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Editorial Articles

Volume-38, 16-22 December, 2017

Environmental Pollution
Causes, Consequences and Remedies

Dr. Subhash Sharma

Over the years the environmental challenges, especially in the form of pollution, have amplified at global and national levels. At the global level, four types of pollution are quite notable: air, water, soil and Xrays. Since industrial revolution in Europe in 18th century the emission of green house gases has multiplied and this has serious environmental implications. For instance, 250 biggest listed companies of the world account for one third of all man-made green house gas emissions globally. Coal India, Gazprom and Exxon mobil are three top most listed companies for highest CO2  emission and people are using their products without questioning their credentials. To put it more rigorously, these 250 listed companies were expected to cut 3% emission per year to limit temperature as per the goals set by the Paris climate agreement (2015). But actually only 30% of these 250 companies have set goals to cut such emissions (The Times of India, 1 November, 2017). In 2014, Delhi was marked by the W.H.O as the most polluted city in the world (annual mean PM 2.5 being 153) and later in 2016 it slightly improved with eleventh rank in the world (annual mean PM 2.5 being 122 micro gram per meter). However, some experts and organisations like Greenpeace question it by pointing out that more data station points (10 in 2016 against 6 in 2014) for monitoring have diluted the earlier result. Further the WHO report of 2016 is based on data (annual average) from 2008-13. Hence if current data are taken into account, Indian cities would perhaps rank worse. Needless to say that 2017 has been worse in terms of air pollution in India on average October 2017 was more polluted than October 2016 - average air quality index for former was 281 against 275 in October 2016. October 2017 had 15 'Very poor' days compared to October 2016 with 5 'very poor' days. However, highest AQI in October 2016 was 445 (on October 31) against the highest AQI in October, 2017 being 403 (on October 20). Anyway eleven most polluted cities in the world (as per WHO 2016) are as per (Table 1):
Table 1: Top Eleven most polluted (PM 2.5) cities
in the world (2016)
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Zabol (Iran)
PM 2.5  -217
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Gwalior (India)         
PM 2.5  -176
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Allahabad (India)    
PM 2.5  -170
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)
PM 2.5  -156
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Al Jubail (Saudi Arabia)
PM 2.5  -152
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Patna
PM 2.5  -149
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Raipur
PM 2.5  -144
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Bamenda (Cameroon)
PM 2.5  -132
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Xingtai (China)         
PM 2.5  -128
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Baoding (China)       
PM 2.5  -126
Most polluted (PM 2.5) cities in the world- Delhi (India)
PM 2.5  -122      
From these details, it is crystal clear that out of these eleven most polluted cities in the world, five cities are in India: Gwalior, Allahabad, Patna, Raipur, and Delhi. Regarding PM10 level, the highest polluted city in the world was Orvishta (Nigeria) with annual mean of 594 micrograms per cubic meter followed by Peshawar (Pakistan) of 540 microgram per cubic meter. Gwalior with 329 micrograms per cubic metre ranks tenth in the 10 highest PM 10 level cities (and is the only Indian city among top ten highest PM 10 level). In this regard, Delhi ranks  25th position with 229 microgram per cubic metre (annual average).  In addition, WHO's 2016 report clearly mentions that urban air pollution levels were lowest in high income   countries ( Europe, Americas and Western Pacific region); on the other hand, highest urban air pollution levels were experienced in low and middle income countries, especially eastern Mediterranean & South East Asia regions, exceeding 5-10 times WHO safe limits.
Unfortunately now-a-days in central Delhi (Lodhi Road and India Gate) one smallest, finest and deadliest pollutant has emerged-PM1 that is 70 times finer than the thickness of a human hair. At Lodhi Road (New Delhi) SAFAR (Ministry of Earth Sciences) recorded in July 2017 average volume of PM 1 during summer, winter and monsoon at 46, 49 and 20 microgram per cubic metre respectively. In 2006 in Delhi particulate matter (PM10) was 153 microgram per cubic metre (annual average) that increased to 214 in 2008 and to 261 in 2010 (due to major construction works for Commonwealth Games) which declined to 222 in 2011 but again peaked to 260 in 2016. In 2017 the air pollution in Delhi, increased eight times plus the good level (upto 50 microgram per m3) in most of Delhi, as is clear from Table 2.
