A first-of-its-kind study on airborne particulate matter smaller than one micrometre (PM1) has revealed that the concentration of the pollutant, which affects respiratory health, is increasing in the city.
Levels of PM1 reached high levels even during the monsoon when pollution is low, said researchers from the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) that conducted the study. In August and September, PM1 levels were 13 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3) and 19 µg/m3, respectively. However, from October, an increase in the concentration of PM1 was recorded - 33 µg/m3 for October. It rose to 37 µg/m3 this month.
The particles, released mainly from vehicular emissions, can easily enter and get lodged in the lungs. “Unfortunately, India does not have a defined standard for the PM1 particles. These particles are 1 micrometer in diameter and are very harmful,” said Neha Parkhi, senior programme officer, SAFAR and Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.
Scientists said high levels of PM1 can have adverse effects. “High levels of ultrafine PM1 class of particles have been recorded and the levels are way higher than national air quality standards. These particles penetrate tissues in the cardiovascular system,” said Gufran Beig, scientist at IITM and project director, SAFAR.
“On most days, the proportion of PM1 is about 35% of the PM2.5 emissions in Mumbai, which is quite high. PM1 is found to be higher on locations close to slums,” he said.
Doctors pointed out that initially it was thought that these particles were so small they would leave the body without any damage, but researches have proven otherwise. “PM1 particles damage the respiratory organs. They travel to the bloodstream and can affect our cerebral system,” said Sanjeev Mehta, pulmonologist (lung specialist), Lilavati Hospital, Bandra.
This is the first time that the city has a real-time air pollution monitoring and forecasting system that has begun research on particulate matter and various other pollutants, jointly conceived and developed by IITM, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Regional Meteorological Centre (IMD) Mumbai.