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Air pollution affecting India’s glistening Golden Temple

It's unclear how much replacing the gold plating would cost, but it would surely be high

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Golden Temple, Amritsar Image: Wikimedia commons

The chronic air pollution blanketing much of northern India is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.

There is little to be done short of replacing the 430-year-old temple’s gold-plated walls — an expensive project already undertaken more than a century ago and then again in 1999.

To cut down on pollution, environmentalists and religious leaders have launched a campaign that includes persuading farmers to stop burning spent crops to clear their fields, removing industry from the area and cutting back on traffic. A community kitchen called a “langar” that serves up to 100,000 people free meals every day at the temple is also switching from burning wood to cooking with gas.

But so far the campaign hasn’t had much impact, with change happening slowly and still no pollution monitoring equipment installed.

“As far as pollution goes, we are paying attention,” said Jaswant Singh, environmental engineer at the State Pollution Control Board, a government regulatory authority. “We are in the process of procuring equipment so that we can check the pollution area, pollution from every source on a day-to-day basis.”

Golden Sikh Temple, Amritsar. Image: VOA
Image: VOA

Indian Sikh devotees clean the tank early in the morning at the Golden Temple, on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru in Amritsar, India. The chronic air pollution is now threatening the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion making the once-gleaming walls of the Golden Temple dingy and dull.

Related article: Is it right for Sikhs to oppose the inclusion of Golden Temple in World Heritage Site list?

Officials have also banned burning trash or cooking with certain fuels in restaurants and communities nearby, but enforcement so far remains weak. The city also wants to build an electricity station to stop people from using diesel-fueled generators, but Singh could not say when that might happen.
“The pollution degrading the Golden Temple is growing,” said environmental activist Gunbir Singh, who heads a group called Eco Amritsar. “We need to do a hell of a lot of work to protect the holy city status of this city.”

It’s unclear how much replacing the gold plating would cost, but it would surely be high.

“This is gold. The cost would be huge, but still would not be a problem,” Gunbir Singh said, suggesting Sikh devotees would rally behind the cause if needed. “Most of the activity that goes on there is based on donations — people will take off their bangles and rings and leave them if work needs to be done.”

Thousands of Sikh devotees and tourists every day visit Amritsar, the main city in Punjab state, to see the 17th century shrine, surrounded by a moat known as the “pool of nectar,” or “Sarovar,” and housing the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Most of the world’s 27 million Sikhs, whose monotheistic religion originated in Punjab in the 15th century, live in India.

The country suffers some of the world’s worst air pollution, thanks to a heavy reliance on burning coal for electricity, diesel in cars and power generators, and kerosene and cow dung for cooking and lighting homes. Heavy construction amid a decade-long economic boom has also kicked up huge clouds of dust, and farmers still regularly clear their fields with fire, sending even more black carbon into the air.

The capital of New Delhi was named by the WHO as the world’s most polluted city, while Amritsar — about 390 kilometers (240 km) to the north — was ranked India’s ninth most polluted.

The Golden Temple is not the only major monument to be affected by pollution. The white marbled Taj Mahal has also become dirty from pollution from the nearby city of Agra, and every few years, workers from the Archaological Survey of India place mud packs on its walls to keep them from turning yellow and brown.

But many across the country remain unaware of the risks in breathing unhealthy air, even as scientists warn it is sickening countless Indians every year. About 1.4 million Indians were killed by illnesses related to air pollution in 2013, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of British Colombia, in Vancouver.

That tally will only rise unless pollution levels are drastically curbed, experts have said. Instead, the pollution is getting worse, according to NASA satellite images revealing particulate matter in the air. An analysis last month by the environmental group Greenpeace showed the overall concentration of PM2.5 — the tiny lung-clogging particulate matter suspended in the air — increasing 13 percent from 2010 to 2015.

With pollution fast damaging the Golden Temple, some in the Sikh heartland said they were reminded of their religious duty to protect nature.

“Our holy book teaches us that the air is the teacher, the water is the father and the earth is the mother. So we have to be mindful of all the elements of nature as true Sikhs,” the environmentalist Gunbir Singh said.

Authorities plan to ban vehicles from the area immediately surrounding the shrine. “Even the devotees will have to come on foot,” said Harcharan Singh, who heads the Shrimoni Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, which oversees the six major Sikh temples across India.

But efforts have been slow, and officials admit so far incomplete.

Sikh preacher Baba Sewa Singh said he and his devotees have tried to help mitigate the pollution threat by planting more than 100,000 trees in the region.

“If anyone asks about the saplings,” he said, “we plant then for free in their villages.” (VOA)

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Risk of Multiple Sclerosis High in Urbanites due to Air Pollution

Air pollution could be a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) among urbanites, says researcher

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Air pollution may up multiple sclerosis risk in urbanites. Pixabay

Air pollution could be a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), say researchers, adding that MS risk was 29 per cent higher among people residing in urbanised areas.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves. Whilst MS can be diagnosed at any age, it frequently occurs between the ages of 20-40 and is more frequent in women.

Symptoms can change in severity daily and include fatigue, walking difficulty, numbness, pain and muscle spasms. The study, presented at the European Academy of Neurology (EAN) Virtual Congress, detected a reduced risk for MS in individuals residing in rural areas that have lower levels of air pollutants known as particulate matter (PM).

According to the researchers, it is well recognised that immune diseases such as MS are associated with multiple factors, both genetic and environmental. “We believe that air pollution interacts through several mechanisms in the development of MS and the results of this study strengthen that hypothesis,” said study lead researcher Professor Roberto Bergamaschi from the IRCCS Mondino Foundation in Italy.

