A menacing threat – Millennium Post

WHO’s recent fresh air quality parameters are far more stringent than those formulated in 2005. For instance, the 2005 limit of PM 2.5 at 10 ug/m3 has been cut to 5ug/m3. The idea is to draw the attention of the nations and individuals to the chronic problem of air pollution and its adverse impact on health. As many as seven million people die every year due to problems related to air pollution and 140 million people in the world breathe air that is 10 times more polluted than the WHO-prescribed limit.

The air quality standards prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) are several times higher than the WHO standards. If we refer to the PM 2.5 standards, we find that the limit in India is 40ug/m3 and the 24-hour mean is 60ug/m3. It has been observed that on average, Indians have 30 per cent weaker lung functioning as compared to Europeans. This is the reason behind the spurt in the respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in the country. There is an urgent need to attend to this problem arising out of lack of awareness — both at the individual and community level.

The air quality is measured along the Air Quality Index (AQI) by CPCB. A score of less than 50 is considered good while that above 400 is considered severe. Most Indian cities cross the AQI level of 200 during the winter months.

51 per cent of the air pollution in India is caused by industries, 27 per cent by vehicles, 17 per cent by crop burning and five per cent due to fireworks. The six main pollutants are PM 2.5, PM 10, CO (carbon monoxide), NO2 (Nitrous oxide), O3 (Ozone) and SO2 (Sulphur dioxide). Vehicles are the main source of NO2 pollution while industries account for the SO2 pollution which can be very dangerous as it has a tendency to form secondary pollutants. Both these gases are growing at an alarming rate in the atmosphere.

The Air Pollution and Control Act, 1981, remains poorly enforced. The main causes of high air pollution are increase in population, number of vehicles, industrial activities and power generation. Agriculture and mining also contribute to pollution levels, leading to the toxicity of the atmosphere. As rapid growth is negatively impacting the environment, it becomes imperative to strive towards sustainable growth.

In the near future, almost 50 per cent of the Indian population is going to live in cities. It is thus imperative to carry out Environmental Impact Assessment before implementing urban infrastructure development plans. We will have to ensure that all master and area development plans factor in the crucial aspects of ambient air quality. Municipal solid waste will need to be segregated at the source and then disposed of in a manner that does not cause air or groundwater pollution. Open burning of municipal solid waste should be banned completely and biodegradable wastes should be sent directly to waste converters and waste-to-energy plants. Slums will have to be redeveloped in a manner that those do not use wood, crop residue, cow dung and coal as fuels, as these are major contributors to PM 2.5 and PM 10. Hotels, restaurants and roadside eateries should shift from using coal to electric or gas-based appliances. Alternative clean fuel should be provided by the builders to labourers at construction sites for cooking. All urban households should be supplied with LPG or piped gas supply. Road dust and other emissions can be controlled by mechanical sweeping of roads and regular watering. Grass on the pavements would also help. In essence, we cannot stop urbanization, but each aspect of urban development would have to be done in a sustainable manner.

Vehicular emissions can be controlled by the implementation of BS-VI norms and moving towards electric (EV) and hybrid vehicles. The Government of India and state governments have already announced policy concessions for the EV industry, and NITI Aayog has declared a rather ambitious target of moving to EVs by 2025. However, many more concrete steps — including traffic planning and management, traffic restrictions during peak hours and making adequate parking mandatory — are required in a time-bound manner. Prioritizing public transport could also go a long way in controlling air pollution.

Industries should be consulted before enforcement of plans, and be advised to use cleaner fuels. Critical areas should be identified and online monitoring of emissions be ensured. Strict evaluation of norms is required at the time of setting up of new industries or their expansion. A major shift from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy is the need of the hour, and the government must meet its ambitious target in this regard. The month of November is approaching and soon the capital and the surrounding areas would be engulfed in smog resulting from stubble burning by farmers. I see no reason why a technical solution like happy seeder cannot be found for this. Farmers can be compensated for the additional cost through subsidies.

