Monday June 18, 2018

Bengaluru kids more exposed to toxic air: Report

Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report

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Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report.
Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report. Wikimedia Commons
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  • The school-goers are among the worst affected by the toxic air
  • With an existing fleet of seven million vehicles, nearly 900 new vehicles are added to the Bengaluru’s roads every day
  • Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times

If you are travelling in an open vehicle during peak traffic hours daily in Bengaluru, you are likely to be exposed to severe toxic air. And school-goers are among the worst affected, a report warned on Wednesday.

Between 8.30am and 10.30am, the particulate pollution levels between Banashankari to Marathahalli varied from 70-800 micrograms per cubic meter, an alarming high, says the report, “Bengaluru’s Rising Air Quality Crisis: The Need for Sustained Reportage and Action”, by independent environmental researcher Aishwarya Sudhir.

But why is Bengaluru gridlocked?

With an existing fleet of seven million vehicles, nearly 900 new vehicles are added to the Bengaluru’s roads every day.

Worsening the problem, says the report, is illegal dumping of waste mixed with mass untreated sewage.

Also Read: Neurologists say rising air pollution can cause stroke among adults

The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates. The state capital often referred as India’s Silicon Valley because of its information technology hub, has had its challenges with outdated waste collection, segregation and transportation system, which often results in toxic emissions.

Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab.
Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab. Wikimedia Commons

The city has 10 online monitoring stations, of which five were introduced in January with an additional feature to generate Air Quality Index.

The five new stations are in Hebbal, Jayanagar, Kavika, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences and Silk Board.

Taking up the cudgels to check the alarming pollution levels, the report says residents of Whitefield Rising in Mahadevapura in November last year tested the air quality in the morning in their locality.

Observed air quality levels exceeded safety limits by more than five times, the particulate matter count was above 400 micrograms (IG) per cubic metre, says the report.

Also Read: How exposure to air pollution in womb may shorten lifespan

Clean up

Sudhir, who is based in Bengaluru, told IANS that the residents initiated a daily activity to clean up roads by hiring a vacuum cleaner and demonstrated that this is indeed possible.

They have been spending money on and off to get the roads cleaned. They have approached the local municipality and the pollution control board to regularise it. So far that hasn’t happened.

Likewise, residents of Malleshwaram have started taking the initiative to tackle the problem of burning leaves, another major cause of air pollution, in their locality by composting in their gardens or empty plots.

The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates.
The city generates around 4,500 to 5,000 tonnes of waste per day, by conservative estimates. Wikimedia Commons

Quoting Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research cardiologist Rahul Patil, the report says: “After eliminating stress and dietary habits, we found cab and auto drivers were the worst hit as they remain stranded for long hours in bad traffic and are exposed to high levels of pollution.”

Co Media Lab Director Pinky Chandran told IANS that unlike New Delhi and other cities, Bengaluru, fortunately, has many citizen-action groups that are championing the cause of clean air.

Also Read: Air Pollution And Its Effects On Our Heath

“The state needs to take its citizens into confidence and formulate an implementable action plan which is based on air quality data so that it can bring about change,” she said.

A seven-day air quality monitoring exercise took up by Co Media Lab and Climate Trends this month found that the particulate matter averages observed over four hours during peak time in the morning and evening were consistently above 200 micrograms per cubic metre, indicating very poor air quality levels.

Climate Trends works on solutions to air pollution, while Co Media Lab is a community media lab. Both are based in Bengaluru. (IANS)

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Plastics Can Be Eaten By Enzymes And Reduce Pollution

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate

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Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried into a depot before being pulverized as part of a recycling process at Tokyo PET Bottle Recycle Co. in Tokyo, Aug. 13, 2002. Researchers in Britain and the United States have engineered an enzyme that breaks down such plastics.
Packs of flattened polyethylene terephthalate (or PET) bottles are carried into a depot before being pulverized as part of a recycling process at Tokyo PET Bottle Recycle Co. in Tokyo, Aug. 13, 2002. Researchers in Britain and the United States have engineered an enzyme that breaks down such plastics. VOA

Scientists in Britain and the United States say they have engineered a plastic-eating enzyme that could help in the fight against pollution.

The enzyme is able to digest polyethylene terephthalate, or PET — a form of plastic patented in the 1940s and now used in millions of tons of plastic bottles. PET plastics can persist for hundreds of years in the environment and currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory made the discovery while examining the structure of a natural enzyme thought to have evolved in a waste-recycling center in Japan.

Finding that this enzyme was helping a bacteria to break down, or digest, PET plastic, the researchers decided to “tweak” its structure by adding some amino acids, said John McGeehan, a professor at Portsmouth who co-led the work.

This led to a serendipitous change in the enzyme’s actions — allowing its plastic-eating abilities to work faster.

“We’ve made an improved version of the enzyme better than the natural one already,” McGeehan told Reuters in an interview.

“That’s really exciting because that means that there’s potential to optimize the enzyme even further.”

The team, whose finding was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, is now working on improving the enzyme further to see if it could be capable of breaking down PET plastics on an industrial scale.

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution, Pixabay

“It’s well within the possibility that in the coming years we will see an industrially viable process to turn PET, and potentially other [plastics], back into their original building blocks so that they can be sustainably recycled,” McGeehan said.

‘Strong potential’

Independent scientists not directly involved with the research said it was exciting, but cautioned that the enzyme’s development as a potential solution for pollution was still at an early stage.

“Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in large amounts by microorganisms,” said Oliver Jones, a Melbourne University chemistry expert. “There is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing waste problem by breaking down some of the most commonly used plastics.”

Douglas Kell, a professor of bioanalytical science at Manchester University, said further rounds of work “should be expected to improve the enzyme yet further.”

Also read: Ayushmann Khurana speaks against plastic pollution

“All told, this advance brings the goal of sustainably recyclable polymers significantly closer,” he added. (VOA)