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To cut Delhi’s air pollution, pinpoint the source

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By Eric Dodge & Rohini Pande

This winter, Delhi’s government and the judiciary have implemented several policies aimed at cutting the national capital’s air pollution. The just-concluded odd-even scheme in the city required motorists to find alternative means of transportation every other day.

Car-free days, first in Gurgaon and then in Delhi, appeared to cause a temporary dip in pollution levels. The night hours when trucks can pass through Delhi have been reduced, and the National Green Tribunal has issued a direction to lower truck traffic coming into the city at night by levying an additional entrance fee.

On some days the air may be clearer. But what remains hazy is where Delhi’s air pollution comes from. Over the years, multiple attempts to find out – called source apportionment studies – have yielded contradictory results. There are numerous suspects: cars and trucks, smokestacks, farm fires in Punjab and Haryana, and dust from construction sites to name just a few. Without a better knowledge of the portion contributed by different sources, any policy response, no matter how bold, will be a little like a blind attempt to pin the tail on the donkey.

But that may be changing. The Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur (IIT-K) has now released a major study, commissioned by the Delhi environment department in 2011. This promises to give the clearest picture of source apportionment yet. And other new sources of quality information on air pollution are appearing: the government has plans to add 10 new air quality monitoring stations in Delhi, and news outlets are setting up their own monitoring systems, including IndiaSpend #Breathe.

This could be a turning point in our understanding of the sources of Delhi’s deadly air, as well as our ability to craft smart policies that shut them down. We at Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) are researchers who assist government ministries in formulating such responses. We think that at a time like this – a critical convergence of public concern, policymaker attention, and academic contribution – it’s worth taking stock of what we know now and how we came to know it. That clarity will make it easier to guide the discussion toward a policy response that will stick.

There are two ways of conducting source apportionment studies: direct sampling based on chemical analysis, and secondary data analysis based on monitoring data. The international best practice is to rely on receptor-based studies, but where budgetary constraints inhibit adequate sampling, analysis using secondary data may dominate.

Over the past 10 years, and excluding the just completed IIT-K study, we count 15 source apportionment studies that sought to pinpoint the sources of emissions and their respective contributions to Delhi’s overall air pollution. Ten are based on direct sampling; the other five rely on secondary data. While the main sources identified are similar across studies, the relative weights placed on different sources by these studies vary dramatically. This underscores both the difficulty of conducting them and the wide range in the quality of the studies currently available.

Getting a reliable picture of air pollution is inherently difficult due to Delhi’s changing weather conditions and constantly shifting patterns of emissions throughout the day, week, and year. Moreover, some of the most important pollution sources lie outside the National Capital Region. This makes it important that direct air sampling studies are broad enough to capture multiple sources and take samples at several different time points. An inability to do this-largely due to budgetary considerations-and the resulting differences in what gets sampled are an important part of the explanation for the large differences across studies.

In such situations, secondary data-based analysis may well be the best option for source apportionment studies, as long as these secondary sources are reliable and span relevant emission sources. Right now, we lack a measure of whether that is the case. Without standardized best practices about which secondary data sources to use and which model to use, source apportionment studies will continue to give conflicting results going forward.

So, we not only lack the best information on pollution, we also lack consensus on how to determine the second best. (IANS/IndiaSpend.org) (Photo: social.yourstory.com)

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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