Diwali fireworks had lit up the skyline of Delhi on the night of October 30 last year, but darkness had descended the morning after as a dense blanket of smog turned the city into a chamber of noxious and cancer-causing pollutants. With the Supreme Court banning the sale of firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR till November 1, can Delhiites breathe a sigh of relief?
Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan welcomed the apex court’s order and urged people to abide by the SC guidelines and “give green Diwali and our environment a chance”. Experts, welcoming the apex court’s order, cautioned that while firecrackers cause episodic spikes in levels of air pollutants, what is needed is a sustained focus on tackling the menace.
“It is a welcome move. The air of Delhi is anyway saturated with pollutants at this time of the season as paddy stubble burning starts and temperature drops. Diwali fireworks only compound the problem,” Bhure Lal, chairman, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) said.
Going by the prevailing conditions, wherein the air quality is already ‘very poor’ in many parts of the city, the situation may spiral out of control if firecrackers are set off indiscriminately during Diwali, according to SAFAR. However, the 24-hour average AQI (air quality index) is ‘poor’, a shade better than ‘very poor’, it said. Vardhan, in a series of tweets, said firecrackers cause numerous lung ailments and trigger high blood pressure and anxiety.
“And of course, we must spare a thought for poor birds and animals who spend a terrible evening scared by all the fire & noise,” he tweeted.
A “very poor” AQI essentially means that people may suffer from respiratory illness on prolonged exposure to such air. On further dip in air quality, the AQI will turn “severe”.
“The ban would ensure that the levels of air pollutants do not reach as high a limit as they did last year around Diwali. With meteorological conditions not being favourable for dispersing dust and particulate matter in a short interval, the regulation is a step in the right direction,” Ajay Mathur, director general of TERI, said.
According to a report on composition of firecrackers prepared by Pune-based Chest Research Foundation, they emit extremely high levels of PM 2.5 over a short period of time with the ‘snake tablet’ variety producing a peak level of 64,850 ug/m3 (micro grams per cubic metre).
The 24-hour prescribed average of PM 2.5, which are ultra fine pollutants measuring 30 times thinner than a human hair, is 60. Greenpeace India also welcomed the SC decision, saying the verdict might provide some relief from the episodic air pollution spikes in the city in October i.e. during Diwali.
“However, the pollution levels in north India are multiple times higher than the national standards throughout the winter months, hence we also need to look at a stricter, comprehensive and time-bound action plan to address all sources of air pollution across the country,” it said in a statement.
A report prepared by the the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the health hazards of chemicals and metals present in firecrackers lists toxic dust and carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds.
According to the report, many gaseous pollutants emitted due to bursting of firecrackers remain airborne for days, posing danger to children and unborn babies. A study by a team of scientists of IIT Kanpur has pointed out that during Diwali, PM levels nearly double from the average level and the organic content of PM increases more than twice.
“It is noteworthy that levels of potassium and barium, main components of firecrackers, can increase by about ten times,” it says.