Pollution: particulate matter in India higher than WHO limit

A recent study by the WHO shows that a significant population of Indian subcontinent breathes air with much higher particulate matter that is lesser than 2.5 micrometre (PM2.5) in size than the limit set by the WHO.

  • The Report says, in 2010, air pollution killed nearly 600,000 people in India. The situation has not changed in the last five years.
  • Outdoor air pollution as a whole, especially the particulate matter, has been declared as class-1 cancer-causing agent (carcinogen) in 2013 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is part of the WHO. Besides, it causes other respiratory and heart diseases.
  • The PM2.5 is particularly dangerous and can cause adverse health effects owing to its greater penetrability into the human respiratory system and eventual accumulation in human organs and blood.

Vulnerable Section:

  • Rural women, children and elderly population are more prone to diseases caused by air pollution. Rural women, in particular, face a greater risk from indoor pollution — locally made mud stoves fuelled by solid biofuel emit a far greater amount of finer particulate matter.
  • Compared with peninsular India and coastal regions, the situation is far worse in the Gangetic Basin, especially during winter months. The Himalayas act as a barrier to dissipation of pollution plumes emanating from the cities located in the Basin. As a result, cities in the Basin are more prone to sustained bad air quality.

Why pollution level rises during winter?

  • Air quality of any area depends on local emissions, long-range transport, local and regional weather patterns, and to some extent the topography of the region. Due to increased buoyancy and efficient ventilation in summer, pollution plumes rise effortlessly to the free atmosphere. This leads to a reduced level of surface level PM2.5 concentration in our breathing zone.
  • The problem gets aggravated during winter. Adverse conditions during winter help trapping of pollution leading to elevated level of surface PM concentration.

Recent initiatives:

  • India has begun taking steps in the right direction. The National Air Quality index, introduced recently, has created greater awareness of air pollution amongst the people. Recently, plying of diesel vehicles older than 10 years has also been prohibited.
  • But the situation demands more action in order to restore good air quality and clear visibility. The economic gain due to avoidable loss of human life is too huge to be ignored.

What else can be done?

  • Technical intervention through efficient cooking stoves can significantly improve the lives of rural women.
  • Improved power situation, especially in cold days, together with better handling of municipal waste and trash, can also help in achieving better air quality in the cities.
  • Central Pollution Control Board can be divested into various regional air boards that will be responsible for securing the environment in a more proactive manner. If mandatory, more laws need to be enacted and strictly enforced to accomplish these goals.

Sources: The Hindu.

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