Lockdown data to serve as baseline for India’s new air quality standards

Last month, the World Health Organization tightened its air quality guidelines last month bringing down the annual PM 2.5 (respirable pollution particles) guideline from 10 micrograms per cubic metres to 5 micrograms per cubic metres and the 24-hour PM 2.5 guideline from 25 micrograms per cubic metres to 15 micrograms per cubic metres
India’s air pollution levels, particularly PM 2.5 levels, reduced, by 40% to 60% in most regions during the complete lockdown period (March-April 2020). 
India’s air pollution levels, particularly PM 2.5 levels, reduced, by 40% to 60% in most regions during the complete lockdown period (March-April 2020). 
Updated on Oct 13, 2021 05:16 AM IST
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ByJayashree Nandi

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is working on revising the air quality standards in India with data from the Covid 19 lockdown last year serving as the baseline, Sudheer Chintalapati, joint director at ministry of environments and forest and climate change (MoEFCC), said on Tuesday.

“We now have baseline data to show what air quality can be like when anthropogenic emission sources are either absent or very low. The Central Pollution Control Board is now working on revising the air quality standards in India with National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI),” Chintalapati said at a webinar on ‘WHO’s revised Air Quality Guidelines: A Health Sector Perspective.’

Last month, the World Health Organization tightened its air quality guidelines last month bringing down the annual PM 2.5 (respirable pollution particles) guideline from 10 micrograms per cubic metres to 5 micrograms per cubic metres and the 24-hour PM 2.5 guideline from 25 micrograms per cubic metres to 15 micrograms per cubic metres. It has also tightened norms for five other pollutants based on recent evidence of health impacts associated with these pollutants.

Sagnik Dey, associate professor at Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, IIT-Delhi who was associated with the baseline study during Covid 19 lockdown said the new standards should have intermediate targets so that implementation can happen in a phased manner.

“WHO guidelines also have intermediate targets to help countries and regions achieve the guideline. We do have a baseline now as to how long pollution levels can go when urban air pollution sources are curbed, but we have to remember that household air pollution sources such as cooking and open biomass burning continued during the period which are also major sources of pollution. Now there is enough evidence on the massive health burden of air pollution, so I hope that is studied and incorporated,” Dey added.

Rakesh Kumar, former director of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)- NEERI, said India must work on setting “achievable” targets since the ones fixed by WHO were guidelines only. “Our air pollution levels particularly PM 2.5 levels reduced by 40% to 60% in most regions during the complete lockdown period (March-April 2020). But even then, levels were not close to the WHO standards and often did not meet our national standards. Let’s not jump at numbers from the WHO guidelines. Those are only guidelines. We have to develop standards that are achievable in India and are closer to our baseline,” Kumar said.

Maria Neira, Director, Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health Department (PHE), World Health Organisation who also spoke at the webinar said that if the revised WHO guidelines are met globally 80% of the 7 million premature deaths and loss of millions more healthy years of life can be prevented.

Dr Arun Sharma, director, National Institute for Implementation Research for Non-Communicable Diseases said the revised WHO guidelines should be taken as a warning. “The latest evidence shows no amount of particulate matter pollution is safe for us which is why the revised WHO guidelines are so low,” he said.

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