Towards the end of 2018, India conducted a nationwide survey which showed that Karnataka had the worst air quality in the whole of the south of India. It was reported that polluted air was responsible for 95 deaths out of every 100,000 people. The national average is 90 per 100,000. Over 50 per cent of deaths attributable to air pollution are younger than 70 years old. These figures take into account both the ambient and outdoor levels of pollution ranging from indoor heaters and cooking stoves, industrial pollution and that created by the construction industry by the demolition and building of replacement properties. Pollution from the large amount of vehicles and dust, too.
The latest statistics indicate that there are more deaths caused by air pollution than caused by smoking tobacco products, which was formerly the worst cause.
The average ambient PM2.5 exposure (referring to the size of being less than 2.5 microns in diameter) was 90 µg/m³ in 2017 and put India as the most polluted country in the entire world. The highest being in the capital city of Delhi followed closely by other cities located in the north of the country.
One of the more daunting pieces of information to be discovered was that if the level of air pollution were less than the recommended levels, then life expectancy could be extended by 1.4 years in Karnataka and 1.7 years overall.
More and more people are becoming interested in the quality of the air they breathe. Heart and lung doctors, medical professionals, researchers and the general public are all showing more concern than a few years ago. The Healthy Air Coalition monitors over 40 air quality monitors across the city of Bengaluru, and it is their intention to make this data available to anyone who is concerned about the quality of air that they breathe.
Upper respiratory infections, cases of childhood asthma and CPD (Chronic Pulmonary Disease) are increasing at an alarming rate as are heart attacks in younger people. It has been suggested that there is a link between these rises in health problems and the poor quality of air, but it has not been established by any authority.
Bengaluru was once known as “The Garden City” but changes have taken place to change all this. The expansion of the urban area and with it the reduction of green spaces, parks and trees have contributed to the rise in the amount of dust now found within the city. The levels of particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 are increasing rapidly due to the number of vehicles on the road, the burning of waste and dust blown into the city from the surrounding areas and also from the construction industry. This is worse during the dry season when the ground dries out and the prevailing winds pick up the dry earth and carry it towards the city.
It came as quite a surprise that despite the fact that Karnataka is considered to be a wealthy state over 40 per cent of its residents continue to use the traditional cooking stoves which burn solid fuel. The affluent state of Kerala also shares this preference with 35.5 per cent preferring the old traditional methods.
During recent years, the trend has been towards LPG connections has increased but public awareness needs to be raised before this figure can be improved. Overall, 56 per cent of the total population prefer to use the traditional solid-fuel stoves for cooking and heating. Some households continue to use fuel which is made from dried cow or buffalo dung mixed with straw or leave and other combustible material. There is another danger from using this type of fuel is that the animals are fed on straw which has been contaminated by pesticides which pass through the animal and are present in the dung. When this is burnt, these toxic gases will be given off and potentially breathed in.
The main source of air pollution in Karnataka comes from fossil fuel used in power stations and through vehicle emissions. These include lorries and trucks, marine vessels and aircraft. Fumes and other toxic gases are given off by landfill sites fertilised farmland and aerosol sprays. Pollution can occur naturally in the form of dust, methane produced by animals as they process their food, wildfires and volcanic activity.
The rapid development of Bengaluru combined with inadequate city planning has led to many problems with poor air quality from pollution being one. The source of pollution can vary from city to city but in Bengaluru statistics show that it is the amount of vehicles on the road that account for over 60 per cent of its air pollution. This gives Bengaluru the unique position of being the only city in India to be most impacted by vehicle exhausts.
Poor local government is the cause of other issues with regards to the regulation of using diesel generators to produce power and the poor treatment of waste.
The CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) identified 14 areas within the city of Bengaluru, of which some are important commercial areas, as having harmful levels of PM2.5 and PM10. The levels monitored exceeded the standard and were over three times those figures recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation).
In 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that air pollution was responsible for over 7 million deaths, worldwide. India had the highest number of premature deaths of any country due to its high levels of air pollution.
The local authority responsible for the control of air pollution is the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) but they lack many important factors, such as infrastructure, manpower and competence. They have over 60 per cent of unfilled vacancies which compels each staff member to oversee up to 200 factories and monitor their emissions. A truly impossible feat to execute well. Another problem is that different local governments can implement changes to the laws if they think the changes are more suitable for their own jurisdiction.
The way the data is collated from the different monitoring stations is substandard. The use of different information, figures and measurements make it impossible to be understood by others who use different parameters.
The entire process must be controlled by a central body who has absolute control over the entire operation. Several diverse fields must work together from heavy industry, agriculture, urban and transport in order to understand fully where the source(s) of air pollution lies. A state-wide scheme could be introduced to encourage the participation of the general public. They need to be informed of the hazards associated with breathing in pollutants and the effects they can have on health.
There needs to be some substantial changes in the way that local government control the situation. It has been proved that the greatest cause of air pollution in Karnataka is from vehicles using the road network. Bengaluru is the most congested city in the state and needs new laws to redress the problem of poor air quality. A strict policy regarding parking needs to be introduced and the taxation of vehicles needs reforming. The inability to impose parking restrictions in public areas and the lack of regulations concerning “on-street” parking do little to persuade the general public to use public transport. It is far more convenient to drive a personal vehicle into the city, park it and then return when suitable.
The Karnataka Motor Vehicle Taxation Act 1957 currently applies a tax to the vehicle, based on its physical size. The size of its engine, the fuel it uses and the exhaust gases it produces are currently not taken into consideration. This needs to be redressed, so smaller, more efficient cars look more appealing because of their low running costs when compared to the big thirsty gas-guzzlers.
Another main contributor to air pollution is dust. It is inevitably produced by the redevelopment of the city. The demolition of the existing old buildings and subsequent building on their replacements. Even though this problem has been targeted in the 2017 Municipality Building Bye-Laws act which is applicable to all new building work. However, for some reason, it is the out-dated Act from 2003 which is followed, possibly because it is less strict and therefore not difficult to enforce.
It is highly recommended that anyone with a pre-existing medical condition should take extreme care when venturing outside when the air quality is particularly poor. Wearing a good quality mask is necessary in order to prevent the inhalation of particles.
Take care when exercising and limit the time outside when the air quality is known to be bad. Do not exercise near busy road junctions where the pollution levels are a lot higher. If suitable, try to take part in indoor activities or exercise by walking through the local shopping mall where the air is so much cleaner.