Diwali pollution management needs rethink. | Centre for Science and Environment

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Diwali pollution management needs rethink.

  • Official release on Diwali pollution states “No significant change observed” from the previous years. The average levels reported for most pollutants barring nitrogen dioxide show a marginal decline compared to last year. But the levels have remained much higher than the standards, and therefore a threat to public health.
  • Even after so many years of anti crackers campaign Diwali pollution remains a serious concern. Though a warmer Diwali it has loaded Delhi’s air with heavy dust, smoke and particles at the onset of the winter.
  • The nigh time Diwali peak pollution in residential areas needs urgent attention. R K Puram, Punjabi Bagh Civil Lines and Mandir Marg have recorded high short duration peak pollution on Diwali night. This leads to high exposure to poisonous cocktail of pollution. People suffering from respiratory and cardiac problems are most vulnerable.
  • Frame the roadmap for next Diwali right away.

New Delhi October 24, 2014: The official release of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee shows that Diwali pollution has remained dangerous – if not worse, it is nearly as bad as last year. There is some dip in the average minimum and maximum levels compared to last year. But pollution level has seen rapid escalation beyond the standards and also very high short duration peaks during Diwali night – leading to high exposure levels. Diwali pollution has continued to add to the pollution woes in the city. Sustaining the pollution control efforts for further reduction in pollution levels is turning out to be an enormous challenge. This requires longer term strategy to address this problem. 

The key highlights of Diwali pollution are as follow:

• The maximum average of PM2.5, the tiny killers, are nearly same as last year and more than eight times the standards; PM10 though lower than last year are still close to eight times the standards;

• SO2 which otherwise records very low level in Delhi has escalated beyond the standards.

• The maximum average of NO2 has certainly shown an increase from last year and has shot by more than two times the standards.

• CSE has also tracked the real time air pollution data reported in the official website of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee on the night of Diwali. This shows rapid build up of pollution after 5 pm and very high peak levels during night. Calm weather with nearly no wind blocked quick dispersal of smoke and pollutants. The pollution levels in residential areas including R K Puram, Punjabi Bagh, Mandir Marg, and Civil Lines have recorded higher levels than IGI airport and Anand Vihar that are otherwise the pollution hotspots. The crackers are burst maximum in residential areas. Such high level of exposures can lead to escalation in hospital admissions related to respiratory and cardiac symptoms.

Need to phase in good practices quickly

Other countries have developed proper strategies to regulate fire crackers related to celebration and festivities. Public health is given a priority.

Beijing and Shanghai: In order to cope with record smog, Beijing has issued an emergency plan to curb air pollution, including a ban on fireworks when the city sees three consecutive days of heavy smog. The city government recently introduced a regulation requiring people who buy five or more boxes of fireworks to register with an official ID; the city will halt fireworks sales entirely if the pollution rises to dangerous levels.

Shanghai cut the city's number of authorised firework sellers by 400. Pollution levels in Shanghai quintupled (five times increase) after the fireworks extravaganza marking the early hours of last year's celebrations. The government of Hangzhou, a historic city near Shanghai, has cancelled its annual New Year fireworks display, a decade-long tradition. New techniques introduced for green fireworks. The new ones are made of special paper and without sulphur. After being lit, they emit less smoke and leave almost no scraps. All these fireworks are labelled.

United Kingdom: The Fireworks Regulation Act 2004 prohibits the use of fireworks in England and Wales between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am, although extensions are given for the following special events. These regulations are enforced by the police and a penalty of up to £5,000 or six months in prison can be issued for a breach.

In several regions there is a growing trend towards community based organized events that are restricted in numbers. This reduces household based uncontrolled use of fire crackers.

Need stronger awareness campaigns: Diwali pollution cannot be addressed only with command and control measures. It is important to step up campaigns by involving the medical community and putting out hard health evidences in the public domain to sensitise people about the harmful effects of fire crackers.

It is not enough to quibble over marginal changes in Diwali pollution from year to year. This requires strong community sensitization as well as judicious mix of regulatory controls to protect public health.

For more on this, please speak with Souparno Banerjee at 9910864339 / souparno@cseindia.org