The air we breathe – Is it Safe?
I love Mumbai’s air..though it is very polluted as everyone says. At places, the air brings the smell of sea or wafting smell of lovely roadside food, at other places of leather, ammonia, garbage and stench of human filth. Now, all we seem to breathe in Mumbai is unbearable amounts of toxic gas mix all over Mumbai. Mumbai’s coastal climate is ideal for removal of air pollutants, however, the rate of removal is slower than the rate at which pollutants are generated, hence we end up with a cauldron of toxic gas mix
As with everything else that citizens of Mumbai put up with, from terrorism to packed trains, heavily polluted air is also another in their list of things that they have come to accept. Very complacent huh? or are the people of Mumbai sitting ducks?
Sitting ducks, photograph by Purushottam V.Rao
How bad is the pollution on Mumbai? The city authorities are well aware of what it could loose if it fails to address this pressing issue of air pollution. It is engaged in various ameliorative measures to address the issue. What remains to be seen is whether these measures are yielding any positive results.
For the uninitiated, the common air pollutants are :
Carbon Monoxide – CO
Oxides of Nitrogen – NOx
Sulphur Dioxide – SO2
Suspended particular matter – SPM
Respirable suspended particulate matter – RSPM
Hydrocarbons – HC
Deteriorating air quality is the result of rapid economic growth, industrial output, unprecedented rise in vehicles to cater to the city’s burgeoning population.
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In order to have minimal impact on a person’s health, the air quality index has to be between 0 and 50 but as recorded by the meteorological department in Mumbai last month, the air quality index has mounted to dangerously high levels of 225 which can easily increase the susceptibility to respiratory infections in sensitive individuals especially children and the elderly.
The air quality has worsened not only in Mumbai but in Delhi as well. Known for its crisp cold nights, Delhi weather has deteriorated to nothing but grey, smog-filled health nightmare. Pollution levels have escalated considerably over the past few days after both the cities witnessed a certain level of drop in the temperature
According to the World Health Organization, Every year, Air pollution claims millions of lives across the globe, with more than 627,000 deaths reported in India alone. According to a study 1 in every 8 deaths on earth are linked to Air Pollution
Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollutants can not only cause respiratory disorders in healthy people but also impact those with existing heart and respiratory disorders. Mumbai’s air pollution standards index (PSI) shows that pollution levels rise after the monsoon and peak in December. Laden with toxic substances and cancer-causing particles, the air in Mumbai has become more polluted than the air in Beijing. One of the main causes of this outcome is the increasing number of vehicles on Mumbai’s streets. Motor vehicles emit a host of hazardous pollutants into the air, most of which are capable of causing a significant damage to the human health. Toxic gases emitted from chemical factories and fire crackers have further aggravated the problem of air pollution, thereby creating an unbearable living condition in India
Mumbaikars have a tough life with high property prices making housing unaffordable while poor infrastructure makes travel times a nightmare. But if that wasn’t bad enough, they now have to deal with rising air pollution, with data from SAFAR (the System of Air quality, Weather Forecasting and Research) showing that Mumbai’s air is becoming as bad as that of Delhi.
“On an average, the air quality numbers for Mumbai range between 200 to a little over 300, with the concentration of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and 10 in the moderate to high range. This is really not a good sign and we must take steps to check it before it crosses 300” say KS Hosalikar, the deputy director general of meteorology in Mumbai.
In the danger zone: Mumbai’s air quality dips
That may be a little too late. The air quality index (AQI) has already breached the 300 mark several times, with areas like Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the Western Suburbs, Malad and Borivali falling into the poor and very poor categories. Experts have found moderate to high levels of pollutants such as PM 2.5 and PM 10, which can be dangerous to human health.
“These are dust particles which are not visible to the naked eye and we don’t realize the effect it has on us. The literature says PM 2.5 can severely affect someone who has lung disease and asthma and is irremovable once it goes into your lungs” warns KS Hosalikar.
Why is Mumbai’s air turning terrible?
So where is all this muck coming from? Like in Delhi, vehicular traffic is the first suspect generating vast amounts of PM 2.5. But that’s just one part of the story. Mumbai’s poor infrastructure has to take a majority of the blame.
“The number of vehicles in Mumbai is one-third that of Delhi, but the number of vehicles per kilometer of road is 3 to 4 times more than Delhi. This density coupled with narrow roads & bad traffic management leads to traffic jams and slow-moving traffic, which releases more harmful pollutants into the air” says transport analyst, Ashok Datar.
The construction sector is the other major culprit, releasing PM 10 pollutants in the form of dust and debris. Most under-construction projects in the city observe little or no waste-disposal norms, and construction is carried out in the open air with no netting or material in place to trap air-borne particles.
Can Mumbai breathe easy?
Experts say if urgent measures aren’t taken to solve these problems, air-quality levels in Mumbai will dip even further. That would be fatal for the city, making people think twice before moving here.
“When making investment or real estate decisions, people usually take into account factors such as price, location and infrastructure. While these are important, I definitely see pollution, especially high pollution levels becoming the deciding factor going ahead” say Joe Verghese, MD. Colliers India
The government is considering several measures including CNG and implementation of odd-even traffic rules, but they are unlikely to be implemented soon. Will the government be able to get its act together to curb pollution? Or will Mumbaikars have to deal with one more issue that is making their city increasingly unlivable? Only time will tell
Mr “Puran Doshi” secretary of Congress(I) & Ex Corporator, if won the Brihanmunicipal Elections would take up measures to control pollution created due to traffic jams at Colaba. He is an environmentalist person and has always worked towards improving environment conditions in Colaba. He has supported various environmental cause such as saving Mangroves of Colaba area & clearing parking of cars at Taj Mahal Hotel Shore.