Anwar Manihal (28) has allergic conjunctivitis. A South Mumbaikar who rides to Ghatkopar every day, Manihal has constant inflammation in his eyes, which he blames on the dust on the city’s streets. It’s the same story for thousands of two-wheeler riders like him.
“It’s impossible to avoid the dust. Traffic is hard to bear but the dust, harder,” said Manihal.
According to Dr Arjun Ahuja, head of the ophthalmology department at KEM hospital, the onset of winter has resulted in several such cases. “We are receiving at least three cases daily,” he said.
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“Allergic conjunctivitis can last about two weeks. Though it is not contagious, the condition results in dry eyes and is bad for those who wear contact lenses. Riders must often splash cold water on their eyes,” said Dr Ahuja.
According to an India Meteorological Department (IMD) official, particulate matter (PM), suspended pollutants in the air, do not disperse because of low winter temperatures, worsening the pollution. In Mumbai, dust makes up the largest PM.
Charni Road resident Pranav Bosmia calls dust “dangerous” as there are times he has to shut his eyes to protect them. “I shuttle between Charni Road and Byculla. The gravel on the road is my biggest problem. I stop on the roadside to rub the dust out of my eyes. This is a daily affair,” he said.
Researcher Amol Nagpure wears sunglasses as he does not find the helmet’s visor sufficient to protect his eyes. “Dusty roads is one of the main reasons why I ride slow, at speeds below 40 kmph. The dust fills your nose and eyes. To protect myself, I wear a full-helmet over a half-helmet. Though it’s uncomfortable, it protects my eyes,” he said.
Pedder Road resident Piyudh Yadav (34), who rides his bicycle every alternate Sunday from his home to Powai on to Versova and back, too finds the dust intolerable in the western suburbs.
Kandivli resident Aliakbar Attarwala said the condition had deteriorated on the Western Express Highway over the past two years. “I wear a scarf to avoid breathing in the dust. Several dumpers ply on that road, throwing dust into the air. The Metro construction will further worsen my ride,” added Attarwala, who travels between Kandivli and his Andheri office.
Some years ago, the first dust map of Mumbai drawn up by three city professors identified the Western Express Highway in Borivli as the most dust-polluted area and Marine Drive the least.
An “Air Quality Assessment, Emissions Inventory & Source Apportionment Studies for Mumbai”, carried out by the Central Pollution Control Board and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, shows the highest percentage of PM (20 per cent) comes from power plants. But, if PM figures from paved and unpaved road dust were combined, they exceed the levels discharged by power plants in the city.