Though the PM2.5 emissions reduced considerably, the air quality in all three cities remains higher than WHO prescribed levels.

School students sitting behind a Greenpeace cutoutImage Credit: Greenpeace
news Environment Tuesday, December 08, 2020 - 18:08

The air quality in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai in November 2020 was comparatively better than November 2019. While this comes as great news for people living in these major south Indian cities, it is also important to note that the air quality of all the three cities remain higher than the prescribed World Health Organization Standards.

This was revealed in an analysis of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) carried out by Greenpeace India. According to the analysis, the PM2.5 emissions reduced by around 16 to 37% in the three cities.

What is PM2.5?

Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are two a half micron or less, in width.  

Bengaluru

In Bengaluru, the average concentration of PM2.5 this November recorded was 33.49μg/m3 as compared to 40.33μg/m3 in November 2019. The WHO prescribed standard stands at 25 μg/m3. In what comes as good news to those living in Bengaluru, the average concentration of PM2.5 reduced by 16.96%.

Bengaluru’s Bapuji Nagar and Jayanagar remained hotspots with an average PM2.5 concentration of 42μg/m3 and 39μg/m3 respectively. The WHO prescribed concentration for PM2.5 is 25μg/m3.

According to the analysis, Bengaluru only observed 12 such days in November 2020, where the PM2.5 concentration remained under the prescribed WHO standards. BTM layout in the city was the least polluted area with an average PM2.5 concentration around 20μg/m3.

Hyderabad

Hyderabad too saw an improvement in the air quality levels. The average concentration of PM2.5 reduced by 17.88%. The average concentration of PM2.5 this November was 56.32μg/m3 as compared to 68.58μg/m3 during the same period last month.

Air quality monitoring stations in Sanathnagar and Zoo park recorded the highest average of PM2.5 of 62μg/m3. In the whole month, Hyderabad only witnessed a single day where the city’s air quality matched the prescribed PM2.5 WHO standard.

Chennai

Compared to Hyderabad and Bengaluru, Chennai’s air quality fared much better. Chennai’s average concentration of PM2.5 was 34.11μg/m3 as compared to 54.75μg/m3 in November 2019. Manali remains the worst polluted area of Chennai with an average of 48μg/m3.

Premature deaths- A consequence of pollution

According to an online tool developed by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace Southeast Asia, air pollution from PM2.5 and No2 were responsible for 7577, 6228, and 6374 premature deaths respectively in Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai from 1st January to September 4th, 2020.

What is the major source of the pollution?

Reacting to the findings of the analysis climate campaigner at Greenpeace India, Avinash Chanchal said, “Apart from industries, vehicular pollution continues to be a major source of pollution in these cities. Expansion of the city area and population, along with growth in economic activities in the peri-urban areas, has resulted in high vehicle ownership rates. The pandemic has given us an opportunity to introspect and ask - how should our development trajectory be?”

“It’s high time that the governments and local authorities adopt systemic reforms on clean energy and transport that includes promotion of decentralized model of renewable energy, generation of green jobs, measures taken to promote electric vehicles and rebuilding trust in public transport. If we don’t act, these cities will follow the fate of the top polluting cities in terms of health and economic impact”, added Avinash.

“Low-cost urban transport needs to be redesigned and active and carbon-neutral vehicles and climate-resilient infrastructure needs to be developed,” stressed Chanchal.

What health risks can PM2.5 cause?

Particles in the PM2.5 size range are capable of travelling deep into the respiratory tract and reaching the lungs. Exposure to these fine particles can cause short term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath. These particles can also cause serious health risks like cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer. Exposure to air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory viral infections both in terms of the transmission and severity of the infection.

In the present times of COVID-19, the current evidence indicates that chronic exposure to air pollutants is associated with more severe infections and higher mortality. According to experts, a coordinated and consistent action plan to address major sources of pollution that exist throughout the year.

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