Particulate matter (PM) is used to describe a mixture of solid particles and droplets in the air and is divided into two categories. PM10 includes particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres of smaller and PM2.5 which have a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or smaller.  Both PM10 and PM2.5 are major pollutants and are known to be linked to various health conditions, including heart and lung disease, cancer and respiratory issues.

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Air pollution could be a risk factor for the development of multiple sclerosis. Pixabay

The analysis was conducted in the winter, given that this is the season with the highest pollutant concentrations, in the north-western Italian region of Lombardy, home to over 547,000 people.

For the findings, the research team included over 900 MS patients within the region, and MS rates were found to have risen 10-fold in the past 50 years, from 16 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in 1974 to almost 170 cases per 100,000 people today. Whilst the huge increase can partly be explained by increased survival for MS patients, this sharp increase could also be explained by greater exposure to risk factors.

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“In the higher risk areas, we are now carrying out specific analytical studies to examine multiple environmental factors possibly related to the heterogeneous distribution of MS risk”, Professor Bergamaschi said. (IANS)

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Here’s How You Can Reduce Indoor Pollution and Chances of Asthma While in Lockdown

Poor Ventilation is a primary cause of Indoor pollution

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incense-stick
Indoor Air Pollution is increasing day by day while we are at home due to the lockdown. Pixabay

Indoor air pollution is a major global public health problem. According to reports, the concentration of indoor pollutants can be many times higher as compared to outdoor, primarily due to poor ventilation.

Now that people are spending most of their time indoors with the current COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures, exposure to indoor pollution becomes a major health concern, points out Dr. Prashant Chhajed, HOD-Respiratory Medicine, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi and Fortis Hospital, Mulund.

What are the causes of Indoor pollution?

Particles >10 em are usually removed at the upper airways, whereas those <10 em may be deposited in the airways and alveoli, informs the expert. Some bio-aerosols of concern in homes are indoor allergens i.e. dust mites, pet allergens, cockroaches, molds. Other common reasons of indoor pollution he underlines:

smoke
Smoke from incense sticks, dhoop, etc is a reason of indoor pollution. Pixabay

Environmental tobacco smoke

Cooking using bio mass fuel

Cleaning and renovation activities

Unvented gas and Kerosene heaters used indoors

Smoke from incense sticks, dhoop, etc.

Burning of Camphor and mosquito coils

These are of major concern for an asthma patient, as they can aggravate their asthma and lead to flare ups.

Decreasing air pollution at home to reduce the likelihood of Asthma flare ups is easy to achieve. Dr Chhajed recommends few ways to reduce indoor air pollution:

window
You can reduce the likelihood of Asthma by decreasing air pollution at home. One way to achieve this is proper ventilation. Pixabay

Stop smoking

Use fragrance-free household products

Minimize carpeting in the home

Use of an exhaust hood while cooking is a must

Keep the windows open and keep the house well ventilated

Dehumidifiers and air conditioning may help prevent mold and also help to reduce dust mites, which don’t survive at humidity levels below 35%

Air purifiers or filters may help to take care of the pet dander that is light-weight and floats in air.

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Vacuum cleaning carpets and upholstery regularly can also help to reduce dust mites and dust particles

Washing bedding, cushion covers, blankets regularly helps to keep these allergens under control

Avoid burning incense sticks and dhoop at home. (IANS)

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COVID-19 Effect: Population of Birds has Surged in India

India witnesses surge in bird population amid lockdown

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birds population India
The lockdown has resulted in an increase in the population of birds in the country. Pixabay

By AAKANKSHA KHAJURIA

Due to the reduction in air and noise pollution pursuant to the imposition of the nationwide lockdown to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, the population of birds and butterflies has surged significantly across the country.

“The lockdown has resulted in an increase in the population of birds in the country. Resident birds are breeding much more than before due to less human activity, no noise and air pollution,” wildlife biologist Faiyaz Khudsar said.

Clanking of machinery in factories, buzzing of car horns and whirring of vehicular engines have now been replaced by chirping of birds in the dawn and the dusk.

birds population India
There is less human population, aircraft are grounded and no vehicles ply on the road, birds tend to increase their flight or retain their historical geographical ranges. “Lockdown is a good time for birds.” Pixabay

Khudsar, who is also the scientist in-charge at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP), said that due to the reduction in noise pollution, bird mating calls and songs are being understood by its mates clearly.

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“Vocalisation is very important. When there is less noise pollution, it is very easy for birds to express themselves. Otherwise, there are many studies which suggest that due to noise pollution, birds sometimes fail to reach their mates,” Khudsar said.

He also said that at a place where there is less human population, aircraft are grounded and no vehicles ply on the road, birds tend to increase their flight or retain their historical geographical ranges. “Lockdown is a good time for birds,” he said, smiling.

birds population India
Due to the reduction in air and noise pollution pursuant to the imposition of the nationwide lockdown to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, the population of birds and butterflies has surged significantly across the country. Pixabay

Khudsar also alluded to the effect of air pollution on butterflies and said that heavy metals emitted from the vehicles and haze increases their mortality. “Due to reduction in sulphur dioxide toxicity, flocks of ePioneer’ butterflies are flying around and are breeding more than ever before,” he said.

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Vikrant Tongad, environment conservationist and founder of Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE), expressed happiness over the increase in the population of birds and butterflies, but rued over the maintainability of the current situation post the lockdown period.

“The rosy situation we see today is part of our policies, but there is lack of implementation in the country. We should move towards green energy; people should be made aware and policies should be implemented,” Tongad suggested. (IANS)