March 3, 2021 12:08:51 am
Dust from paved and unpaved roads in Mumbai is responsible for 71 per cent of the emission load of particulate matter (PM) in the city, an increase from 29 per cent in 2010, according to the ‘Emission Inventory and Source Apportionment Study for Mumbai’ by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
Particle pollution contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep inside a person’s lungs and cause serious health problems, including increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing, difficulty breathing and development of chronic bronchitis, among others. The NEERI recently submitted an interim report in this regard to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).
The report finds that the second biggest contributor to PM in the city is construction activity, at 8 per cent, down from 8.54 per cent in 2010. After nearly a decade, a new source has been identified as a contributor to air pollution in the city – road dust from Mumbai Metro’s construction activities, at 3.16 per cent.
Experts believe that the increase in emission load from dust is an indicator of the poor quality and design of roads. “Lot of factors could point towards the increase, but one deduction from the data is that the condition of the roads has worsened along with the increase in the vehicular traffic and density,” said Ronak Sutaria, founder and director of Mumbai-based air quality researchers Respirer Living Sciences (RLS) Pvt Ltd.
As per the city action plan under the National Clean Air Programme, 2,000 kilometres of road are swept daily and road widening and green cover projects are being undertaken – including terrace gardens, vertical gardens and increasing green cover on traffic islands — to control the dust-resuspension in Mumbai.
“No one has studied the health impacts of different contributors to the PM; we have only learnt that PM from any source is bad. I would suspect that the road dust would have more silica, iron and magnesium, whereas from diesel vehicles, there would be volatile organic compounds – hydrocarbons and transition metals like nickel. Which one is more harmful, no one knows that,” said Dr Sundeep Salvi, director of the Pulmocare Research and Education Foundation, Pune.
The study further points out that diesel cars contribute 0.10 per cent to Mumbai’s overall PM compared, in contrast to a mere 0.02 per cent from petrol cars. Heavy vehicles account for the lion’s share of the PM released from vehicular sources, at 3.32 per cent – a marginal drop as compared to 2010 when the heavy vehicles contributed 3.42 per cent to the PM in the city. Other contributors to the PM in the city are emissions from bakeries (3.52 per cent), hotels/ restaurants (1.28 per cent) and crematoria (0.61 per cent).
While a new source of pollution has been highlighted, pollution due to open and landfill burning in the city has sharply fallen. In 2010, it contributed 10.84 per cent to the PM, but has gone down to 3.69 per cent. Currently, the Deonar dumping ground, in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, is the only open landfill site where 1,300 metric tonnes of mixed garbage is dumped unscientifically. According to officials, three waste to energy plants are set to come up at the site.
Meanwhile, the second largest landfill in Mulund, spread over 24 hectares, was closed in 2018. Additionally, the landfill at Kanjurmarg uses a bioreactor and material recovery segregation facility to process over 5,000 metric tonnes of waste on a daily basis.
“In dense cities that generate a garbage load of around 6,000 to 7,000 metric tonnes every day, waste-to-energy plants are the way ahead. Such a massive garbage load cannot be solely managed by composting or recycling,” said NEERI Director Rakesh Kumar at a town hall meeting on air pollution. The meeting was organised by Climate Voices, a collective of three organisations (Purpose, Asar and Climate Trends), along with the Maharashtra Environment and Climate Change Department’s Majhi Vasundhara initiative.
In the town hall meeting, MPCB Chairman Sudhir Srivastava said, “Dust re-suspension is one of the major contributors to PM. NEERI will be studying and auditing 20 sites in the city, including ready-mix-concrete plants, to suggest measures to curb pollution due to dust resuspension.”
The 2010 report by NEERI had suggested coordination with all institutions working in the area of road and pavement maintenance, digging for utilities, etc. for controlling the dust-resuspension. “One agency (is required) to monitor the working practices. Steep fines to agencies leaving the debris-dust on the roads after the completion of jobs (must also be levied),” read the 2010 report.
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