Wednesday February 21, 2018

Indian cities choking on high RSPM levels

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By Nithin Sridhar

While speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Environment and Forest Minister, Ramanath Rai expressed serious concerns regarding the rising levels of RSPM (Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter) in Bengaluru city.

RSPM level refers to the amount of suspended dust particles that can enter the human respiratory system. It is one of the parameters that determine the extent of Air pollution. Higher the RSPM levels, higher will be the exposure to human health risks associated with the dust inhalation.

Situation in Bengaluru:

According to the statistics revealed by the minister, the RSPM levels for Bengaluru have exceeded the national permissible levels by a range of 2% to 283% in 13 air monitoring stations.

The minister said that around 54.4 tons of dust is generated daily and 42% of which comes from vehicular emissions. The dust present on roads, caused due construction activities, industries, generators, and domestic activities contribute around 20%, 14%, 14%, 7% and 3% respectively towards dust generation.

The Whitefield Industrial Zone has the highest level of respirable suspended dust in Bengaluru with RSPM level of 230 milligrams per cubic meters of air as against the national permissible RSPM level of 60 milligrams per cubic meters.

The RSPM levels in micrograms per cubic meters for other areas are as follows: Mysore Road (209), Yelahanka (121), Peenya Gymkhana (119), Peenya Industrial Area (114), Yeshwanthpur (129), Silk Board (189), Victoria Road (162), Banswadi (84), Sonnenahalli (69), City Railway station (67), Victoria Hospital (154) and NIMHANS (125).

On the other hand, the NO2 and SO2 levels have been found to be within the permissible levels in Bengaluru.

Situation across the nation:

According to a report from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), between 2001 and 2007, the RSPM levels for all metros except Chennai have been above permissible limits. The RSPM levels for Delhi has increased from 120 micrograms per cubic meters in 2001 to 160 micrograms per cubic meters in 2007. For the same period, the RSPM levels have increased from 80 to 100 micrograms per cubic meters in Mumbai.

Kolkata recorded RSPM level of 140 micrograms per cubic meters in 2007. Only Chennai recorded 50 micrograms per cubic meters which is below the national permissible limit. The levels of SO2 for these metros between the years 2001-2007 have remained below the permissible limits of 50 per cubic meters.

According to Chandigarh Pollution Control Committee, the RSPM levels for Chandigarh in 2014 was well beyond the national permissible limits. In Industrial area, it was at 114 micrograms per cubic meters, almost twice the permissible limits.

According to this 2010 CPCB report, a total of 130 cities exceeded the RSPM permissible levels across India.

Rising vehicular traffic is one of the major contributors towards increasing RSPM levels. Industrial and Domestic activities are other sources of air pollution.

Effect of RSPM on human health:

Most of the particles inhaled by the body are removed out of the body through nostrils. Smaller ones may pass through the windpipe and get stuck into protective mucus and be removed later on. But the smallest of these particles with their size less than or equal to 10 microns (called as RSPM) gets deposited in the air sacs of lungs.

These deposited tiny particles interfere with respiratory actions like an exchange of carbon dioxide with oxygen. This places extra pressure on the heart and will cause acute shortness of breath.

Hence, RSPM can cause extensive damage to the respiratory system. It will lead to difficulty in breathing, aggravated coughing and decreased functioning levels. It may lead to cardiopulmonary problems, asthma, bronchitis, and in extreme cases, premature deaths.

Steps to reduce air pollution:

To reduce the levels of RSPM in Bengaluru, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had issued a 13-point direction to Transport and other government departments according to the report in The Hindu.

The remedial measures that have been suggested include creating dedicated bus lanes, increasing green covers, banning vehicles having 2 strokes and those which are older than 15 years, restrictions on the movement of heavy vehicles, clearing of encroachment and filling of potholes.

In 2003, the Supreme Court of India directed the respective state governments to prepare action plans to bring down the RSPM levels in Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Sholapur, Lucknow, Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad.

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The major actions that were proposed for most of these cities included:

  1. Industrial Pollution: Shifting of Industries from non-conforming zones, switching over to clean technologies, using clean fuels, installation of Pollution control Devices, Development of green belt, etc.
  2. Vehicular Pollution: Implementation of the emission norms as well as fuel quality in accordance with the road map proposed by the Auto Fuel Policy, switching over to clean alternate fuels like CNG, LPG & Bio-fuels, augmentation in Public Transport system, Better traffic management.
  3. Domestic Pollution: Ban on open burning of garbage, biomass, etc. and augmentation on the supply of LPG as cooking fuel etc.

But the measures that have been taken across various cities till date appear to be insufficient to bring the RSPM level below the permissible levels. Instead, the rising vehicular populations and increasing factories and industries are making the situation worse. The city and state administrations must pursue this issue seriously and should try to bring the RSPM below the permissible level as soon as possible.

 

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Air Pollution And Its Effects On Our Heath

Man is not just affected physically but his mental peace takes a toll too due to the increasing air pollution

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Stubble burning is one of the main reason behind heavy pollution in the Delhi and NCR region. Wikimedia Commons
  • Air pollution is a major concern nowadays and has major effects on one’s health
  • There are many toxic air pollutants in our environment which can cause severe health hazards
  • Health-related problems like asthma, headaches, nausea, etc. can be caused as an effect of air pollution

Air Pollution and their dreadful consequences are not some newly found phenomena of the new-found world. There have been instances of hazardous effects even in the past. The three major historic documentation, dating back to the middle of the 20th century, happened at Meuse Valley in Belgium, Donora in Pennsylvania, and London. The most gruesome of the three is the well-known London mishap that claimed over 4000 lives during the episode, due to temperature inversion and associated elevated levels of Air Pollution, and over 8000 lives in the subsequent period.