A 2019 study has found that the poor air quality in India could be responsible for a reduction in GDP to the extent of three per cent in a year, causing a loss of nearly seven lakh crores. Most of the loss was due to employees not turning up for work, reduction in tourist traffic or fewer people going out to buy goods.

The government has come up with a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) which proposes to reduce air pollution by 20 per cent by 2024 in 102 chosen cities. However, the implementation of this plan still appears to be a little hazy. As a first step, the government should revise its air quality standards to make them more stringent. This should be followed by measurement of ambient air quality at various locations in these cities. This has to be supplemented by a major awareness programme. People have to become conscious of air pollution and its deleterious impact on public health. They must know that in India, on average, a person is losing 9.6 years of his life due to air pollution. With awareness, people will demand action from the government and serious measures would only be taken once this becomes an issue with political ramifications.

Air pollution is an emergency and needs to be tackled on a war footing.

The writer is an ex-Chief Secretary, Govt of Uttar Pradesh. Views expressed are personal

Air pollution: WHO’s stark air quality message and the road ahead for India – The Financial Express

Delhi’s average life expectancy is 6.4 years lower than 69.4 — the national average. (Reuters/File)

The World Health Organization’s message while updating its air quality guidelines (AQGs) last month was stark: impact of air quality on public health was twice as bad as estimated previously. Despite lax standards, India is home to 37 of the 50 most polluted cities in the world. For example, India’s PM2.5 and PM10 standards are, respectively, 60 and 100 µg/m3 over a 24-hour period. According to the WHO’s new guidelines, the standards are 15 and 45 µg/m3.

It is no surprise that, as a result, India has among the worst mortality rates influenced by air pollution, according to IIT, Kanpur Professor Dr. Sachchida Nand Tripathi. According to estimates from Global Burden of Disease, 1.67 million Indians died in 2019 directly as a result of polluted air or because of air pollution exacerbating pre-existing conditions. With 340,000 deaths, Uttar Pradesh had the highest share, followed by Maharashtra with 130,000, and Rajasthan 110,000.

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Delhi’s average life expectancy is 6.4 years lower than 69.4 — the national average. The number has now started to fall in coastal cities such as Chennai and Mumbai as well. Globally, an estimated 3.3 million people die of exposure to PM2.5 each year, with most of these deaths taking place in Asia.

India’s problem
India’s economic growth is entirely built on fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas, and oil contribute around 75% to the country’s power generation and over 97% of road transport with heavy emissions of SO2, CO, ozone, NO2, and particulate matter. India is proud of being the fastest growing large economy, and changing its power-generation methods or clamping down on diesel and petrol vehicles could be seen as throttling progress, according to Dr. Tripathi, also a Steering Committee Member of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).

Yet, the growing need for personal vehicles and energy is worsening public health.

Killer threat
PM2.5 exposure can cause cerebrovascular disease, lung cancer, acute lower respiratory illness, and ischaemic heart disease, apart from worsening ailments such as depression. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been linked to ozone exposure. Even newborns and foetuses are also affected by prolonged exposure to air pollutants. Apart from stillbirths and premature deliveries, there is an increased risk of foetuses being born with under-developed lungs and congenital defects.

Economic losses
According to a 2019 study, India’s air quality wiped out 3% of its yearly GDP, causing a nearly Rs 7 lakh crore-loss. Most of this loss was due to employees failing to turn up at work, fewer people stepping out to shop, and health warnings turning foreign tourists away. An estimated 820,000 lost tourism jobs and 64% of businesses were caused by air pollution, official figures showed.

Poor air quality also offset 67% of solar panel’s cost advantage over grid power as ground-level smog and particulate matter choke the output. Several studies have also found a 25% drop in wheat and rice yield after prolonged ozone and PM exposure.

