Air pollution readings from four ‘Atmos’ real-time air quality monitors installed across the city have shown that between January 1 and 23, on most days, the daily averages of PM 2.5 (particulate matter) levels in the city crossed the permissible limit fixed by the National Ambient Air Quality standards of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
While the CPCB fixes permissible PM 2.5 levels at 60 micrograms /cubic metre in the air, the World Health Organization (WHO) fixes it at 10 micrograms /cubic metre, which was not met even on a single day of the measurement. The Atmos air quality monitors were supplied by Mumbai-based Urban Sciences and were installed in five locations across the city: Kuruvimedu (Vallur), Kodungaiyur, Anna Salai in Teynampet, Eldams Road and Mugadwarakuppam in Ennore. Air quality in Eldams Road was found to be better than the other four locations with 10 out of 16 air quality readings here showing permissible levels.
All these locations, however, recorded hazardous levels (above 180 micrograms /cubic metre) of PM 2.5 on January 13, the day of the Bhogi festival.
“If PM 2.5 levels touch 22.5 micrograms /cubic metre, breathing that air is considered equivalent to smoking one cigarette,” Arvind Kumar, chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery and Lung Transplantation at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, said.
“Calculated thus, residents in polluted cities such as Delhi or Chennai are smoking an average of 8 to 10 cigarettes every day. Nearly half of my lung ailment patients in Delhi are now drawn from among non-smokers because of the high pollution levels in the city,” he said.
As part of a joint project, Chennai-based Huma Lung Foundation, The Other Media’s Healthy Energy Initiative, and Sciences have begun a citizen-led, real-time air monitoring exercise, the results of which will be displayed at atmos.urbansciences.in/ dashboard . The website will continuously report readings of PM 2.5 from the five locations.
Hisamuddin Papa, a leading pulmonologist at Huma Specialist Hospital & Research Centre, said he had installed one monitor at his institution in Teynampet, and urged other medical institutions to do the same.
Dr. Kumar said that PM 2.5 levels not only had an impact on the lungs, but could also affect the reproductive system and cause increase in blood pressure in case of prolonged exposure.
The elderly, people with heart and lung disease, children and pregnant women are particularly at risk, he said. Another separate assessment involved using a costly low-volume air sampler at Minjur, in addition to the air quality monitoring devices at the five locations, during December 2017 and January 2018. It showed that the air in all the locations was loaded with high levels of toxic pollutants, such as silica and metals such as iron, nickel, manganese, lead and sulphur.