Monday, November 26, 2007

Watch that air you breathe

Watch that air you breathe
By Jayalakshmi K, DH News Service, Bangalore:
Unless something is done soon, it would be adviseable for Bangaloreans to wear air masks when they step out.

The annual average of respirable particulate matter in the air monitored in the city shows high levels, much above national standards. This has been rising over the years, as was revealed in a report we carried earlier.

Now, the national standards are way above the levels prescribed as safe by WHO. For sensitive areas, the national standard has pegged a 50 unit value against 20 prescribed by WHO. In the city this figure crossed to 80!
“The national levels are not even near the interim ones recommended by the WHO. The sub-micron particles have been found to be maximum in respirable particulate matter. These can penetrate the lungs and even kill in extreme cases,” says Ujjaini Sarkar, Jadavpur University. She is working with the UK Hadley Centre on a pollution mapping project.

She also notes that maximum heavy elements like lead can be found in this sub-micron level. The toxic effects of these are well-known. “Children under five are most affected.”

“Our national standards are higher than WHO figures,” agrees Karnataka pollution control board chairman, H C Sharatchandra, “but we have not even been able to achieve national levels.”

The other problem is fluctuation in parameters measured at the monitoring stations. “More automatic stations will help. I am also considering privatising the stations,” he said.

Surprisingly, the country has no standard whatsoever for ozone levels. Even the modest WHO levels recommended are such that exposure to this amount of ozone too can cause 1-2 percent increase in daily mortality.

In places like India with plenty of sunlight, ozone is a secondary product produced in high quantities. Sunlight essentially converts nitrous oxides (emitted from vehicles primarily) and carbon monoxide into ozone. High levels of Ozone can cause eye irritation and respiratory problems.

Sharatchandra believes more urgent monitoring needed is for hydrocarbons, which are more dangerous.

Either way, most of the pollution problems in Bangalore arise from vehicles. The number which was 4 lakh in 1987 is now 30 lakh, according to A Ravindra, deputy chairman, state planning board.

The Air (Prevention and Control) of Pollution Act places the onus on the authority under the Motor Vehicles Act.

So, whether Bangaloreans breathe healthy or not, the ball is in the transport department’s court.


*Bangalore’s annual average of respirable particulate matter much above national standards
*National standards much higher than those prescribed by WHO
*High ozone levels another worry


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