Way ahead
India needs to revisit the National Ambient Air Quality Standards without delay, revise it downwards to WHO’s levels, and implement those without exception, according to Dr. Tripathi. With the new WHO guidelines not being legally binding, a critical first step would be nationwide epidemiological studies to gather raw health data on air pollution. Without this data, it would be difficult to get a clear picture of how many Indians are suffering under air pollution.

The authorities must also acknowledge that Indians are equally susceptible to air pollution — so laxer standards for the sake of the economy puts the life of an average resident at risk.

China’s example
China passed a similar phase. Chinese cities faced severe air pollution with Beijing becoming notorious for its smog as it attempted to transform itself into the manufacturing hub of the world. But it successfully tackled the issue, despite not being WHO-compliant even after 10 years. It has put priority on zero-emissions transport, staggered the use of vehicles with internal combustion engines, and enforced strict clampdowns on pollution sources with few exceptions. China is now the largest electric vehicles and clean energy market and has the highest per-capita income in its history while still maintaining its influence as an economic powerhouse.

Clean energy
The National Clean Air Programme in India attempts to incorporate these solutions, but clean energy and e-mobility are still not dominant in India. States such as Telangana, Maharashtra, and Gujarat have introduced policies to improve their market shares, and year-on-year electric vehicle sales are climbing record highs.

Renewable energy has also risen dramatically in share since 2015 and crossed 100 GW — almost a quarter of the country’s installed power capacity — in August.

According to Dr. Tripathi, it is equally important to India’s air quality monitoring. CAAQMS monitors, controlled by CPCB, are expensive with only 312 installed in 156 cities. This leaves thousands of rural and urban pockets unmonitored.

Fortunately, several new, low-cost monitors have since entered service that capture not only PM2.5 and 10 readings but also gases such as SO2, methane, NO2, and secondary volatile organic compounds.

The Centre and state governments still need to boost the CAAQMS network’s density, that too on priority, according to Dr. Tripathi. Given the scale of India’s public health crisis, wasting more time could lead to a public health emergency.

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An Expert Explains: WHO’s stark message on air quality — and what India must do – The Indian Express

In updating its already strict air quality guidelines (AQGs), the WHO last month sent out a stark message: that the impact of poor air quality on public health is at least twice as bad as previously estimated. India has 37 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, despite its air quality standards being more lax. For instance, its standards for PM2.5 and PM10 are 60 and 100 µg/m3 respectively (over 24 hours), while the WHO’s new standards are 15 and 45 µg/m3 (over 24 hours).

Not surprisingly, India’s air pollution-influenced mortality rates are among the worst. The Global Burden of Disease estimates that India lost 1.67 million lives in 2019 directly as a result of breathing polluted air, or because of pre-existing conditions exacerbated by air pollution. Uttar Pradesh had the biggest share at 3.4 lakh, Maharashtra had 1.3 lakh, and Rajasthan 1.1 lakh.

The average life expectancy in Delhi is 6.4 years lower than the national average of 69.4, and the number is starting to fall for even coastal cities like Mumbai and Chennai. Globally, it is estimated that exposure to PM2.5 kills 3.3 million people every year, most of them in Asia.

India’s predicament

The problem is, our economic growth is built on fossil fuels. Coal, oil, and natural gas account for roughly 75% of our power generation and >97% of road transport, but they come at the cost of heavy CO, SO2, NO2, ozone, and particulate matter emissions. And herein lies the predicament: India prides itself on being the fastest growing large economy, and changing the way we generate power and clamping down on petrol and diesel vehicles is seen as throttling economic progress.

Yet at the same time, the ever-growing need for energy and personal vehicles is worsening the public health crisis. There is now almost a sense among people that toxic air is just a part of life in the city.

The Expert

Dr Sachchida Nand (Sachi) Tripathi is Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and Steering Committee Member, National Clean Air Programme, MoEFCC

The killer threat

It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the situation. The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure now include lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease and acute lower respiratory illness, besides exacerbating ailments like depression. Exposure to ozone has been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Prolonged exposure to air pollutants affects newborns and babies still in the womb. While mothers may have to deal with the trauma of premature deliveries and stillbirths, foetuses face increased risk of being born with lungs that are not yet developed to function properly, and congenital defects that can impact the rest of their lives. Simply put, air pollution is a threat to generations even before they are born.

Losses to economy

A 2019 study found that India’s horrendous air quality erased 3% of its GDP for the year and caused a loss of nearly Rs 7 lakh crore (~USD 95 billion). Most of the loss was due to employees failing to show up at work, far fewer people stepping out to buy goods, and foreign tourists staying away after health warnings. Official figures indicate a loss of 820,000 jobs in the tourism industry and 64% of businesses squarely blame air pollution.

Poor air quality was found to offset 67% of the cost advantage of using solar panels over grid power, as ground-level smog and the particulate matter chokes their power output. Also, several studies have noted a 25% drop in crop yield for wheat and rice after prolonged exposure to PM and ozone.

Way forward

It’s a crisis that affects everyone. What India needs to do without delay is to revisit its National Ambient Air Quality Standards, revise them down to WHO levels, and implement them without exception. Unfortunately, the new WHO guidelines are not legally binding, so a critical first step is to conduct nationwide epidemiological studies and gather expansive raw health data on air pollution as a risk factor. Without this it would be difficult to get a picture of just how many Indians, regardless of age, gender and occupation, are suffering under bad air, and would render efforts to tackle the problem meaningless.

Most importantly, the authorities must acknowledge that Indians are no less susceptible to air pollution — so to continue with laxer standards for the sake of industry places a life-threatening burden on the average resident.

The China example

China went through a similar phase. In transforming itself as the world’s manufacturing hub, its cities were subjected to manic air pollution and Beijing was notorious for its smog. But it has had success in tackling the issue, even though after 10 years it is still not WHO-compliant. It has prioritised zero-emissions transport, staggered the use of internal combustion engine vehicles, and enforced a strict clampdown on point sources of pollution that allows for few exceptions, if at all. What’s most impressive is that the country is now the largest market for electric vehicles and clean energy, its per capita incomes have never been higher, and its influence as an economic powerhouse is still on the rise. It refutes the myth that clamping down on air pollution stymies economic growth.

Cleaner energy

India’s National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) attempts to incorporate such solutions, but e-mobility and clean energy in India are not yet dominant in their respective sectors. The good news is states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Telangana have introduced policies to speed up their market shares, and EVs’ year-on-year sales are posting record figures.

The share of renewable energy has also risen dramatically since 2015 to cross 100 GW in August 2021, which is almost a quarter of the country’s installed power capacity. But there is a long way to go still.

Better monitoring

Another equally essential step is to expand the country’s air quality monitoring network. The CPCB-controlled CAAQMS monitors are expensive — each costs upward of Rs 20 lakh — and there are only 312 of them spread across 156 cities. This leaves many urban and rural pockets unmonitored to understand the full extent of their air pollution.

Fortunately a number of new, low-cost monitors have entered service, that capture readings for not only PM2.5 and 10 but also gases like NO2, SO2, methane, and secondary volatile organic compounds. Still, the Centre and state governments must boost the density of the CAAQMS network to fully inform the science behind the corrective measures, and all of this needs to happen on priority. Given the scale of our public health crisis, wasting any more time could very well lead to a public health emergency.

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Air quality body directs Delhi, nearby States to video monitor construction projects – The Hindu

Construction projects in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining States will have to install equipment that will allow the authorities to monitor if the projects are complying with norms to curb air pollution, according to a directive by the Commission for Air Quality and Management (CAQM).

The CAQM is an executive body set up to oversee measures to curb air pollution in the Delhi NCR, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

In a directive on Thursday, the CAQM said that all the projects (on plot area equal to or greater than 500 square meters) of construction and demolition under the territorial jurisdiction of Urban Local Bodies in the NCR would have to mandatorily register themselves at a dedicated web portal.

Those involved in construction activities also have to ensure “video fencing”, meaning that they would have to set up cameras on site, with streaming that can be viewed via the web portal. It would thus be possible for authorities to monitor compliance “round the clock”. They would also have to install reliable and low-cost PM2.5 and PM10 sensors at the Construction and Demolition (C&D) project sites.

“This technological shift will not only help the project proponents to self-audit and certify compliance of stipulated dust control measures but also strengthen monitoring of dust control measures at C&D sites. The project proponents are also expected to upload the self-declaration on a fortnightly basis. Further, directions have been issued to Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and other State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) of National Capital Region to strictly monitor compliance of dust mitigation measures by project proponents,” the CAQM said in a statement.

The list of dust control/ mitigation measures includes the use of anti-smog guns, water pills, water cannons, hoses, fire hydrants, and sprinklers to contain pollutant particles.

With the monsoon drawing to a close and wind patterns expected to change, Delhi and other cities in the Indo-Gangetic plains are preparing to grapple with their annual bouts of severe air pollution. Road dust and dust from C&D reportedly contribute a third of particulate matter pollution in Delhi, according to an analysis by The Energy Resources Institute in 2018.

Delhi and several cities in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana routinely feature on the lists of the most polluted cities in the world. Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) in its first-ever update since 2005 has tightened global air pollution standards in a recognition of the emerging science in the last decade that the impact of air pollution on health is much more serious than earlier envisaged.

The government has a dedicated National Clean Air Programme that aims for a 20% to 30% reduction in particulate matter concentrations by 2024 in 122 cities, keeping 2017 as the base year for the comparison of concentration. These are cities that don’t meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards when calculated from 2011-2015.

Air quality now even more of a concern – Deccan Herald

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) new Global Air Quality Guidelines (AQGs) have set the standards much higher than its existing benchmarks, and should alert the world to the threat of rising air pollution. The new guidelines are more stringent than the earlier recommendations made in 2005. They are based on the latest scientific studies on the impact of air pollution on health.

According to the report, 90% of the world’s people live in areas with at least one especially harmful type of pollutants, such as particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. The guidelines were revised because it has been found that much lower levels of pollution than given in the earlier guidelines can cause damage to health. According to the report, air pollution causes seven million premature deaths annually in the world. Disparities in pollution levels are increasing and low and middle-income countries are facing increasing threats from pollution due to urbanisation and the burning of fossil fuels. 

Also read: Combatting an invisible killer: New WHO air pollution guidelines recommend sharply lower limits

India’s pollution levels are far above the WHO standards. They were so even before the new guidelines arrived. According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, 22 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in India, and Delhi is the most polluted capital city. Air pollution kills some two million Indians every year and is the fifth largest killer in the country. The acceptable PM (particulate matter) 2.5 exposure limit over 24 hours prescribed by the 2009 National Ambient Air Quality Standards is four times the new WHO limit. For exposure over a year-long period, it is eight times the revised threshold. The 2019 National Clean Air Programme aims to achieve a 20-30% reduction in PM 2.5 concentrations over the 2017 levels in 100 cities by 2024. But the programme does not have any legal mandate. 

Air pollution has never been considered a major health hazard to be tackled on an urgent basis in the country. It is not just a health problem but seriously affects economic growth, too. Various studies have linked the state of air pollution to loss of GDP in states and cities. Climate change is going to make the situation worse in the coming years. So, it is necessary to evolve plans to counter air pollution and to implement them earnestly. This may pose challenges in a country with very diverse geo-climatic zones, but there is the need for effective action in the interest of public health and development. The new guidelines being prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board should be linked to the latest WHO norms, and the effort must be to formulate strategies on their basis.