While Kashmir may be the heaven on earth and one of most popular tourist destinations in India, the air quality measured in winters was found to be very poor and the air composition had a whopping 480 per cent more Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 than the national permissible limits. This was stated in a recent study, jointly conducted by a team of scientists from city-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) and University of Kashmir, between May 2013 and April 2014.
Air quality data, collected from the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Station (CAAQMS) installed at the university, was studied to mainly understand the local emissions and long-range transport of PM2.5 from emissions of coal burning, firewood burning and vehicular combustion. These are extremely fine dust particles that pose serious threat to human health, if exposed for a prolonged period of time.
According to the study, the air quality recorded for Srinagar city in the Kashmir valley, which is relatively surrounded by pollution-free environment, was found to start declining from the month of October. This is because as locals there would switch to using bio-fuels for performing various household chores and other activities.
“Though the local weather plays a dominant role in transporting the pollutants, from a highly polluted region to a less polluted region, the extensive burning of coal for various domestic purposes was found to be the major contributor. These pollutants then remain trapped in the lower atmospheric levels. In addition, a large amount of secondary aerosols are then formed at this altitude,” the study says. Every year, 1,246 tonnes of coal is burned and this accounts for nearly 84 per cent of the annual emissions recorded.
Towards the end of the winter season, however, with the temperatures slowly increasing and correspondingly, the dependency on biofuels and burning of coal gradually decreasing, there was a direct effect seen on the air quality in the Kashmir valley. “As the season ends by February, the PM 2.5 was found to drop to 50 microgram per cubic metre and the air quality bounced back to normalcy,” the study says.
The study also covered the role of pollutants emerging from exhaust of vehicles. At 30 per cent share each during summer and autumn, pollutants from the vehicular exhaust was identified as the second largest polluter of air. A comparison of pollutants made between burning of coal versus burning of fossil fuel used in the transport sector during winter, the study noted 156 tonnes of PM2.5 to be mixed into air as against 7.5 tonnes from vehicular exhaust. This was seconded by coal emissions amounting to 125 tonnes per month as opposed to 32.5 tonnes per month contributed by vehicles, both during autumn.