Winter Air Pollution - Time to think beyond Delhi
We generally notice a rise in air pollution in winter months. Increased use of fireplaces and wood stoves during winter to heat our homes releases smoke into the atmosphere. This smoke contains Nitrogen oxides and interacts with sunlight, chemical compounds, and hydrocarbons resulting in ground-level ozone gas, which then comes into contact with particulates in the air. These fine particles, also known as PM2.5, pose health threats and may lead to severe harmful respiratory illnesses.
The fall season begins with concerns over Delhi instead of air pollution. Through the years, the only city that made it to the headlines for the alarming levels of pollution in winter is Delhi. Air pollution in the winter season is not limited to Delhi. There are cities in India like Hisar, Bhiwani, Noida, Ghaziabad, Manesar, Baghpat, and Gurugram where air quality drops into the severe category in winter.
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Cities in the eastern region like Kolkata, Asansol, and Howrah have implemented a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to combat the rising levels of air pollution due to the winter season. Data from the previous year states that the weekly average of PM2.5 levels in cities like Agra, Vrindavan, and Firozabad had exceeded that of Delhi.
A rise in air pollution in winter does not necessarily mean that the pollutants in the air have increased. It is important to mark that the emissions from industries remain the same throughout the year. Though the burning of crackers in the festive season, burning of fuel, car exhaust fumes, and burning of wood increases during winter, leading to a rise in the level of PM 2.5 thus, deterioration in the air quality.
Delhi has been the center of attraction for the rise in air pollution during the winter. The primary reason behind it is the lack of action in other cities in the same region. Efficient air quality monitoring and data analysis can create mass awareness about the falling air quality in the city. Hence, it gets mass media attention and coverage and has become the sole concern about air pollution in winter.
Delhi is among the top 5 cities that experience immense air pollution and poor to severe+ air quality for most days. Due to the lack of research-based reports, we do not know much about the present conditions of the other cities in the top 5. There is a chain of factors responsible for this. Delhi holds political and geographical significance like no other city in India though the present air pollution levels have not made it beyond the headlines.
A case study published by DTE (DownToEarth) states that around 26 cities in the northern region surrounding Delhi experience intense smog and air pollution during winter. Ghaziabad exceeded the number of days the air quality consistently remained poor compared to Delhi. Air quality ranged from very poor to severe for 94 days in Delhi though it lasted 108 days in Ghaziabad.
The study showed that the cities in Uttar Pradesh had a higher annual average urban pollution concentration than Delhi. Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were the two states most polluted in the region throughout the year. The researchers also found that the average urban concentration in UP outside NCR was 8% higher than in NCR.
These plans are implemented with immediate effect when the air pollution levels cross a certain threshold. But the measures include a sprinkling of water to reduce dust suspension and result in massive water wastage.
Air pollution has a concerning impact that is not limited to any particular city or region. Several cities have air quality trends similar to Delhi. Air pollution not only causes more than 4.2 million premature deaths every year, but short-term and long-term exposure to pollutants can also lead to multiple illnesses, such as lung cancer, asthma, and other heart ailments. A common culprit for these illnesses is particulate matter (PM), which comprises fine solid and liquid particles created by fuel combustion and vehicle traffic.
Air pollution affects different age groups in specific ways, which implies that it poses health risks throughout our lifetime. As adults, air pollution can increase the likelihood of having a stroke. However, it can also severely affect children and people in old age. Over the years, several pieces of research suggest that there may be a link between particulate matter and dementia.
The need for proper air quality monitoring and pollution prevention in other suffering regions along with Delhi is at an all-time high. Establishment of air quality monitoring stations at prime and populous locations in every city where the air quality is likely to fall to the poor, severe, and severe+ should be under observation and advanced prevention and pollution mitigation. Specific guidelines for residents of all age groups to take individual preventive measures.