Table 2: Air Pollution Level in parts of Delhi (1 November 2017)
Area- Rohini
Level of Pollution -458
Air Quality-1. 0-50
Index- Good
Area- Shadipur
Level of Pollution -456
Air Quality-2. 51-100
Index- Satisfactory
Area- DTU
Level of Pollution -424
Air Quality-3. 101-200
Index- Normal
Area- Anand Vihar
Level of Pollution -409
Air Quality-4. 201-300
Index- Poor
Area- Lodhi Road
Level of Pollution -401
Air Quality-5. 301-400
Index- Very Poor
Area- R.K.Puram
Level of Pollution -413
Air Quality-6. Above 400
Index- Severe/ Emergencey
Area- Siri Fort   
Level of Pollution -402
Air Quality-
Area- North Campus
Level of Pollution -358 
Air Quality-
Area- Mandir Marg.
Level of Pollution -347
Air Quality-
Area- Burari Mod
Level of Pollution -340
Air Quality-
It goes directly into bloodstream causing serious heart problems. WHO has not defined a safe limit for PM 1, though the same for PM 2.5 is 60 micrograms per cubic metre and for PM 10 is 100 micrograms per cubic metre. As per WHO estimate about 3.3 million people die annually in the world form pollution by these particulate matters.
[II] Causes of Air Pollution
Various studies have pointed out different causes of  Air Pollution, especially in Delhi: Some of findings of some studies are presented in tabular form (Table3).
Table 3: Major causes of Air Pollution in Delhi
S. No-1
Study Source- Ministry of Environment & Forests (White paper)
Main Findings- a) During 1970-71---2000-01   Contribution of vehicles to Delhi's particulate matter increased from 23% to 72%
S. No-2
Study Source-'Atmospheric Environment' journal
Main Findings- a) Over 80% of emissions of major  pollutants including  particulates,
NOX and CO came from vehicles.            
S. No-3
Study Source- Central Pollution Control Board & National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)
Main Findings- a) Road dust as the biggest contributor 52.5% to particulate matter in Delhi's Air, industries 22%,vehicles particulate emissions, 6.6%.
b) For NOX, industries contribute 79% & Vehicles 18%
c) For CO, Vehicles contribute 59% & hydrocarbons 50%
S. No-4
Study Source- SAFAR (Ministry of Earth Sciences)
Main Findings- a)Most of PM 10 from road dust, vehicular emission not the major sources of air pollution
b) Vehicle & industry sources as dominant sources of PM 2.5, followed by construction.
S. No-5
Study Source-'Atmospheric Environment'  (Dr. Sarath Guttikunda)
Main Findings- a) Vehicles emission contributed 90% to Nox, 54% to total suspended particulate matter & 33% to SO2
S. No-6
Study Source- Dr. Pramila Goyal (IIT Delhi)          
Main Findings- a)Heavy commercial vehicles as major source of particulate  matter (92%) followed by two wheelers.
S. No-7
Study Source- UN Environment Program by IIT, Delhi & Dr. Sarath Guttikunda   
Main Findings-a) Higher pollution level attributed to exhaust emissions from trucks (passing after 9 PM)
S. No-8
Study Source- IIT, Delhi & IIT Bombay
Main Findings- a)Trucks contribute more than 60% (by Dr Sarath Guttikunda &                 of total vehicle pollutants PM 2.5, Rahul Goel) CO & SO2 in greater Delhi region                                     
S. No-9
Study Source- IIT, Kanpur (for Delhi govt) Dec
Main Findings-a) In winter 46% particulate emissions from trucks, 33% from  two wheelers, from 4 wheelers 10%, from buses 5%, from LCV 4%
b) Four major contributors to the PM2.5 are dust, vehicles, domestic fuel burning & industrial pollutants
"Further thermal power plants (Badarpur)  too contributes substanthally to air pollution in Delhi. However, if we look at the national scene we find that thermal power plants (mainly coal) are a significant source of carbon emission besides vehicles, firewood, burning of solid waste as well as construction works. In total 68% of India's total electricity power comes from thermal power plants(194200 MW), owned by states or centre or private firms/Joint ventures: Maharashtra (28294 MW) has the largest thermal capacity, followed by Gujarat (23160 MW), Chhattisgarh (13234 MW), U.P. (12228 MW), Tamil Nadu (11513 MW), MP(11411 MW), and Rajasthan (10226 MW).
