In Mumbai’s fight against air pollution, environmentalists and scientists are of the opinion that data released by the Maharashtra government bodies is not specific enough to denote how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Mumbai’s air quality actually is.
Sumaira Abdulali, environmental activist, said, “There seems to be an absolute inadequacy of data on a real time basis. For a resident who lives in the outskirts of a city, one figure for a particular region does not denote the level of air pollution for the whole city. General index figures are not saying much, until a detailed analysis is shared.”
After the Prime Minister launched the national Air Quality Index (AQI) in 10 cities – Mumbai will only be part of the project’s second phase – AQI will be an important standardised means to measure air quality consistently. The AQI is monitored in many cities across the world, allowing direct comparison.
The index is determined by calculating the degree of pollution in a city, or at the monitoring point, and takes into account five main pollutants – Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter, ground-level ozone, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
For Mumbai, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in Worli, and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) have been asked to submit an action plan to the state’s pollution control board, on ways to improve the air quality in Mumbai.
Experts believe polluted air can significantly reduce life expectancy of residents of a city. Philip Earis, scientist and resident of Bandra, said, “The average Mumbai resident’s life will be cut short by over three years, solely due to air pollution. For those who spend a lot of time outside, the effects are much worse. Very few Mumbaiites are aware of this, and so far there hasn’t been a big demand for action to improve things.”
There is, however, a way to compare Mumbai’s AQI with respect to that of other cities. The US Embassy and Consulates General in Mumbai maintains an air quality monitoring programme, in which data complies with international norms (in contrast with the state pollution board’s data). It is an independent source, which is updated regularly and published in real time. An air quality monitoring machine has been set up at Bandra, covering a 5-km radius.
Earis said this AQI data can be compared to many other cities, in India and abroad, as it is measuring air quality in the same way as at many cities around the world. “London’s AQI is currently 23, and Shanghai’s 95, compared with Mumbai’s unhealthy 150 plus, giving us an idea that lower numbers mean cleaner air,” he said.
“All Mumbaiites should welcome the US Consulate’s installation of equipment in BKC to measure Mumbai’s AQI accurately, and publication of the live results in real time on their website. We may not be happy with the results, but we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand,” said Amish Tripathi, resident of Bandra.
Once Mumbai is inducted into the national AQI programme, changes in the city’s air quality can be tracked over time, and citizens alerted when pollution levels become especially hazardous.