As Chennai woke up to thick smog billowing outside homes thanks to the burning of old furniture and other household items to celebrate Bhogi, the pollution levels in the city shot through the roof. With visibility at the Chennai airport dropping to just 50 meters, several flights were also cancelled.
According to reports, at least 10 flights were diverted from the Chennai airport to Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Bengaluru, and flights did not take off after 3:30am, leaving passengers stranded at the airport. Regular operations resumed at 9am.
Poor visibility also caused an accident on the Chennai-Tambaram bypass road with two cars crashing into a container lorry at around 8.30am on Saturday. However, no casualties were reported.
Data from the National Air Quality Index, maintained by the Central Pollution Control Board, showed that the air quality in Chennai on Saturday morning was ‘poor’. At 8 am, the PM2.5 levels (Particulate Matter with diameter less than 2.5 micrometers, which are primary pollutants in Chennai) at Alandur was at 221, 144 at IIT and 246 at Manali. Levels above 200 are considered ‘poor’.
The air quality index maintained by Atmos, which activists say is far more accurate than government data, however showed alarming levels of pollution. At 8 am, an air monitor maintained by Huma Lung Foundation on Anna Salai shower PM2.5 levels at 555, and another one at Besant Nagar maintained by Atmos was at 628. A monitor maintained by Atmos at MKB Nagar showed PM2.5 levels at 459.
Pollution level Data from Atmos
These are very high levels of pollution. Most advisories state that these are ‘severe’ or ‘hazardous’ levels of pollution. Healthy persons are advised to minimise outdoor activity, the elderly, pregnant and thoe with lung and head diseses are are advised to avoid outdoor activity.
“City wide air quality levels are very poor and at least 3-4 times above the standards prescribed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. These levels will have serious health implications for all but especially people with heart disease, lung disease, respiratory problem, pregnant women and children,” says city-based activist Shwetha Narayan.
“Pongal is a festival of health and happiness and today’s air quality levels on the onset of festivities is contrary to that,” she added.