Air pollution a national problem

A Greenpeace report shows 90% of cities studied had pollution levels over prescribed standards

Published - January 12, 2017 07:24 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Delhi’s toxic air may be making news every few months. But pollution levels across the country are alarming too. A new report released here on Wednesday shows that over 90 per cent of the cities studied had pollution levels higher than the prescribed standards.

According to an analysis of 2015 data for 168 cities by Greenpeace India, 154 were found to have an average particulate matter level higher than the national standard. None of the cities studied had air quality matching the standard prescribed by the World Health Organisation. Hasan in Karnataka came closest to the standard.

Using data from various State pollution control boards, accessed from their websites and through RTI queries, the report ranked the cities based on the annual average of PM10, which are all particles less than 10 microns in diameter. These include the very harmful fine particles, PM2.5.

Top five

Unsurprisingly, Delhi was found to be be the most polluted city, with the annual average for PM10 being 268 micrograms per cubic metre, or over four times the 60 micrograms/cubic metre limit prescribed in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards of the Central Pollution Control Board.

Ghaziabad, Allahabad and Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh and Faridabad in Haryana followed closely, making for the worst five cities in terms of PM10 levels, the annual average concentrations being four times or more than the standard.

While air quality in North and Central India saw dangerous levels of particulate matter, South India appeared to have comparatively cleaner air. All 10 of the least polluted cities were in the South and the East: eight in Karnataka and one each in Odisha and Tamil Nadu.

“Due to the Himalayas and the cooler weather as well as big industrial clusters, the levels of pollution are higher in the North. Southern India has the benefit of the mixing of sea breeze. However, pollution is a national-level problem and has to be treated as such,” said Sunil Dahiya, one of the authors of the report and a campaigner with Greenpeace India.

The main culprit

Looking at the sources of pollution, the report found that fossil fuels were the biggest contributors to the particulate matter. “Whether it is in the transport sector or industries, the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels is the main cause of air pollution,” said Mr. Dahiya.

Chennai, for instance, though on the coast, had an average PM10 level of 81 micrograms per cubic metre. A diesel-powered public transport system and power plant were to be blamed for the air pollution.

Though the report has looked at average city levels of PM10, some of the cities, like Delhi, have many more monitoring stations than the others. In the report, Greenpeace recommended setting up more monitoring stations in order to get a better picture of pollution levels.

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