With an increasing number of vehicles releasing toxic smoke combined with non-stop construction and hardly any open spaces left, the city is choking under a pollution crisis with residents gasping for fresh air.
The past six months have been bad, especially for residents living around Mazgaon, Andheri and Bandra-Kurla-Complex, which were found to be the most polluted sites from 10 locations in Mumbai, according to a study.
A half-yearly report by the System of Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) from January to May found the air quality index (AQI) levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) — small pollutant particles of 2.5 microns in length that can easily enter the respiratory system and cause ailments — to be between an average of 102 to 106 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m3), exceeding the national air quality standards of 60 µg/m3.
Dust pollution from vehicles, construction and open burning were attributed as the main causes for the spike in pollution at these locations, according to researchers.
“For most days, the air quality fell to under ‘moderate’ to ‘poor’ levels at these three locations, exceeding the national air quality standards,” said Neha Parkhi, senior programme manager, SAFAR. “While BKC has a major traffic junction where vehicular pollutants gets trapped in the air, the high pollution at Mazgaon was because of the dockyard which sees a lot of diesel ships combined with pollutants emitted from vehicles on the Eastern Express Highway. However, for Andheri, we observed a mix of pollution from construction, choked traffic junctions and open burning at various areas.”
On the other hand, the study indicated that the cleanest locations from January to May were Colaba, Worli and Borivli owing to a sea breeze dispersing a majority of pollutants.
The study also identified that pollution levels in Mumbai were the highest during January and February. However, from March onwards till May, a steady decline was observed (see box). “During the winter months, pollutants get trapped closer to the ground owing to the process of inversion. However, by the summer months, the increase in temperatures combined with high moisture and wind speed, pollution levels automatically decreases,” said Gufran Beig, project director, SAFAR.
The state pollution control board’s pollution monitoring station at Sion also recorded average pollution levels to be almost twice the permissible limit from January to May for PM10 (coarse pollution particles) levels.
Beig added that particulate matter – PM1 (smallest pollutant particles that are invisible to the naked eye), PM 2.5 and PM10 – is of serious concern to Mumbai, and linked to health problems, including heart and lung diseases. “Pollution emanating from dust from construction activities, vehicular exhaust, cement-batching plants, unpaved roads and open burning have all reduced the city’s air quality. Additional sources like the dumping ground fires have been adding to this,” said Beig.