Air pollution can have severe effects on one's health.
Air pollution can have severe effects on one’s health.

Mankind is in a fast-paced race, always in the process of trying to outwit each other. The numerous developments born out of this race have brought along with them dreadful health consequences. Air Pollution is one such inadvertent yet a disregardful act by humans. The pollution does not begin only when you step out of your homes but is present within your safety havens itself.

According to the World Health Organization report in 2014, 92% of the world population was living in places where the air quality guidelines levels were not met. Outdoor Air Pollution was cited to be the cause of  3.7 million premature deaths in both cities and rural areas. Around 80% of those deaths were due to heart diseases and stroke, and the rest were due to respiratory illnesses and cancers due to exposure to fine particulate matter.

Air pollution can even cause risk of life.
Air pollution can even cause risk of life.
Air pollutants categories:

Air pollutants are categorized into two groups based on their impact, Criteria pollutants and Toxic air pollutants. Criteria pollutants include particulate matter (PM), ozone (O3), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and lead (Pb). (defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the Clean Air Act). These pollutants are present everywhere and cause health issues when present at significant ambient levels. In general, the criteria pollutants are regarded as the cause of most respiratory and cardiac issues.

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

Toxic air pollutants are also known as “hazardous air pollutants,” are substances that cause cancer or lead to other potential non-cancerous effects on the reproductive and neurological systems and have disastrous consequences in the development process. It is also assumed that there is no threshold level of exposure required to cause cancer. Meaning any amount of exposure to these toxic pollutants can lead to cancer.

At risk Populations:

In any geography, the already ailing and sick (pre-existing medical condition) population is more at risk for suffering from the ill effects of air pollution. Apart from this category, young children are the next at risk.

The reason for children being affected more is that they have higher breathing rates than adults. Therefore, they unknowingly inhale a lot more pollutants than an average adult. The potential for exposure is also increased with increased amount of time spent outdoors. The developing lungs of the young people have a limited metabolic capacity to placate toxicity.

Exposure to air pollutants can case cancer as well.
Exposure to air pollutants can cause cancer as well.

 

Air Pollution Respiratory Diseases:

The small particulate matter of the criteria pollutants has the capacity to reach the lowest portion of the lungs, where the gaseous exchange occurs. The larger particles get trapped in the nose and the medium- sized ones settle in the tracheobronchial region.

The effects of the settlement of these particles are upper and lower respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks, loss of quality living days, and restricted activities. Chronic exposure to particulate matter has also been associated with the development of chronic bronchitis- inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. This condition presents as a cough with mucus.

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

Lung Cancer:

It is a commonly known fact and an “ought to be stressed upon” fact that chronic exposure to polluted air can also lead to the cancer of the lungs.

Ozone’s effect:

Ozone, an oxidant gas that is poorly water-soluble, travels throughout the respiratory tract due to its nature of solubility. It reacts with the molecules on the surface of the lung and leads to pulmonary oedema, inflammation, and the destruction of epithelial cells that line the respiratory tract. Children who stay outdoors in high Ozone areas develop asthma. Some of the disastrous effects are permanent in nature.

Air pollution can harm you even when you are inside your own houses.
Air pollution can harm you even when you are inside your own houses.
Some more Criteria air pollutants:

When Carbon monoxide reacts with blood haemoglobin, it reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood and hence can cause damage to the nervous system. It causes a headache, fatigue, dizziness, coma, respiratory failure, and eventually death.

Nitrogen dioxide is mostly an indoor air pollutant released due to the increasing use of gas stoves. Exposure to high levels of nitrogen dioxide can lead to respiratory distress with symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest.

Air Pollution Cardiovascular Effects:

The above-mentioned actions of air pollutants in the respiratory tract can also affect the cardiovascular system. The inflammation in the breathing tract induces transient hypercoagulability (abnormal blood clotting), the progression of atherosclerosis, and propensity to plaque rupture, especially in people with coronary atheroma. Long-term exposure to Air Pollution can also speed up the atherogenesis process, heart rate invariability, and arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Some recent studies have also found a significant relationship between heart attack (Myocardial infarction) and exposure to polluted air.

Air Pollution in Reproductive and Child Health:

Long-term exposure to the air pollutants poses risks even to an unborn child. It causes Intrauterine growth restriction -low birth weight at term, intrauterine growth retardation, smaller fetus for gestational age etc.

Indoor Air Pollution :

Some of the major causes of indoor air pollution are indoor smoking and burning of fuels for cooking purposes, especially in the second and third world countries. The people in these countries cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels and coal. Thus the main noxious gas released is sulfur dioxide, that causes respiratory issues and eye irritation

 

In Delhi, air pollution is a major concern.
In Delhi, air pollution is a major concern.
Quality of life:

Man is not just affected physically but his mental peace takes a toll too when the feelings of insecurity and the perception of having to live in a hazardous environment take over. Severe annoyance, sleep disturbances, reduced the ability to concentrate, communicate or perform normal daily tasks also accompany the psychological stress issues.

Some of the issues are too massive to be controlled at an individual level but a resolution to change can, of course, make a significant impact. Individually we are just one drop of water but together we can make a big ocean.

Simple steps involve following the government regulations in your state regarding the upkeep of your vehicles, carpooling, avoiding the burning of coal, adequate ventilation of your homes to dilute the effect of indoor air pollutants among others.

Wish for a change? Be the change! Same Condition

Air Pollution Health Effects