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During 2019, the air quality in Ahmedabad greatly improved as the city went intolockdown due to the COVID 19 virus. This caused the closure of factories, largemills and reduced the number of vehicles on the roads. But once the city cameout of lockdown, the level of air pollution began to increase. The air qualityfigures recorded in November were as high as 259 US AQI.
PM2.5 levels as recorded by IQAIRin 2019 reveal a range between 59.2 µg/m³ in Almpur to 41.3 µg/m³ inAnkleshwar. There were no records of air quality being “good” or “moderate” but“unhealthy for sensitive groups” and “unhealthy”. These are based on recommendations given bythe World Health Organisation (WHO).
This situation will only get worse as the winter season is starting. Out of the top20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 are in India. It is reported thatpollution kills around 7 million people annually. The festival known as Diwaliis a major festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. It is also known as“The Festival of Light” as their homes are illuminated with candles, lanternsand diyas. They also set off fireworks which can create a large spike in airpollution.
The levels of the microscopic particles or PM2.5 have been recorded as being 8times higher than the level recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation).
Ahmedabad is the commercial and economic centre of Gujarat. It is home to a very largetextile industry and is the second-largest producer of cotton in all of India.The automobile industry also operates several factories here, such as Peugeot,Suzuki, Ford and Tata. In total there are more than 3000 industrial units whichinclude foundries, chemical factories, textile plants as well as 2 coal-firedthermal power plants. Add to this the naturally occurring pollutants of dustand pollution caused by agricultural burning and forest fires.
The total estimated emissions for the year 2018, for PM2.5, was almost 6,500 tonsfrom the road, rail, aviation and shipping transportation modes. Add to this theresidential emissions, industrial emissions, dust and open burning pollutants,emissions from diesel generators and emissions from brick kilns and the annualfigure rises to a substantial 61,000 tons. Other pollutants measured included PM10,sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitric oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatileorganic compounds or VOCs.
It has been estimated that in excess of 100 million households still use thetraditional stove or chullah to prepare food and heat the home during thecolder months of the year. These stoves use biomass as a fuel which consists ofdried leaves, small pieces of wood and dried animal dung (mainly from cows andbuffalos). Cleaner fuels such as LNG or electricity is not available in some ofthe more remote areas of the state. In cities, where they have a choice, thedung cakes are considerably cheaper to use which for many people is animportant saving. The initial purchase of a stove, be it electric or gas is outof reach to a lot of the poorer households.
The practise of burning off stubble after harvest is a huge contributing factor tothe poor air quality in Gujarat. The main period when this happens in fromOctober to December, after the monsoons. Because agriculture plays a large partin India’s economy it comes as no surprise that approximately 500 million tonsof organic waste material are burned in the fields every year. Dangerous gasessuch as the oxides of nitrogen and sulphur are released as a direct result ofburning stubble. This has been proved to be the chief cause of the haze andsmog that is a problem throughout Gujarat.
Vehicles are possibly one of the major causes of air pollution because of theiremissions. Many vehicles are old and therefore do not meet modern standards ofemission control. The fuel that they burn is often adulterated by the additionof cheap hydrocarbons. These cheap additions carry little or no tax andtherefore contribute to substantial savings when used over a period of time.This problem could easily and quickly be addressed by the government adjustingthe level of taxes on such fuels.
In 2019, Gujarat launched the world’s first “trading programme” for particulateair pollution. This pilot programme was inaugurated on World Environment Daywhich takes place in June, each year. The government place a limit on emissionsand then allows businesses to trade permits which will allow them to operatebelow the limit. This pilot was launched in Surat which is a densely populatedindustrial area with dye mills and textile production units which greatlycontribute to air pollution. It is hoped to be a relatively low-cost solutionfor both the government and the businesses. If successful, it will be rolledout across the state of Gujarat. This “cap and trade” system has been verysuccessful in the USA where it has helped reduce the number of pollutants suchas sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) now tracks emissions from in excess of350 industrial units in and around Surat. High quality data is transmitted inreal-time and made available publically.
The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) put forward a proposition in 2019 thatseeks to tackle the problem of the lack of information between cities regardingair pollution. They intend to expand the monitoring programme to both rural andurban areas and apportion limits on various factories in an attempt to reduceair pollution by 20 per cent by 2024.
A scheme has been introduced to encourage the use of electric or hybrid vehiclesand cleaner fuels are being made widely available. Local residents are beingasked to consider making such changes in order to improve the quality of theair.
According to figures released by IQAir.com, Ahmedabad is the most polluted city inGujarat. The 2019 average PM2.5 reading was 59 µg/m³ which is an improvementover the previous year when the figure was 76.1 µg/m³. For 8 months of the year. Residents ifAhmedabad were exposed to “unhealthy” levels of air. Only during the months ofAugust September did it fall to a “moderate” figure of 33.9 µg/m³ and 29.1 µg/m³,respectively.
According to an article published by The Lancet in 2018, they reported that almost 30,000people died in Gujarat, as a direct result of air pollution, in 2017. They alsoindicated a reduction in life expectancy because of this. In men, it is reducedby 1.8 years and for women, the figure is 1.5.
Studies have consistently shown strong correlations between exposures to PM2.5 andgaseous toxins to the mortality rate from strokes, heart disease, acute lowerrespiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lungcancer.
The National Ambient Air Quality Standards has noticed a large-scale increase inthe levels of pollution in rural areas. This is due to the inadvertent transportationof pollutants out of the city, and vice versa.
Poor air quality often causes eye, nose and throat irritation, leads to shortness ofbreath and triggers asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. It addsstress to the heart and lungs by making them work harder to get the levels ofoxygen that they need to function properly. Cells can also be damaged due toprolonged exposure as can the accelerating ageing of lung tissue. This, inturn, leads to a loss in lung capacity and lower functionality. A shortening of life expectancy can also be aresult of this.
The most vulnerable groups of people are those with pre-existing medical problems,such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and heart disease.Lung disease such as emphysema, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)and asthma are exacerbated by polluted air.Other groups where extra caution is advised are pregnant women, childrenunder the age of 14 those who work outdoors, seniors and those who partake inoutdoor vigorous exercise.
Exposure to ground-level ozone aggravates existing respiratory diseases such asbronchitis and asthma. It can also cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, nauseaand headaches. Expect an increased level of fatigue and a much weakenedathletic performance.
Particulate matter including both PM2.5 and PM10 can be a very complex mixture ofpollutants. It may contain smoke, metals, sulphates, nitrates, soot, water,dust and rubber particles from tyres. It can be produced from natural sources suchas smoke from a fire or by natural reactions between certain chemicals.
Possibly the worst pollutant is the microscopic PM2.5 because due to their very small size have the ability to get around thebodies defence mechanism and get deeply embedded in the lungs. The lodge in thealveoli which are tiny air sacs found at the base of the bronchial tubes. Fromhere they can easily pass into the bloodstream eventually entering the heart.This can result in an irregular heartbeat, chronic obstructive lung disease orchronic bronchitis. For people with pre-existing heart problems, this can leadto premature death.