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Pollutant levels at Deonar were 40 times over limit

mumbai Updated: Feb 06, 2016 01:53 IST
Snehal Rebello
Snehal Rebello
Hindustan Times

Citizens protest against the pollution caused by the Deonar dumping ground fire at Chembur on Wednesday. (Prashant Waydande)

Concentration of particulate matter (PM) at the Deonar dumping ground reached 40 times the 24-hour permissible limit on Tuesday afternoon, when a fire raging for more than a week was said to be brought under control. The high levels of PM posed a grave risk to environment and health of people living around the 127-year-old dumping ground.

PM are tiny suspended pollutants, consisting of soot, chemicals and organic substances, which can enter the respiratory system.

HT has accessed pollution levels from five types of PM (PM1, PM 2.5, PM4, PM10 and PM15) measured by the Environmental Policy and Research India (EPRI) before and after dust suppressants were sprayed within a 200 sq m area inside the dumping ground, to prevent toxic pollutants from dispersing in the air and surrounding areas. Even after the dust suppressants were sprayed, concentration of PM was 37 times higher than permissible limits.

As against the permissible limit of 100 micrograms per cubic metre (ug/m3) for 24 hours, PM10 level was 4290ug/m3; it dropped to 3660ug/m3 after dust suppressant was sprayed; and stayed at 1880ug/m3. Similarly, PM2.5 level – permissible limit is 60ug/m3 for 24 hours – was 4160ug/m3 and reduced to 3630ug/m3.

The monitoring found PM1, PM4, PM15 – these have no prescribed permissible limit – at 4100ug/m3, 4180ug/m3 and 4410ug/m3, respectively. These dropped in the range of 3580ug/m3 to 3690ug/m3 after the dust suppressant was sprayed.

“On Tuesday [February 2], the fire inside the dumping ground was supposed to be subsiding. But when we visited the ground, the fires were still on; some spread across large areas while others broken apart over distances,” said Avick Sil, regional director, EPRI. “We just measured PM levels. Garbage dumps also release other toxic gases that also need to be monitored.”

Particulate matter comprises both coarse and ultrafine particles that can get lodged into the lungs and also enter the blood stream, and are responsible for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Sil said the situation would have worsened with fresh incidents of fire on Wednesday. “The PM levels found are very high. The pollutant particles generated were almost the same concentration as coal or wood burnt inside a kitchen that is not so well-ventilated,” said professor Harish Chandra Phuleria, assistant professor, Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay (IIT-B). “In addition to emissions from waste, current cold weather conditions also do not allow particles to get dispersed into the atmosphere since they are trapped up to 1km from the Earth’s surface.”

Commenting on the recent fire at the Deonar dumping ground, Amiya Sahu, president of the National Solid Waste Association of India, said: “The endeavor is to reduce the volume of garbage in the dumping ground and therefore fires are lit.”