Pollution check for Mumbai: What you can do to clear the air around you?

  • Badri Chatterjee, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Apr 15, 2015 22:12 IST

Air pollution is among the biggest health risks in the world, says the World Health Organisation. Though the problem needs government and community intervention on an emergency footing, Mumbaiites have started taking baby steps in their struggle to check air pollution.

With traffic congestion and choked parking spaces releasing large quantities of pollutants into the air, environmentalists said citizens should familiarise themselves with the city’s bus and train routes, and start replacing individual car commutes with car-pooling or bus trips, at least once a week.

While car pools are quite popular in Europe and the United States of America, they are gradually catching on in cities such as Mumbai.

In 2009, Vinod Bhatia started a car-pooling service from his Kandivli residence to Andheri and Powai. In addition to reducing air pollution by taking a few cars off the road, he saves 75% on fuel cost. “I started a car pool service with four other Kandivli residents to get to work. Car-pooling brings down traffic congestion, accidents and most importantly, pollution levels,” said Bhatia, a travel agent, who now spends Rs60 every day for 45km, as compared to the earlier Rs300.

One of the simplest ways to bring down pollution, according to environmentalists, is to invest in efficient public transport. Cycling or walking to locations which would take only five minutes by car is another alternative that will help improve air quality.

“No matter how fuel-efficient your car is, it will emit some amount of pollutants. If we consciously opt for public transport, it will reduce both pollution and traffic,” said Gautam Kirtane, research fellow, Observer Research Foundation, a city-based think tank.

Father Savio Silveira, director of the not-for-profit organisation Greenline, said, “If the government provides good public transport, people will happily use it.”

Dust from road and building construction across the city accounts for high levels of particulate matter that is responsible for respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis. Mumbai is in the midst of a construction boom, with old buildings being demolished to make way for high-rises.

“Half the pollution will be reduced if contractors only spray water before and during the demolition of a building. Similar to those used abroad, vacuum machines that absorb dust can also be used,” said professor Arnab Bhattacharya, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

While most people are aware of outdoor pollutants, there is very little awareness about the contaminants released inside the house. Environmentalists pointed out that pollutants cause as much respiratory problems indoors as they do outdoors. “Indoor air pollutants released from air fresheners, furniture containing formaldehyde and various household cleaners generate toxic fumes. Cutting marble, granite or aluminium should not be done at home,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation.

Citizens are also looking at electrical equipment to protect themselves from the most lethal pollutants such as Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM), which is a mix of soot, chemicals and organic substances that can be inhaled into the lungs.

While the recent fire at the Mulund dumping ground has been doused, residents unwilling to inhale toxic fumes from the frequent fires at the site have started installing air purifiers.

“We have advised patients living close to the dumping ground to keep air purifiers on, especially at night, as breathing is very shallow and can affect the lungs,” said Dr Vinay Gopalani, resident of Hari Om Nagar and a dermatologist. An air purifier is a device that removes contaminants such as dust, smoke and pollen from the air, and is said to be beneficial to those suffering from allergy and asthma.

While some city residents believe increasing green spaces translates to decreasing air pollution, environmentalist Rishi Aggarwal said, “We need to politicise the issue since we pay taxes and we need to get its worth. While there is little that citizens can do, the ‘chalta hain’ attitude of the municipal corporation must not be tolerated.”

# What the doctor ordered:
* Avoid travelling during peak traffic hours

* Avoid using insect and mosquito repellents

* Switch off the car ignition when it’s not in use (even at traffic signals)

* Don’t burn waste, leaves, paper and plastic

* Use masks whenever there is excessive dust in the air

* Close windows if construction work is underway nearby

* Participate in awareness programmes on air pollution

* Undergo lung function tests on a regular basis

~Medical advice from Dr Sanjeev Mehta, pulmonologist (chest specialist), Lilavati Hospital in Bandra

--> Ways to reduce air pollution
# At home
* Turn off electrical and electronic appliances when they are not in use. Also, recycle paper, plastic, glass bottles, cardboard and aluminium cans. This helps conserve energy and reduce emission from coal-based power plants

* Plant trees, as they improve the air quality. Trees provide shade and filter, absorb and block pollutants

* Use solar lighting, or connect your outdoor lights to a timer

*Test your home for high levels of radon, a dangerous radioactive gas that is odourless and tasteless

