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During 2019, the air quality in Ahmedabad greatly improved as the city went into lockdown due to the COVID 19 virus. This caused the closure of factories, large mills and reduced the number of vehicles on the roads. But once the city came out of lockdown, the level of air pollution began to increase. The air quality figures recorded in November were as high as 259 US AQI.
PM2.5 levels as recorded by IQAIR in 2019 reveal a range between 59.2 µg/m³ in Almpur to 41.3 µg/m³ in Ankleshwar. There were no records of air quality being “good” or “moderate” but “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and “unhealthy”. These are based on recommendations given by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This situation will only get worse as the winter season is starting. Out of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 are in India. It is reported that pollution kills around 7 million people annually. The festival known as Diwali is 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, lanterns and diyas. They also set off fireworks which can create a large spike in air pollution.
The levels of the microscopic particles or PM2.5 have been recorded as being 8 times 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 large textile 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 which include foundries, chemical factories, textile plants as well as 2 coal-fired thermal power plants. Add to this the naturally occurring pollutants of dust and pollution caused by agricultural burning and forest fires.
The total estimated emissions for the year 2018, for PM2.5, was almost 6,500 tons from the road, rail, aviation and shipping transportation modes. Add to this the residential emissions, industrial emissions, dust and open burning pollutants, emissions from diesel generators and emissions from brick kilns and the annual figure rises to a substantial 61,000 tons. Other pollutants measured included PM10, sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitric oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and volatile organic compounds or VOCs.
It has been estimated that in excess of 100 million households still use the traditional stove or chullah to prepare food and heat the home during the colder months of the year. These stoves use biomass as a fuel which consists of dried leaves, small pieces of wood and dried animal dung (mainly from cows and buffalos). Cleaner fuels such as LNG or electricity is not available in some of the more remote areas of the state. In cities, where they have a choice, the dung cakes are considerably cheaper to use which for many people is an important saving. The initial purchase of a stove, be it electric or gas is out of reach to a lot of the poorer households.
The practise of burning off stubble after harvest is a huge contributing factor to the poor air quality in Gujarat. The main period when this happens in from October to December, after the monsoons. Because agriculture plays a large part in India’s economy it comes as no surprise that approximately 500 million tons of organic waste material are burned in the fields every year. Dangerous gases such as the oxides of nitrogen and sulphur are released as a direct result of burning stubble. This has been proved to be the chief cause of the haze and smog that is a problem throughout Gujarat.
Vehicles are possibly one of the major causes of air pollution because of their emissions. Many vehicles are old and therefore do not meet modern standards of emission control. The fuel that they burn is often adulterated by the addition of cheap hydrocarbons. These cheap additions carry little or no tax and therefore contribute to substantial savings when used over a period of time. This problem could easily and quickly be addressed by the government adjusting the level of taxes on such fuels.
In 2019, Gujarat launched the world’s first “trading programme” for particulate air pollution. This pilot programme was inaugurated on World Environment Day which takes place in June, each year. The government place a limit on emissions and then allows businesses to trade permits which will allow them to operate below the limit. This pilot was launched in Surat which is a densely populated industrial area with dye mills and textile production units which greatly contribute to air pollution. It is hoped to be a relatively low-cost solution for both the government and the businesses. If successful, it will be rolled out across the state of Gujarat. This “cap and trade” system has been very successful in the USA where it has helped reduce the number of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) now tracks emissions from in excess of 350 industrial units in and around Surat. High quality data is transmitted in real-time and made available publically.
The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) put forward a proposition in 2019 that seeks to tackle the problem of the lack of information between cities regarding air pollution. They intend to expand the monitoring programme to both rural and urban areas and apportion limits on various factories in an attempt to reduce air pollution by 20 per cent by 2024.
A scheme has been introduced to encourage the use of electric or hybrid vehicles and cleaner fuels are being made widely available. Local residents are being asked to consider making such changes in order to improve the quality of the air.
According to figures released by IQAir.com, Ahmedabad is the most polluted city in Gujarat. The 2019 average PM2.5 reading was 59 µg/m³ which is an improvement over the previous year when the figure was 76.1 µg/m³. For 8 months of the year. Residents if Ahmedabad were exposed to “unhealthy” levels of air. Only during the months of August 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 30,000 people died in Gujarat, as a direct result of air pollution, in 2017. They also indicated a reduction in life expectancy because of this. In men, it is reduced by 1.8 years and for women, the figure is 1.5.
Studies have consistently shown strong correlations between exposures to PM2.5 and gaseous toxins to the mortality rate from strokes, heart disease, acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
The National Ambient Air Quality Standards has noticed a large-scale increase in the levels of pollution in rural areas. This is due to the inadvertent transportation of pollutants out of the city, and vice versa.
Poor air quality often causes eye, nose and throat irritation, leads to shortness of breath and triggers asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. It adds stress to the heart and lungs by making them work harder to get the levels of oxygen that they need to function properly. Cells can also be damaged due to prolonged exposure as can the accelerating ageing of lung tissue. This, in turn, leads to a loss in lung capacity and lower functionality. A shortening of life expectancy can also be a result 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, children under the age of 14 those who work outdoors, seniors and those who partake in outdoor vigorous exercise.
Exposure to ground-level ozone aggravates existing respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma. It can also cause coughing, wheezing, chest pain, nausea and headaches. Expect an increased level of fatigue and a much weakened athletic performance.
Particulate matter including both PM2.5 and PM10 can be a very complex mixture of pollutants. It may contain smoke, metals, sulphates, nitrates, soot, water, dust and rubber particles from tyres. It can be produced from natural sources such as 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 the bodies defence mechanism and get deeply embedded in the lungs. The lodge in the alveoli which are tiny air sacs found at the base of the bronchial tubes. From here they can easily pass into the bloodstream eventually entering the heart. This can result in an irregular heartbeat, chronic obstructive lung disease or chronic bronchitis. For people with pre-existing heart problems, this can lead to premature death.