A study conducted in different schools across Delhi has found “high and alarming” levels of cancer-causing heavy metals inside classrooms.
The Greenpeace India report released on Thursday showed that the samples collected and tested inside the classrooms between October and November last year had alarming levels of heavy metal presence on days when PM2.5 concentrations were higher than the prescribed levels.
Noting an “urgent” need for a comprehensive regional clean action plan to reduce air pollution in north India, the green body said that till such measures were taken, the government should take all necessary precautionary steps like shutting schools.
“PM2.5 concentrations from monitors installed inside the classrooms showed indoor air quality five times above the Indian safety limits and as much as 11 times above the World Health Organization’s safety limits, taking the average to 293 (μg/m3).
“The same samples when tested for elemental composition of PM2.5 showed the presence of dangerous levels of heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and nickel which are carcinogenic and detrimental to health,” a release by the organisation stated.
It said the five samples tested contained one or more metal at a concentration higher than the respective limit or guideline value for annual average metal concentrations in the air set either by the government or World Health Organisation (WHO).
Cadmium and arsenic concentrations were higher than the prescribed standards (Indian/WHO) in 70 per cent and 40 per cent of the schools, respectively.
Noting that the detected heavy metals such as lead and manganese were neurotoxic and affected the cognitive and motoric development of children in particular, the green body reiterated that arsenic, cadmium, nickel and chromium (VI) were carcinogenic.
“The result signifies that schoolchildren are exposed to exceeding levels of heavy metals that increase the risk of cancer and developmental problems. Higher the PM2.5 concentrations higher will be the exposure to heavy metals.
“Most of these particles are attached to the anthropogenic impacts caused due to fossil fuel (coal and oil) burned for energy and transportation sector,” Sunil Dahiya of Greenpeace India said.