* Do not smoke indoors

# Buy smart:
* Buy energy efficient appliances

* Choose efficient, low-polluting models of vehicles

* Choose products with less packaging, or packaging that is reusable

* Shop with a cloth bag instead of taking paper and plastic bags from shopkeepers

* Buy rechargeable batteries for devices that are used frequently

# Drive wise:
* While travelling long distances, plan your trips so as to save fuel

* Keep tyres fully inflated and aligned

* During summers, fill up the fuel tank during cooler evening hours, to cut down on evaporation. Avoid spilling petrol or diesel

* When possible, use public transport, walk, or ride a cycle

* Regularly tune the car engine and carry out maintenance checks

* Report smoking vehicles in your vicinity

* Join a car pool or van pool to get to work

# For your health
Look for regular updates on air quality in your city and report polluting activity such as burning of waste, to pollution control agencies. Check daily air quality forecasts provided by the US Consulate General, on their website (http://mumbai.usconsulate.gov/airqualitydataemb.html).

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board website (http://mpcb.gov.in/) also provides data on major pollutants in your city. Mumbai will be soon getting an Air Quality Index as part of the national air quality index launched by the Prime Minister. AQI will be an important standardised way to measure air quality consistently, allowing direct comparisons with cities across the world.

# Use an air purifier:
* Air purifiers remove pollutants from the air. These instruments are said to be beneficial to those suffering from allergy and asthma. Dust, foul smell, pollen, pet dander, mould spores, smoke particles, dust mite faeces, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can act as allergens

* Residents of Hari Om Nagar, which close to the Mulund dumping yard, have started using air purifiers to avoid inhaling toxic smoke released from burning plastic at the dumping ground.

# Say no to firecrackers:
* Firecrackers contain poisonous chemicals such as like carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and small quantities of heavy metals, which give the fireworks their colour.

* Sumaira Abdulali, environmentalist, Awaaz Foundation said, “Do not use firecrackers that produce excessive smoke, or without checking their chemical composition. Use firecrackers only in clear areas where there is no risk of accidentally burning garbage, including plastic and thermocol.”

* Dr Ujwala Rajendra Patil, 38, was diagnosed with bronchitis at a very young age. Every Diwali, she makes it a point to shut all doors and windows of her house. “Due to throat irritation and persistent cough, my family avoids buying crackers,” said Dr Patil, a Thane resident. “The use of firecrackers during the festive season of Dussehra and Diwali pose health hazards for people suffering from asthma, bronchitis and other breathing disorders.”

# Sensor-based monitoring system:
* A sensor based monitoring system is a low-cost instrument, which can be used to calculate the air quality at different different areas, within a radius of three kilometres around the sensor. Designed by students at the University of Newcastle along with a Delhi based company, the instrument is available in India for Rs10,000 to Rs15,000.

* Rakesh Kumar, chief scientist, National Environment Engineering Research Institute, said, “Different cities across the world are using such small instruments by placing them on top of light poles. People in Beijing have started monitoring the areas around their homes to check the air quality.”

* The system comprises two sensors. A chemical gas sensor measures the concentration of gases such as ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds. The optical gas sensor measures the adsorption of light by the gases, while light scattering is used to measure fine particulate matter such as PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micron) and PM10.

# Indoor air quality monitoring instrument:
* Indoor air quality monitoring instruments measure temperature, relative humidity, outdoor air calculations, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and air-borne particles. These factors are some of the primary components that help measure the occupants’ comfort level.

* In addition to an antenna that provides the air quality readings, the instrument has different buttons to select which kind of gas or pollutant is to be measured.

# Quotes:
We must plant more trees. This is the simplest of things that we can do to maintain pollution levels.
~ Gautam Kirtane, research fellow, Observer Research Foundation

Ensure your car’s PUC (Pollution Under Control) certification is up to date and complain if you see any vehicle producing excessive exhaust fumes.
~ Sumaira Abdulali, environmentalist, Awaaz Foundation

Air conditioners (ACs) are a major cause for concern. As more and more people use ACs there is an increase in emissions, which in turn pollutes the air.
~ Savio Silveira, director, Greenline

Air monitoring systems should be maintained at different locations in the city. Citizens must constantly monitor air pollution data released by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board.
~ Stalin D, environmentalist, Vanashakti

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