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Pollution board to monitor air for firecracker emissions

By Prayag Arora-Desai, Gurugram
PUBLISHED ON NOV 09, 2020 11:30 PM IST

To gauge the extent of firecracker usage during Diwali festivities, the Haryana State Pollution Control Board will, from Tuesday, carry out a 15-day monitoring exercise to check for the presence of heavy metals — which are common constituents of firecrackers — in ambient air.

While the National Green Tribunal on Monday banned the use of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR, effective from Tuesday to November 30, officials said that some violations are still expected. Surveillance for select elements, which are not part of routine pollution monitoring, will help in determining the extent of these violations, they explained.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the HSPCB will be carrying out this short-term exercise, in anticipation of a pollution spike during Diwali. While specific data from past studies has not yet been made public, HSPCB officials confirmed that constituent metals in fireworks — particularly aluminium, sulphur and barium — were found to be present in elevated quantities on Diwali, and in the ensuing days, across most monitoring locations in the state.

“These are the only two weeks in the year when targeted monitoring for heavy metals is carried out, due to Diwali. It is important to do the exercise each year so that we can compare data and see whether there has been any improvement. For the past two years, data shows that there has been some reduction in firecracker use, and we will hope to see the same this year. If people are following government instructions more strictly this Diwali, due to Covid-19 or simply an increase in general awareness, our study will reflect it,” said Dr Rajesh Garhia, senior scientist, HSPCB.

Data obtained from this exercise, officials said, will help not just in quantifying the pollution load around Diwali, but also to assess the public health risk posed from resulting firecracker emissions. “In addition to the standard parameters that we monitor for calculating the air quality index (AQI), we will also be checking for presence of heavy metals like iron and barium, which are indicative of firecracker use and are extremely toxic to human health,” said Dr Jai Bhagwan Sharma, senior scientist and in-charge at the HSPCB’s air quality lab in Panchkula.

“Orders to regional officers at the district level will be issued on Tuesday. District teams will be expected to start work immediately,” Sharma said.

While the study will be implemented in at least nine cities of Haryana — Gurugram, Faridabad, Panchkula, Ambala, Karnal, Panipat, Sonepat, Hisar and Rohtak — Garhia added that new cities are likely to be included in its scope this year, as places like Bahadurgarh, Rewari, Sirsa and Bhiwani have also come to be recognised as pollution hot spots. The HSPCB will also monitor noise levels in these cities for 15 days, according to protocols laid out by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Unlike ‘automatic’ air quality monitoring stations (of which there are four in Gurugram), the short-term monitoring exercise requires chemical analysis, which, officials said, can only be done in a laboratory setting, using air samples obtained manually from the field. The CPCB protocol for monitoring pollution around Diwali states that samples need to be collected from 10 to 18 locations in each subject city.

“We will take samples from four area types, including residential, commercial, industrial and ‘sensitive’ areas. These samples will then be analysed at our own lab or through a MoEFCC-certified independent laboratory,” said Kuldeep Singh, regional officer, HSPCB Gurugram.

Singh did not, however, reveal which areas in the city have been classified as sensitive.

While routine air pollution monitoring takes into account certain standard regulatory parameters — namely PM10, PM2.5, and gaseous pollutants like NH3, NO2, SO2, CO and O3 — pollution surveillance around Diwali tends to focus on ascertaining the quantities of heavy metals, namely iron, nickel, barium, lead, arsenic and strontium, present in ambient outdoor air.

“These elements are common constituents of firecrackers. When they are burnt, the combustion releases them into the atmosphere in the form of tiny, respirable particles. When an individual breathes this air, the elements enter their bloodstream, settle in their organs and accelerate their degeneration,” said Abhishek Srivastava, a city-based environmental engineer who has been tracking air quality trends in Gurugram.

“Such surveillance is important. The quantity of these elements in the atmosphere, when aligned with demographic information, can help researchers assess the health risk faced by the subject population,” Srivastava added.

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