-tern health effects include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly.

A recent WHO report reveals that in 2012 around 7 million people died - one in eight of the total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure.
Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India, after high blood pressure, indoor air pollution, tobacco smoking and poor nutrition, revealed an analysis done by the Centre for Science and Environment's (CSE) based on government data. The 2013 report found 620,000 premature deaths occurring in India due to air pollution-related diseases.
Increasing air pollution has an impact on global climate change. "Growing air pollution in mega cities is adding to the global climate change. The carbon dioxide and particulate matter, which are added to the atmosphere due to vehicular use is directly responsible for global warming," said Dr Rakesh Kumar of NEERI.
In most developed countries of Europe, North America and Australia, government imposes a heavy penalty on builders if the construction remains are left unattended during or after the construction work. The construction dust is one of the major contributor of the air pollution.

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