VEC, Chennai

Ambient Air Quality in India - An Alarming Report

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Courtesy of VEC, Chennai

Are we mortgage India against air pollution? The answer may be “Yes”. The reason is India has witnessed a phenomenal increase in the number of industries and vehicles in the last decade, along with the mushrooming of cities. As a consequence, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the quality of urban air in most regions of the country particularly in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta and Chennai, India lacks an effective air quality management system and not adequately developed the basic tools of air quality planning. There is poor planning for improving engine and fuel quality. The outdated and inefficient refining process in India is largely responsible for the bad quality fuel and high vehicular emissions. For example, diesel in India contains of high level of sulphur as compared to developed countries of the world. Sulphur in diesel form small particulates which are the cause of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Industrialization and urbanization have resulted in a profound deterioration of India's air quality. India's most severe environmental problem, come in several forms, including vehicular emissions and untreated industrial smoke. Apart from rapid industrialization, urbanization has resulted in the emergence of industrial centers without a corresponding growth in civic amenities and pollution control mechanisms. Inspection & Maintenance (I&M) Of In-Use Vehicles is very important. It has been estimated that at any point of time, new vehicle comprise only 8% of the total vehicle population. In India currently only transport vehicles, that is, vehicles used for hire or reward are required to undergo periodic fitness certification. The large population of personalised vehicles are not yet covered by any such mandatory requirement. In most countries that have been able to control vehicular pollution to a substantial extent, Inspection & Maintenance of all categories of vehicles have been one of the chief tools used. Developing countries in the South East Asian region, which till a few years back had severe air pollution problem have introduced an I&M system and also effective traffic management. Use of poor quality fuels, substandard vehicle technology and congestion are major problems. Petrol vehicles that run on adulterated or poorly refined fuel are the greatest sources of greenhouse gases like hydrocarbons (HCs) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Since unleaded petrol had been introduced in a limited way, till recently lead emissions from petrol vehicles were also high. To cap it all, Indian emission control norms are way below world standards.

Apart from HC, NOx, and SO2 and CO2, vehicles emit carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and total suspended particulates (TSP). Most of these compounds, especially VOCs like benzene and CO are extremely harmful to humans as well as animals. As air pollution increases, cases of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems shoot up. Following government intervention, The highest air pollution exposures occur in the indoor environment particularly in developing countries. Cooking and heating with solid fuels, that is wood, coal, dung, crop residues and charcoal, still occurs for over half the world's population. A deadly combination of solid fuels, inefficient stoves and poor ventilation triggers off a complex mix of health damaging pollutants in homes.

In India, where 80% of households use solid fuel, there are estimates that half a million children die annually from indoor air pollution, especially from acute respiratory infections.

Marginal raise in pollution is changing the earth's atmosphere so that it lets in more harmful radiation from the sun. At the same time, our polluted atmosphere is becoming a better insulator, preventing heat from escaping back into space and leading to a rise in global average temperatures. Scientists predict that the temperature increase, referred to as global warming, will affect world food supply, alter sea level, make weather more extreme, and increase the spread of tropical disease. Warmer temperatures are expected to partially melt the polar ice caps, leading to a projected sea level rise of 50 cm (20 in) by the year 2050. A sea level rise of this magnitude would flood coastal cities, force people to abandon low-lying islands, and completely inundate coastal wetlands.

The solution for air pollution is Mass Rapid Transport System [MRTS] with feeder services to specific localities would certainly be a major solution to reduce the levels of SPM concentration. The MRTS road system caters the travel demand and also finds the solution for fuel consumption and alternate fuel for automobiles.

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