In Delhi air pollution is basically caused by five factors (Times of India, 18 October, 2017) /  Dainik Jagran, 6 November, 2017):
 a)Emission from coal-fired thermal power plants-13 thermal power plants within 300 km radius of  Delhi emit secondary particles contributing 30% of PM 2.5 in winter and 15% in summer.
 b)There are more than one crore vehicles in Delhi-since 2000 vehicles in Delhi increased by 97%, particulate matter by 75% and NOX by 30%; in winter vehicles contribute 20-25% to particulate matter and 6-9% in summer; in Delhi from vehicles, 217.7 tons of carbon monooxide, 84 tons of NOX, 66.7 tons of hydrocarbon and 0.72 tons of sulpher dioxide are emitted daily and 9.7 tons particulate matter daily; More than half of vehicles in Delhi do not have pollution certificates, there are 50 lakh vehicles on roads in Delhi daily but no adequate staff to check.    
 c)Burning of crops stems (Parali)-Punjab 19.6 million tons, U.P. 21.9 million tons and Haryana 9.1 million tons annually -  contributes 140 micrograms per cubic metre PM 10 and 120 microgram per cubic metre PM 2.5; on October 22, 2017, at least 2334 instances of crop stems' burning were recorded by NASA in north India.
 d)Readymix concrete mixture, used for construction activities, emits a  large amount of flyash, accouting for 10% of PM 10 emissions (14.37 tons daily) and 6% of PM 2.5 emissions (3.5 tons daily);
 e)Dust/smoke from during of municipal waste also adds to particulate matter, especially three land fills at
Bhalaswa, Ghazipur and Okhla.
Therefore air quality on 6 and 7 November 2017 deteriorated in Delhi & NCR: PM 2.5 concentration reaching to 1000 micron  per cubic metre at Delhi Technological University (against the average of 529),  971 at Sirifort (against average  of 333), 976 at Ghaziabad (against the average of 432), 894 at Punjabi Bagh (against the average of 355), 865 at Noida (against average of 353), 862 at Anand Vihar (against average of 309), and 819 at Mandir Marg. (against average of 819),-thus 16 to 20 times the normal quality of air.
New studies have found that even kitchens may also be as polluted as outdoor, PM 2.5 emission reaching upto 310 microgram per cubic metre during summer (Pallavi Pant, Times of India, 4 April, 2017). Actually frying and grilling generate ultrafine particles that are quite harmful. Due to use of fossil fuel burning for cooking (3.22 lakh house holds use it) air pollution, especially PM 2.5 level, increases 12% in Delhi (The Hindu, 30 December 2015). In rural areas more than two thirds families use fossil fuel for cooking, light, mosquito-repellance, fertilisers etc. It is a contradiction that only 77% of households don't have electricity connection while 99.5% of villages have been electrified- because a village is considered electrified if 10% of its households have electric connection. Jharkhand, Nagaland, Bihar, U.P, & Assam have highest proportion of households without power. GOI has planned to give power connection to 4.10 crore households without power in rural areas by December 2018. In 2014 electricity consumption in Russia (coldest area) was 6603 KWH per capita against 6353 in Europe, 4229 in South Africa, 3927 in China, 2601 in Brazil and Just 806 in India. Needless to say that per capital consumption of power indicates the degree of industrialisation and quality of life.
(The author is a Senior Bureaucrat.) Views expressed are personal.
Image: Courtesy Google