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Are Only Diwali Crackers Responsible for the Rising Pollution Levels in your Cities?

Pollution levels in most cities in India are beyond permissible limits. Post Diwali, air quality index was found to be 42 times higher in  National Capital Region. Many in the capital have already installed an air purifier in their homes and offices to minimize the risk of growing air pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas.

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Things were no different in other parts of India namely Pune, Ahmedabad, Navi Mumbai, etc. where the air quality was also found to be at dismal levels.  While on the face of it, the bursting of crackers, fumes, and toxic gasses are being held responsible for the rising pollution levels across India, there’s more than it meets the eye.

Burning of Agricultural Waste
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For years, farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been burning the agricultural residue at the onset of winters to prepare the land for the sowing season. Over the time, this practice not just deprives the land of its natural nutrients, but also emits harmful gasses like methane, Sulphur, nitrogen and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. This practice was responsible for covering the entire northern belt with a blanket of smog.

Degrading air quality is a primary concern and the likes of young children, expectant mother and the elderly are at high risk of developing serious health complications like asthma, upper respiratory tract infection, lung infections, skin diseases, etc.  With the winter months approaching, the environmental conditions are expected to get worse.  There is an urgent need that the farmers be made aware of the harmful effects of this decades old practice. At the same time, Government should intervene and equip farmers and land tillers with the alternative method to clear their lands.

Vehicular Emission
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As per a study conducted by IIT Kanpur, vehicular pollution contributes 9 to 12 % of particulate matter in the atmosphere. While the Government of Delhi tried implementing the odd-even formulae earlier this year to curtail the number of vehicles on the road, the impact of these efforts is minimal, and there is a need for a more sustainable long-term plan. Perhaps stringent policies, higher taxes on car ownership and curtailment of diesel vehicles on the road will reduce the problem to some extent.

At the same time, development of public transport and greater road safety will encourage more and more people to ditch their cars and encourage them to take alternative means of transportation to work or elsewhere.

Burning of Landfills and Waste
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Waste management is yet another area that needs to be addressed with immense seriousness. Presently, many cities, namely Delhi does not have an efficient waste management system.  Ghazipur and Bhalswa are two major landfill areas in Delhi that are spewing toxic chemicals and foul smell that can be a source of grave illness. In fact, the pollution report submitted by IIT Kanpur clearly indicated that nearly 7 to 9% of the Particulate Matter in Delhi’s air is because of burning down of municipal waste.

Tons of waste is deposited in these landfills each week. Experts have suggested that at least 50% of the waste can be easily turned into compost and 30% can be recycled. This will ensure that just 20% of the waste reaches the landfills.

In fact, many western countries adopt this technique to manage their waste. Sweden is one such example, where more than 99% of household waste is recycled.

Road Dust

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Road Dust contributes nearly 38% of pollution in the city of Delhi according to IIT Kanpur’s air pollution report. One could suggest that the dry arid air from the sandy state of Rajasthan could be responsible for increased dust in the city. But that is only a small part of the problem. Traffic movements, dust rising from the unpaved road and dug up construction sites are some other reasons that have compounded the problem of road dust.

In the last decade or so, Delhi has witnessed a surge in construction activities. The digging and unearthing of the soil contribute to a lot of dust. A long term solution requires a stringent policy for builders and real estate magnets to follow better management of silt and unearthed soil. At the same time, no roads should be left unpaved for long, and there’s a need for plantation drive wherein brown patches of land are covered with green.

Conclusion

The four reasons mentioned in this write-up primarily cover the problems associated with outdoor air pollution. What about the hazards associated with the indoor air pollution? If we were to analyze up close, indoor air pollution is also a big problem in India. It is estimated that Indoor air is 4 to 5 times more polluted than air outside and is found to be well beyond the permissible limit of 20 grams/per cubic meter in many Indian homes. Therefore, many people are resorting to installing an air purifier in their homes. For instance, Kent air purifier built with HEPA technology is believed to eliminate 99.9% of pollutants at home including pet hair, cigarette smoke, paint fumes, bacteria and other viruses.

Prolonged exposure to air pollution both indoor and outdoor can pose serious health challenges. It has affected people across generation and even causes congenital disabilities in children born to mothers who were exposed to some of the harmful gasses. Greater public awareness and stringent Government policies can be the primary driving force to address this problem efficiently.

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