Except for Manali, other areas saw higher RSPM levels than previous year

A. Heera, a resident of Ajax in Tiruvottiyur, remembers a time when her area was clean and beautiful. “Now, the roads are so dusty a brown cloud hovers when vehicles pass by. The roads in our area are hardly swept and with construction work and road widening on, the dust is unimaginable,” she said.

Road dust is nothing particular to Tiruvottiyur alone. And it is increasing. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board’s annual report shows that pollution levels across the city have been on the increase. Respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels have gone up in 2011- 12 when compared to that of 2010-11. RSPM consists of dust particles that are lesser than 10 micron size.

In Kathivakkam, the maximum recorded in 2010-11 was 219 microgram/cubic metre and in the next year, it was 363 microgram/cubic metre. Industrialised north Chennai has borne the brunt of pollution. The annual average levels of Sulphur dioxide(SO2) and Nitrogen dioxide(NO2) have gone up in Kathivakkam from 12 and 18 to 22 and 27 microgram/cubic metre respectively.

However, the silver lining is that Manali has recorded a dip in RSPM, SO2 and NO2 levels. The prescribed standard for SO2 is 50 microgram/cubic metre and NO2 is 40 microgram/cubic metre.

Dr. A.S. Kandhan, a medical practioner in Tiruvottiyur and Washermenpet, said the area was always known for a high incidence of respiratory and gastroenterological problems. “Over the years, the number of patients has gone up in proportion to the population. However, these days, patients come in for treatment when the ailment is in its mild form too and don’t wait for it to become severe,” he said.

Environmental activist Sweta Narayan said that that north Chennai has refineries, chemical plants, industrial units and a dumping ground where mixed garbage is being burnt on a daily basis and recording just three parameters is inadequate.

However, the data also shows that residents of south Chennai breathe better air. Anna Nagar’s annual concentration of SO2 is just 9 microgram/cubic metre when compared to Manali’s 20 microgram/cubic metre. However, Anna Nagar and T. Nagar seem to be slowly losing their reputations of being clean residential neighbourhoods as RSPM levels have increased.

Rajesh Rangarajan, an environmental researcher said that it is only recently that the TNPCB had adopted revised standards including more pollutants for monitoring. “The sources of pollution have diversified and hence, vehicular pollution alone may not be the cause. A periodical emission inventory study is important to study the air quality profile,” he said.

Sources in the TNPCB said that the government had taken note of the rising pollution levels in the city and other parts of the State. “A multi-pronged strategy with the involvement of all the stakeholders is being worked out.

Meanwhile, the Board has also asked concerned authorities including Chennai Corporation to keep the roads clean,” said a source.

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