City’s air quality turns ‘poor’

Updated on Dec 05, 2022 12:42 AM IST

SAFAR has predicted AQI levels to remain poor at 283 on Monday as well. For most of the last few weeks, air quality remained in the ‘poor’ category affecting the health of many Mumbaiites, especially vulnerable groups such as children and senior citizens

Mumbai, India - Dec. 4, 2022: People enjoy evening in the hazy weather near Bandra fort in Mumbai, India, on Sunday, December 4, 2022. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
Mumbai, India - Dec. 4, 2022: People enjoy evening in the hazy weather near Bandra fort in Mumbai, India, on Sunday, December 4, 2022. (Photo by Satish Bate/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

Mumbai: City’s air quality on Sunday dipped to ‘poor’ category with an air quality index (AQI) value of 293. Experts have attributed the pollution levels to prevailing meteorological conditions and also predicted that the city will see ‘poor’ AQI on and off till January.

According to the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) network of monitoring stations, AQI in excess of 200 is considered ‘poor’, and above 300 ‘very poor’.

SAFAR has predicted AQI levels to remain poor at 283 on Monday as well. For most of the last few weeks, air quality remained in the ‘poor’ category affecting the health of many Mumbaiites, especially vulnerable groups such as children and senior citizens.

The poor air quality is also leading to chronic infections and allergies getting much worse, city doctors said.

Senior scientist and founder project director of SAFAR, Gufran Beig, said this is the first time that the air quality in Mumbai is changing so rapidly.

“Poor air quality levels are connected to ENSO-related stagnation conditions. It’s mainly a weather phenomenon that normally cleans up emissions from Mumbai. But this year, there’s a reversal in its role,” said Beig.

ENSO – El-Nino Southern Oscillation – is an abnormal warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean that disrupts global atmospheric circulation, which, in turn, influences temperature and precipitation across the globe.

One theory for this condition is the rate of changes in large-scale circulation globally under climate change scenarios. “Frequent extreme weather and pollution events are increasing. There are more dust storms in the winter months of January and February. Local winds are slowing down, and so are winds flowing from the sea to land that clears up pollution. All this points to climate change. But more research needs to be undertaken to establish causation,” said Beig.

In the last month, those with chronic breathing problems and allergies have been coming into the OPD more frequently, said Dr Deepak Baid, former president of the Association of Medical Consultants.

“There is a definite rise in the number of people coming in with coughs and colds, with no fever or other symptoms of viral infections. However, poor air quality can’t be attributed directly to this, it has a role to play,” he said.

Dr Tanu Singhal, a consultant paediatrician and infectious diseases specialist at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, also said she has been seeing an increase in viral infections among both children and adults in the past two weeks. Exacerbation of conditions like asthma and allergies is the most common ailment she is attending to at this duration. People with a milder form of respiratory infections are at risk of developing severe forms of the infection due to poor air quality, she said. She also warned against self-medicating, except in allergy cases, for minor coughs and colds as taking antibiotics for viral infections does more harm in the long run without providing any immediate relief.

“Among the conditions that get worsened by exposure to pollution include asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and interstitial lung disease or fibrosis. Those with such conditions find it difficult to breathe even during normal times, bad air quality makes things worse for them,” said chest physician and consultant pulmonologist Dr Kumar Doshi.

He has even seen people with COPD getting attacks that have landed them in the ICU in the last couple of weeks. He explained that their condition tends to get worsened during winter as viruses thrive in colder months, the pollution adds to their troubles and makes even day-to-day activities get difficult for some of them.

Explaining how pollution and high exposure to particulate matter affect people, he said, “Particulate matter are noxious chemicals like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide. They irritate the bronchial tubes leading to their swelling. As the tubes become narrower, breathing becomes more difficult. The site of irritation also attracts more viruses making it a vicious cycle

A marathoner himself, Dr Doshi said the situation was so bad in South Mumbai on Sunday morning that even exercising and running was difficult for him and his fellow runners.

Prolonged exposure to such poor air can lead to a range of respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

An AQI of 0-49 is considered ‘good’, 50 to 99 is ‘satisfactory’, while between 100 to 199 ‘moderate’. AQI above 400 ‘severe’ and above 500 is considered ‘severe+’.

Six of the nine ambient air quality monitors in Mumbai recorded poor AQI values – Mazgaon and Colaba (290), Malad (283), Chembur (280), Bandra Kurla Complex (266), Bhandup (211). Worli and Andheri (183) and Borivali (124) clocked ‘moderate’ AQI values.

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