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Heavy metal in your air

The air that you breathe is getting unhealthier by the year. Bhavika Jain reports.

mumbai Updated: May 30, 2011 01:37 IST
Bhavika Jain

The air that you breathe is getting unhealthier by the year. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) annual analysis of the city’s air quality shows the presence of heavy metal in the air is on the rise.

Data from the air quality monitoring and research laboratory between April 2010 and March 2011 shows that the levels of most of the six heavy metals — lead, iron, copper, cadmium, nickel and chromium — have risen as compared to the levels recorded during the same period last year.

“Iron can irritate the air passages and cause breathlessness and cough, while nickel and chromium can lead to asthma and bronchitis. If lead levels in the blood rise, it can lead to abnormalities in the blood and can damage the liver. In pregnant women, it can affect the growth of the foetus,” said Dr Ashok Mahashur, consultant chest physician with the Hinduja hospital.

Scientists attribute the rise in the presence of heavy metals in the air to vehicle emissions, smelters, metal-processing and battery-manufacturing industries and cement dust.

The level of iron has seen a sharp rise at all seven air-monitoring stations- Borivli, Andheri, Khar, Deonar, Maravali, Bhandup and Worli - from where the data has been collected, with the highest level being recorded at Maravali in Chembur. In 2009, Maravali recorded 9.9 µg/m3 of iron in the air; this shot up to 14 µg/m3 in 2010.

“The rate of increase may not be alarming, but it definitely shows that the quality of air is deteriorating,” said an official from the BMC’s environment department, on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Apart from lead for which the Central Pollution Control Board has permissible limits — up to 0.5 ug/m3 annually — no limits are specified for the other metals. “That is one reason the data is not taken as seriously as it should be,” the official said.

In some areas, the there has been a marginal drop in the levels of metals. For instance, the levels of lead have dropped in Borivli and Deonar. Copper, too, has shown a dip in Worli and Bhandup. Its presence has doubled in Andheri, from 0.57 ug/m3 in 2009 to 1.06 ug/m3 in 2010.