A soon to be released study funded by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority’s (MMRDA) Environment Improvement Society has found that construction activity emissions are in direct correlation with the overall concentration of particulate matter (PM), irrespective of the number of vehicles. The Environment Policy and Research India (EPRI) team has monitored air pollution in Wadala, Thane, Panjrapol and Parel where the monorail, a bridge and heavy residential construction had been underway in 2014.
Ambedkar Road in Parel is one of the city roads that currently sees maximum construction activity. The team found that in the pre-monsoon season daily average of PM levels was 535 microgrammes per cubic metre, almost five times the acceptable standard, and unloading of materials, digging, excavation and demolition activity were found to be the main causes of high pollution in all the spots.
To illustrate the point, Awkash Kumar from IIT Bombay’s Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering pointed to the doubling of RSPM levels observed at Maravli — the closest station to the monorail site – in two years. RSPM levels were 667 microgrammes/cubic metre in 2009 when the construction began and rose to 1076 microgrammes/cubic metre in 2012. The acceptable standard is 100 microgrammes/cubic metre.
“The number of vehicles did not dramatically increase in the area in the period, but what changed was the monorail construction and the dust it raised,” Kumar said.
According to Knightfrank, a real estate consultancy firm, at present, there are 3,17,898 units under construction in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Of these, 27 per cent (85,140) units are under construction projects coming up in the central suburbs of Sion, Chembur, Wadala, Kurla, Ghatkopar, Vikhroli, Bhandup, Mulund and 20 per cent (63,404) units are under construction projects coming up in Vasai, Virar, Boisar, Palghar, Bhayandar, Nalasopara, followed by Navi Mumbai.
During construction activity, dust suppressants are not used and trucks carrying cement and construction debris are not covered which leads to pollution levels that are far from ideal, despite what the compliance reports to the state environment department say.
It was found that PM10 levels did not reduce even 500 metres away from construction activity. “This was quite unexpected. Generally, dust disperses and the levels drop as the distance from the site increases. But in Mumbai, especially Parel, where construction activity is carried out in areas surrounded by other highrises, there is not much space for the dust to disperse. It is like a pollution cloud for existing residents of the area and the construction workers,” said Avick Sil of EPRI.
For any construction activity covering an area over two lakh square feet, whether private or government, clearances have to be taken from the state government, including as many as 70 environmental safety parameters designated by MoEF. Measures like placing a tarpaulin sheet over a construction site to prevent scattering of dust and keeping construction material like sand wet also have to be undertaken.
However, the problem lies in the lack of specific norms and a mechanism to ensure compliance. While tender documents ask contractors to work in accordance to Air and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Acts, there is no specific way or a mechanism to check if the rules are being flouted.
“There is not a single mention of specific dust control systems that contractors should be using. Besides loose statements about following air pollution control Act, there are no conditions laid down for contractors and there is no mechanism to supervise the work. Even workers’ health is largely ignored, as far as the tender conditions are concerned,” said Sil, who analysed tender documents for projects at all four sites. According to the state environment department, all project proponents have to submit monthly reports, showing compliance of conditions laid down in the environment clearance granted to the projects.
“We get reports regarding all the projects, but it is impossible to verify compliance for every project every year. We simply do not have the manpower or the time. However, based on specific complaints, we take action after a committee visits the site. Also, once a year, a committee from the MoEF’s Western Zone office in Bhopal does visit certain construction projects to check compliance,” said a senior official from the environment department, who did not wish to be named. (concluded)
What can be done to save mumbai from becoming Delhi or Beijing?
NEERI scientists suggest that to reduce pollution by 2017, there should be no further extension for stone crushing work within the city and building construction or demolition codes should be written and used with specific reference to particulate matter (PM) control.
Frequent change in floor space index (allowing more built up per unit area) leads to large scale increase in vehicle ownership and presence of these on roads. Rakesh Kumar, head of NEERI Mumbai, said better air quality planning for the city also needed appropriate transport planning which was linked with land use. “For curbing vehicular pollution, congestion pricing and higher parking fees should be implemented. A sure-shot method to curb PM levels in the city is to levy steep fines to agencies leaving debris-dust on the roads after completion of jobs,” he added.
Researcher and environmental activist Rishi Aggarwal from Observer Research Foundation (ORF) said policy reform and strict crackdown on errant contractors was the only way. “There is a need for crackdown on lax laws and the manner in which construction and road work goes on in the city,” he said. “The haphazard manner of dust control as Marine Drive was being repaired reduced visibility and severely affected even commuters in taxis and buses who were exposed to the dust for less than 5 minutes at the signal. Imagine the condition of residents, tourists who came to enjoy ‘achi hawa’ at Marine Drive,” he added.
Proper and mandatory dust control systems at construction sites and electrification of public transport will go a long way in controlling pollution. In the MMRDA study, EPRI showed how good dust suppressants reduced air pollution for short periods of time. It found that dust suppressants could suppress the PM level for more than 5-6 hours depending upon the dose concentration and the site activities. It is more efficient than using water to suppress dust. “Public transport, especially buses that move large populations, if made more energy efficient, will go a long way in reducing air pollution. But electric recharging facilities have to be provided for vehicles at various spots in the city for this to work,” said K Munshi, professor at IIT Bombay’s Industrial Design Centre.
Around the world
According to a new plan unveiled by London mayor Boris Johnson to curb air pollution, any equipment more than a decade old would need to be replaced or retrofitted from September 2015 if these are being operated in sites in central London or in large developments on the outskirts of the capital. Diesel vehicles will be charged to enter London’s new low emission zone from 2020. There would be a ban on all cars – apart from those with zero or minimal carbon emissions – in the heart of the city by the end of the decade. Vehicles will have to be fitted with filters to trap particulates to comply with London’s low emission zones, which imposes a £200 charge on vehicles without the technology.
New plan for Shanghai includes removal of all high-polluting “yellow label” vehicles that were registered before the end of 2005 from the roads by the end of 2015. In regions with heavy industry, all such vehicles are to be taken off the roads by 2015, and the same will be applied for the whole of China by 2017. As part of efforts to reduce pollution from road traffic, in 2014, more than 170,000 heavy-polluting and aging vehicles were taken off the streets. Other steps taken last year include the closing or updating of 1,675 boilers and furnaces that used coal or heavy oil and installing over 100 dust detectors at construction sites.