Madurai

Lost in dust and smoke

Poor indicator : Dust particles rising from the ground, like this scene on Lake View Road, take a toll on the health of vehicle riders and pedestrians in Madurai.

Poor indicator : Dust particles rising from the ground, like this scene on Lake View Road, take a toll on the health of vehicle riders and pedestrians in Madurai.   | Photo Credit: S. James

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The temple city grapples with poor air quality index

Amid the bustle of two-wheelers, buses and cars on Tirupparankundram Road, where the makeshift Periyar Bus Stand is stationed, M. Mathialagan, a 56-year-old watchman at a nearby building, sweeps the dust off at the entrance of the complex.

The watchman, who does not own an anti-dust face mask, says he sweeps the floor every half an hour, but the effort is usually futile. “A lot of dust accumulates in the area. I have been told by my employers to sweep the entrance and keep it clean. But as you can see, it is quite a task.”

In the last two months, experts say, Madurai has been enveloped in a cloud of dust and smoke. The situation has had a serious impact on air quality index, which currently swings between 60 and 65, according to a study by Madurai Kamaraj University K. Muthuchelian.

The ideal air quality must be between 0 and 50, he points out. “The air quality index, which signifies the pollution level in Madurai, is alarming. The current numbers are critical to humans and animals for breathing and creates an impact on the lungs and the process of blood purification.”

The poor numbers are mainly due to elevation of carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen and ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere. “There are over 75 lakh vehicles plying inside the city, which leads to the high level of pollution as well. Visibility is affected as well,” he says.

According to a member of Envirocare, a laboratory accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories, there are four major indicators to measure the quality of air — particulate matter (PM) 2.5, PM 10, level of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

The levels are as high as 100 microns per cubic metre in major junctions such as Periyar Bus Stand, Goripalayam and Kalavasal, the lab technician contends.

A traffic police constable posted in Periyar Bus Stand area, who sports a face mask, continues to experience coughing and can actually taste the dust particles in his mouth. He also feels unclean and sandy.

He says, on condition of anonymity, that he regularly experinces coughing and finds it difficult to fall asleep as breathing becomes laborious.

J. Muthukrishnan, a flower seller on New Jail Road, whose shop is located opposite Madura Coats, finds dust particles settling on his flowers. He has no choice but to place a transparent plastic sheet over them.

“The white jasmine flowers turn brown within an hour,” he says.

While he has not encountered any major breathing issues, he often experiences irritation in the eyes, which lead to a burning sensation.

Mr. Muthuchelian says the dust often rises due to friction caused by the tyres of motor vehicles, leading to flying of dust into the atmosphere. “The non-movement of air and lack of wind causes the dust to be suspended in the atmosphere.”

Pulmonologist and Professor of Medicine at Government Rajaji Hospital S.C. Vivekananthan warns that repeated exposure to dust can cause chronic bronchitis and persistent presence of phlegm. “Anyone who has repeated exposure to dust maybe susceptible to long-standing damage to the lungs.”

Breathing through the nose and not through the mouth will protect people from lung infections as the nasal walls and the hair often trap the dust. “People can also use handkerchiefs or disposable N95 masks that are much more effective than the usual face masks,” he suggests.

Further, it becomes important to avoid dusty roads. “We must try to formulate a policy to ensure that such an atmosphere is curtailed,” he adds.

Mr. Muthuchelian’s take: If the green cover is improved and trees with broad leaves are planted across the city, carbon dioxide can be trapped by the leaves and the dust can settle on leaf tops. When it rains, the dust will be washed away and heavy winds can help the suspended particles to rise.

The lab technician wants sweepers at the Corporation to stop accumulating sand on the side of the road and find ways to remove it.

Acording to a senior engineer from the Corporation, the civic body has five sand sweeping machines allocated to four different wards everyday. They are sent to several areas, including 80 Feet Road, Alagar Koil and bridges across the Vaigai, on a schedule.

“We have sought more vehicles for the Corporation,” the civic official holds out assurance.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 8:50:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/lost-in-dust-and-smoke/article30152859.ece

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