The fire raging at the Indian Oil Corporation depot at the Sitapura Industrial Area near here since last Thursday has led to an environmental crisis in the capital city. The thick black plumes of smoke have spread to dozens of villages and residential colonies, hampering visibility and creating panic.

Hundreds of people are visiting hospitals with the complaints of breathing problem, sore throat, irritation in the eye, allergy and itching. In addition to the mobile medical teams that are making rounds in the villages, all primary health centres in the rural terrain have been asked to remain open round-the-clock.

Environmental experts here fear that the smoke, apart from affecting the health of the people in and around the city, would also hit agriculture in the surrounding villages which supply vegetables and food grain to Jaipur.

With the onset of winter, the smoke billowing from the huge vertical tanks at the IOC terminal is likely to settle over the city as a haze in the days to come.

“Gaseous emissions of pollutants such as sulphur and nitric oxide are a cause for concern as they can directly affect people’s health,” T.I. Khan, coordinator of Rajasthan University’s Department of Environmental Sciences told The Hindu on Monday. “The saving grace is that there are no toxic chemicals in the smoke.”

Long-term effects

Dr. Khan said the levels of suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the city’s air was likely to be 1.5 times more than the permissible limit in view of the colossal amount of smoke released by the burning of nearly 1 crore litres of petroleum products. “Fortunately, the wind direction towards the south, away from the city, has prevented a major havoc from taking place.”

The release of greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have long-term consequences on climate change. The dispersal of smoke is also likely to reduce the effect of pollution by 80 to 85 per cent, but not before leaving its impact on the people.

The State Pollution Control Board, which deployed devices to measure pollution at six places in Sitapura Industrial Area, reported an enhancement in carbon compounds and reduction in oxygen levels.

Children suffer more

Children in and around the city have borne the brunt of the pollution after-effects. There has been a spurt in allergic and respiratory disorders among them. International Society of Tropical Paediatrics president Ashok Gupta said the number of infected children was likely to increase with the displaced people returning home and temperature dipping during the winter.

Doctors fear that the pollutants settling down in the lower air sphere would lead to increased incidence of dry skin, asthma, suffocation, irritation in the eye and respiratory problems.

Vast stretches of agricultural fields 10 to 15 km away from the IOC depot site have reported the presence of black flakes which threaten to destroy soil fertility. “These thin black sheets of soot and pollutants will mix with soil and leave a permanent acidic effect,” said agricultural expert Sharad Joshi.

Mr. Joshi said a team of senior agricultural scientists should be immediately sent to the area to study the dangerous phenomenon and suggest methods for soil treatment to save this year’s rabi crops. He said farmers had also noticed acidic content in the early morning dew.

The fast-spreading pollutants have begun to affect people in villages such as Dahlas, Khoosar, Chatrawala, Vidhani, Ramchandrapura and Tiba, far away from the fire site.