After high levels of pollution caused by firecrackers on the first day of the year in Mumbai, a demand to ban them has come up.
Citizens’ groups have written to the state government and pollution boards to ban firecrackers in Mumbai in 2017, similar to demands at the national capital in December 2016.
Pointing out health problems caused by the toxic firecrackers, residents from different parts of the city wrote to the environment department. “The impact of crackers on children is far greater than it is on adults because their defence mechanism against pollutants is much lesser,” said Byculla resident Farooque Dhala.
The air quality index (AQI) during Diwali last year and New Year's Day this year, both fell under the 'very poor' level at 315 and 323. They were two of the most polluted days for Mumbai in 2016-17 so far.
“The right to breathe clean air is essential for all,” said Irfan Machiwala, a Mahim resident. “Lithium and copper compounds in firecrackers cause hormonal imbalance and is poisonous to plants and animals.”
Shridhar Jadhav, Vile Parle resident, said that people were bursting crackers on the Western Express Highway on New Year’s eve. “It is the government’s responsibility to protect the right to breathe clean air. Studies have shown that toxins present in firecrackers can even cause cancer,” he said. “There needs to be a citizens’ movement to ban it across Maharashtra.”
While the national capital banned the use of firecrackers in December 2016 after alarming levels of pollution, officials from the Maharashtra government said they did not have any intention to ban firecrackers.
“There are some firecrackers that emit smoke but we have no plans to ban either domestic or foreign made firecrackers in Mumbai or Maharashtra as of now,” said Satish Gavai, principal secretary, state environment department. “With regard to noise pollution, some firecrackers that violated decibel levels were banned across the state this year.
For the last two years, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has been carrying out a chemical test of firecrackers but has not made results public. “If tests have been done and results are in, I will direct the pollution board to share them with the public,” said Gavai.
Meanwhile, experts said different approaches needed to be worked out to resolve the issue. “Globally, countries have worked out policies to tackle the use of firecrackers. In Beijing, when air quality levels are extremely poor, the government bans firecrackers,” said Anumita Roychoudhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi. “In other developed countries, festivals are celebrated where communities get together, burst crackers together rather than individual emissions.
She added that government’s control on licensing firecrackers under various guidelines to improve air quality is essential for all mega cities.
In terms of weather, both south Mumbai and the suburbs recorded a significant drop in maximum temperatures on Friday.
The Santacruz weather station recorded the day temperature at 28.6 degrees Celsius on Friday, 2.2 degree below normal as compared to 31.4 degrees Celsius on Thursday, closer to the normal mark.
Colaba recorded 27.8 degrees Celsius, 2.3 degree Celsius below normal on Friday as compared to Thursday’s 31.5 degrees Celsius, a degree Celsius above normal.
Officials from the weather bureau said shifting weather patterns during the day and night have led to cool conditions in Mumbai. “Wind patterns during the day have become north-westerly, cool winds that have brought down maximum temperatures. During the night time and early morning hours, northerly to north easterly winds are keeping temperatures almost 3 degrees Celsius below normal,” said KS Hosalikar, deputy director general, western region, India Meteorological Department (IMD). “We expect current conditions to prevail over the weekend.”
Night temperatures were similar to previous days as Santacruz recorded 14.6 degrees Celsius, 2.6 degree Celsius below normal and 19.6 degrees Celsius was recorded at Colaba, which was closer to the normal mark.
Pollution levels in Mumbai continued under the ‘poor’ category as the pollutant-measuring indicator was recorded at 244 and is expected to be 242 (poor) on Saturday. Four of 10 locations recorded ‘very poor’ air with Mazgaon being the most polluted site. On the other hand, Worli recorded the cleanest air on Friday.
“Inhaling mercury and lead could immediately cause allergic rhinitis, where nasal obstruction takes place with breathing discomfort and cough. Continued exposure may result in bronchitis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (inflammation of lung tissue). In rare cases, the metals can cause dementia, heart diseases and the bones by getting deposited for a long time," said Sanjeev Mehta, pulmonologist, Lilavati Hospital in Bandra.
Study found high mercury, lead, sulphur in most firecrackers
Anti-noise campaigners, Awaaz Foundation measured the chemical content of some commonly available firecrackers and found high levels of mercury, lead and sulphur. These crackers are commonly used during Diwali and throughout the year and often handled by children.
The study found high levels of lead, mercury, carbon and sulphur in crackers like 'Mayazal colour shots' (rockets) at 11.03 parts per million (ppm), 8.22 ppm, 1.26% sulphur and 32.68 % carbon respectively. Similarly 'Tanisq Green Sparklers' had high mercury and lead contents 14.21 ppm and 16.30 ppm respectively. A variety of flower pot crackers were also tested that found levels of lead and mercury on the higher end.
“Every chemical in these crackers are toxic and especially chemicals like sulphur, which are already banned under the hazardous chemical rules of Union Environment Ministry are a major ingredient of these crackers. The government needs to reconsider their decision,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation.