ENVIRONMENTALISTS with the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) in the city have been facing a huge dilemma for the last three years. In mid-2014, the only dust sampler to monitor very fine particles that can reduce visibility and are two-and-a-half microns or less in width — known as PM 2.5 — had broken down.
PM 2.5 is a hazardous air pollutant that can travel deep into the respiratory tract and enter the lungs. Known to aggravate medical problems in those suffering from asthma and cardiac ailments, this pollutant, however, has not been monitored as part of the NAMP in Pune for three years now.
Despite a broken machine and six other old ones that require maintenance, data from NAMP — one of the agencies that monitors air quality in the city — showed that between 1999 and 2004 — sulphur dioxide levels had decreased, nitrogen dioxide levels had increased (due to emissions from vehicles) and PM 10 (coarse particles up to 10 micrometres in diameter, mainly from dust stirred by vehicles on roads and crushing or grinding operations) ranged from unhealthy to critical.
As per the latest data from 2008-2016, sulphur dioxide levels had been arrested while increasing vehicles on the road had led to rising nitrogen dioxide levels. Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM) remained above permissible limits throughout the last few years, according to the data.
Particulate air pollution is an air suspended mixture of both solid and liquid particles and PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels have been going up, according to researchers with NAMP.
Here, it may be recalled that the Central Pollution Control Board had started National Ambient Air Quality Monitoring (NAAQM) Network during 1984 -85 at the national level. The programme was later renamed as National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) and is among the oldest agencies to monitor air pollution. In each district, NAMP has appointed one agency to monitor air pollution.
In Pune, experts from the environment science department at Pune University had been appointed in 1994. Dr Alka Gadgil, director of NAMP for Pune, when contacted, told The Indian Express that one station was allocated then, but the project became fully functional from 1999 onwards.
According to Prof Nitin Karmalkar, Head of the Department of Environment Science at Pune University, presently six machines are being used to monitor RSPM at three stations — Nal Stop, Bhosari and Swargate and one at Pimpri-Chinchwad.
Shashikant Nehul, research scholar at the department who is involved with the air quality monitoring under NAMP, said that there was a need for two more machines as all six machines are old and require maintenance.
According to NAMP-Pune coordinators, there is also a need for more funds as only Rs 7.5 lakh is allocated every six months for the total team of six field assistants, two research assistants and one director under the NAMP. The project coordinators have been appealing for more funds for nine years now. According to Dr Gadgil, monitoring air quality at just three stations in Pune does not represent the entire city.