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Athletes might find it tough to breathe easy

Delhi is pulling out all stops to make the city cleaner and greener before the Commonwealth Games. But one factor is constantly overlooked: the city’s air...

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi |
October 12, 2009 4:48:49 am

Delhi is pulling out all stops to make the city cleaner and greener before the Commonwealth Games. But one factor is constantly overlooked: the city’s air,which is getting increasingly polluted with the build-up to the Games. And,Delhi’s air is much more polluted than what many of the athletes may be used to.

A World Bank report reveals that the level of suspended particulate matter (SPM),a dangerous pollutant,is much higher in Delhi than in several other Commonwealth countries.

Particulate matter adversely affects the air we breathe. The particles suspended in the air can trigger asthma attacks and other lung diseases. Published in the World Bank Development Indicators 2009 report,comparative data on particulate matter reveals that Delhi’s levels veer above the 140 milligram per metre cube (mg/m3),which is more than seven times higher than many Commonwealth cities.

As per data by the CPCB,the levels climb above 140 mg/m3 too.

Melbourne (Australia),Montreal (Canada),Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia),Auckland (New Zealand),Cape Town (South Africa) and Birmingham (UK) have levels of particulate matter between 0-20. In Nairobi and Singapore,it is a little above 40 mg/m3.

Disturbingly,Delhi’s PM levels have only been rising steadily,and this is attributed to increased construction activity.

Athletes breathe longer and deeper,and may find pollution levels uncomfortable. “Elders,children and athletes are more vulnerable to particulate matter. In all probability,the athletes who will be participating in the Games have been training and exercising in different environs,” said Meena Sehgal,a specialist in Public Health.

Data accessed by Newsline from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reveals that the level of particulate matter is on the rise.

In 2007,Delhi had respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels of 159 mg/metre cube in residential areas. By 2008,RSPM in residential areas in Delhi shot up to 200 mg/metre cube,becoming comparable to some of the most polluted cities in India. This is much higher than the ‘safe’ standard for residential areas: 60 mg/metre cube. Now,the levels are above 200 mg/metre cube.

“We may have to look at solutions which are regional and not just city-based as this is a public health issue,” Sehgal said.

The CPCB,meanwhile,said it expects the particulate matter levels to go down,as the dust around construction venues settles. “There has been an increase in suspended particulate matter because of the infrastructure that is being built,but it is likely to go down by the time of the Games,” said S P Gautam,Chairman,CPCB. But the understanding of what pollutes our air is set to get clearer — the CPCB will be working for the first time with the French government to set up air monitoring stations during the Games.

“The stations will be set up to monitor air quality during the Games,” he said.

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