Bengaluru among 10 cities in south India where air pollution levels exceed WHO guidelines

A file photo of a cloud of dust arising as vehicles pass Raj Bhavan Road in Bengaluru.
Special CorrespondentJanuary 27, 2022 18:18 IST
Updated: January 28, 2022 19:46 IST

Annual PM2.5 levels in Bengaluru exceed guidelines by six to seven times: GreenPeace India report

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions on economic activity had little impact on the air quality of Bengaluru from November 2020-21. Bengaluru, along with Mangaluru, saw annual PM2.5 levels exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines of 5 µg/m3 by six to seven times, according to a report by GreenPeace India.

When it comes to annual PM10 levels, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad exceeded the prescribed WHO guidelines of 15 µg/m3 by six to seven times. Bengaluru, on the other hand, recorded PM10 levels that exceeded the limit by three to four times


The GreenPeace India report, which was released on January 27, analysed Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) data from 10 cities in south India: Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Amaravati, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Mangaluru, Puducherry, Coimbatore and Mysuru. It was found that the annual average values of PM2.5 and PM10 exceeded WHO revised standards by many fold, showing that rising air pollution levels is not just a health hazard in cities in north India.

Apart from Bengaluru and Mangaluru, Coimbatore, and Amaravati saw annual PM2.5 levels exceed WHO guidelines of 5 µg/m3 by six to seven times. While in Mysuru, Kochi, Chennai and Puducherry, PM2.5 levels exceeded the guidelines by four to five times.

Annual PM10 levels in Mangaluru, Amaravati, Chennai and Kochi exceeded the limit by three to four times. Mysuru, Coimbatore and Puducherry recorded PM10 data that exceeded the WHO guidelines for safe air by two to three times.

In Bengaluru, air quality data was recorded from 10 monitoring stations set up by CPCB and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in commercial and industrial areas, including BTM layout, Bapuji Nagar, Hombegowda Nagar, Jayanagar 5th block and Saneguruvanahalli, Hebbal, Silk Board, Peenya and BWSSB Kadubeesanahalli.

Avinash Chanchal, campaign manager, Greenpeace India said that the findings show that lockdown is not a solution to reducing air pollution. “Relatively lesser economic activity and vehicles is also putting us in a dangerous position. We have to prioritise the immediate shift to clean energy and clean transport to stop more damage. If we look at Bengaluru’s PM10 data, the annual average in most stations is exceeding not only WHO guidelines, but NAAQS levels too,” he said.

The primary contributors to worsening the air quality are fossil fuel powered infrastructural development, industries, transport, waste burning and construction activity. “Air pollution increases the likelihood of premature death and many medical conditions, including asthma, pre-term birth, low birth weight, depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, stroke and lung cancer,” according to authors of the report. What’s worrying is that this is true even in places where air pollution levels meet the 2005 WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

“Making our urban transport networks accessible and sustainable can play a major role in combating India’s urban air pollution crisis. Majority of the population in these cities is already using public transport or sustainable ways of transportation. But the infrastructural focus is still on private vehicles. Efforts and lifestyle of the masses must be appreciated and encouraged, as they are contributing to making our cities sustainable,” Mr. Chanchal added, while describing those who use public transport as ‘heroes’.


‘Revise current national ambient air quality standards’

The GreenPeace India report on air quality levels in 10 cities in south India exposes the difference between the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and the proposed interim target set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The discrepancy is underscored in the findings. In Bengaluru for instance, the authors found that the PM 2.5 of all stations were within the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), but exceeded the WHO revised standards. “....eight stations’ PM10 values are higher than NAAQS standards,” according to authors of the report.

They pointed out that low birth weight, depression, schizophrenia, diabetes, stroke, lung cancer and other diseases linked to the quality of air we breathe is seen even in places where air pollution levels meet the 2005 WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

The authors of the report stressed on the need for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to update the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) with that of WHO’s.

“The pollution control boards must realise that no level of air pollution is safe, and even the long term exposure of lower level of concentrations of air pollution can severely impact human health. Thus, the CPCB must revise the current national ambient air quality standards for all pollutants based on WHO’s proposed interim target and gradually achieve the revised standards,” said Avinash Chanchal, campaign manager, Greenpeace.



Power The Pedal initiative

Greenpeace India is working with women labourers in Bengaluru and Delhi with the aim of building cycling communities. As part of its Power The Pedal campaign, 500 bicycles are being delivered in the first phase.

Honamma, a 38-year-old garment factory labourer in Bengaluru, said: “I am proud that since I am cycling I am not adding to the problem. But facilities for cyclists are not enough. We don’t have enough cycle tracks and are constantly exposed to a lot of pollution from other vehicles. If we have a separate lane, it will be better,” she said. (OPtional cut ends)


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