New Delhi: As the Centre plans to clean the air in 13 south Indian cities, 26 more cities spread across four south Indian states reported annual particulate pollution levels higher than the national safe standards, according to an analysis of government data.

The union environment ministry is planning to bring down air pollution in around 100 cities nationwide--exceeding national air pollution standards--by 50% in the next five years through the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP).

NCAP includes expansion of monitoring network, conducting air pollution health impact studies, setting up of air information systems, certification of monitoring institutes, air quality forecasting systems, awareness and capacity building drives.

The Centre’s list includes three cities from Telangana, five from Andhra Pradesh, one from Tamil Nadu and four from Karnataka. In comparison, 10 cities in Telangana, 15 in Andhra Pradesh, four in Tamil Nadu and 10 in Karnataka reported annual levels of PM 10--tiny airborne particles seven times finer than human hair--exceeding national standards (60 micrograms per cubic metre, or µg/m³) in 2015 and 2016, according to this January 2018 analysis by Greenpeace-India, an advocacy, based on data obtained from state pollution control boards using right to information applications.

Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh exceeded the annual PM 10 standard levels by 68%. Bidar and Tumkur in Karnataka exceeded the levels by 88% and 144%, respectively.

Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi and Telangana’s Kothur exceeded the annual PM 10 standard levels by 200% and 78%.

Source: Data from state pollution control boards, compiled by Greenpeace India in this analysis; *Maximum of annual average PM 10 levels in 2015 and 2016

All these cities need city-specific action plans to fight air pollution.

For now, Delhi’s Graded Response Action is the only available programme in India to combat pollution. It entails a number of actions to be taken as soon as the air quality plunges, such as stopping garbage burning, not allowing trucks to enter the city, shutting down power plants, and closing brick kilns and stone crushers, IndiaSpend reported on December 22, 2017.

How bad is south India’s air pollution problem: The tale of two metros

In a bid to shift the limelight from over the National Capital Region (NCR) to southern parts of the country--which are also suffering from bad air quality--independent researchers used two separate methods for monitoring air quality in Chennai and Bengaluru.

While the researchers deployed roof-top air quality monitoring stations in five locations across Chennai, Bengaluru was monitored for pollution levels on seven arterial roads during peak traffic hours.

The Bengaluru experiment showed instant results of high air pollution exposure, ranging between 100 and 200 µg/m³ for PM 2.5, and between 300 and 850 µg/m³ for PM 10.

Source: Bengaluru’s Rising Air Crisis, Study, 2018

“The safety limits for particulate pollutants are available for 24-hour and annual averages only, therefore, one cannot directly say how unsafe the instant values are in comparison to the regulatory norms,” said a statement by Co Media Lab, a community radio, and Climate Trends, an advocacy, supporters of the report.

However, studies have shown that even brief exposures to high air pollution result in premature deaths, as IndiaSpend reported on January 19, 2018.

PM 2.5 levels up to 60 µg/m³ (annual average) and 40 µg/m³ (24 hour average) are considered safe, while for PM 10 levels up to 100 µg/m³ (24 hour average) and 60 µg/m³ (annual average) are considered safe, according to Indian national standards.

To calculate the bad air a person is exposed to during peak hours in Bengaluru’s busiest routes, researchers installed small air quality monitoring units in autos armed with a GPS tracker to locate various junctions and sensitive areas at which pollution spikes have taken place. The exercise was done for seven days during February 5-15, 2018.

Other than recording high instant values, the averages observed over the four-hour auto rides carried out in two parts during the study also consistently generated averages above 200 µg/m³.

“[This] indicates that very poor air quality levels prevail for several hours every day owing to traffic congestion,” said the statement.

“There is a high incidence of heart attacks among the auto and cab drivers in the city as they spend long hours in slow moving traffic,” said Rahul Patil, a cardiologist at Bengaluru-based Jayadeva Hospital.

Residents of Bengaluru should become more aware of the rising pollution crisis and not walk and cycle on or near busy roads as the benefits might not outweigh the risks, he added.

The report also looked at the annual averages of air quality data from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.

The PM 2.5 values have exceeded national safe standards by 3% to 45% during 2016-17, while PM 10 exceeded the standards by 30% to 120%, the analysis showed.

Annual Average Particulate Pollution In Bengaluru
Station PM 10 (In µg/m³) PM 2.5 (In µg/m³) PM 10 Exceeding National Standard (In %) PM 2.5 Exceeding National Standard (In %)
Export promotional Park ITPL, Whietfield Road, Bangalore 131 55 118% 38%
K.H.B Industrial Area, Yelahanka 111 54 85% 35%
Peenya Industrial Area - RO 109 52 82% 30%
Swan Silk Peenya Indl Area 99 50 65% 25%
Yeshwanthpura Police Station 93 46 55% 15%
Amco Batteries, Mysore Road 107 51 78% 28%
Central Silk Board, Hosur Road 132 58 120% 45%
DTDC House, Victoria Road 127 0 112% 0
Banswadi Police Station 80 41.2 33% 3%
CAAQM City Railway Station 102 0 70% 0
CAAQM S G Halli 46 0 Within limit 0
Kajisonnenahalli, After white Field 83 40 38% Within limit
TEERI Office,Domlur 120 55 100% 38%
UVCE, K.R Circle 86 38 43% Within limit
Victoria Hospital 80 40 33% Within limit
Indira Gandhi Children Care (NIMHANS) 78 36 30% Within limit

Source: Karnataka State Pollution Control Board

Chennai’s air was not any better. During a nearly month-long air quality monitoring exercise in the city, 80% days saw 24- hour averages exceeding the national standards, according to this statement jointly released by advocacies Chennai-based Human Lung Foundation, The Other Media, Health Energy Initiative and Mumbai-based Urban Sciences.

None of the days had particulate levels within the more stringent World Health Organization (WHO) standards of 25 µg/m³, the statement said.

“All locations recorded hazardous levels (above 180 µg/m³) of PM 2.5 on 13 January (2018), the day of Bhogi festival (first day of four days pongal festival),” it added. That was three times more than the national standard and about seven times more than the WHO limits.

Large-scale citizen-efforts in air-quality monitoring, like Chennai, are needed to ​bring about awareness at an individual level as well as to provide a mechanism for data-driven dialogues between citizens and policy makers, Ronak Sutaria, founder, Urban Sciences, told IndiaSpend.

These monitoring efforts are also essential in light of the inadequate monitoring capacities of monitoring stations deployed the the state pollution control boards, experts believe.

“State air quality monitoring stations are collecting [only] regulatory grade air quality data. That is what they are designed to do,” added Sutaria, also the architect of IndiaSpend’s #Breathe project.

(Tripathi is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)

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