Bengaluru residents actually breathe in air which has 3-12 times higher pollution levels than the ambient level - says CSE study in the city

  • Bengaluru is in the grip of rising air pollution. Official ambient air quality monitoring has shown 57 per cent increase in particulate matter in just four years. In more than 85 per cent of monitoring locations, the levels have exceeded standards

  • CSE exposure monitoring provides clinching evidence of alarming dose that an average Bangalorean breathes on a daily basis in different parts of the city – 3 to 12 times higher than the ambient level recorded by official monitors 

  • With growing vehicle numbers and resultant congestion and dieselisation, air pollution is a growing concern in the city 

  • The city is losing its inherent advantage of dominant commuting practices – use of bus and walking -- at the cost of clean air and public health 

  • Bengaluru needs stringent measures including leapfrogging emissions standards to Euro VI, curbing dieselisation, scaling up of integrated public transport, car restraints and walking for clean air 

Bengaluru, December 18, 2015: New Delhi-based research and advocacy agency Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has done an analysis of the official ambient air quality monitoring in Bengaluru. Over the week, CSE air quality teams also conducted an exposure monitoring in the city to know how much pollution in air every Bengaluru resident is exposed to. And the findings, released here today in a media briefing, are startling.

Among the key southern cities that are monitored by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Bengaluru has recorded a 57 per cent increase in PM10 levels between 2010 and 2014 – the highest amongst southern cities.

CSE’s own monitoring, done during the second week of December 2015, has found extremely high levels of exposure. On days when CPCB data shows average ambient PM2.5 levels in the city to be in the range of 27 to 55 microgramme per cubic metre, the actual exposure levels in the city were three to 12 times higher than the background ambient levels.

“Bengaluru, while having made some significant strides in meeting air quality challenges, faces newer challenges. We have found that direct exposure to toxic fumes is very high in the city. Bengaluru needs technology leapfrog, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking for clean air,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE and the head of the Centre’s air pollution control campaign.

Today’s media briefing in Bengaluru was aimed at putting CSE’s findings in the public domain. CSE has a long history of having campaigned for better air quality in India’s cities, especially Delhi. The Centre has conducted similar monitoring exercises in Delhi and the results had been equally startling (to know more, please visit the CSE website

What does the CPCB’s official ambient monitoring show?

  • Steady rise in pollution levels in Bengaluru: The city has recorded a 57 per cent increase in PM10 between 2010 and 2014. At the same time, NOx levels, though generally low, have also begun to increase. An analysis of the air quality data between October 1 and the later part of November 2015 shows rapid build-up of pollution in the city. “This demands immediate intervention to prevent further worsening and reversal of the trend to protect public health,” said Roychowdhury.

  • Most monitoring locations have begun to violate the ambient air quality standards: CPCB data shows that in 85 per cent of locations, the levels have begun to exceed the standards. The worst hit pollution hotspots include Graphite India White Field; Amo Battery Mysore Road; Silk Board Hosur; and Victoria Hospital.   

What does CSE’s exposure monitoring show?
CSE used a state-of-the-art portable air quality monitoring machine to track how much pollution an individual in Bengaluru is exposed to while travelling. This Dustrak Aerosol Monitor measures the mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. The monitoring was done in various land use areas, including sensitive areas like hospitals (Fortis, Manipal Hospital), schools (Bishop Cotton), industrial areas (Peenya), Electronic City, and residential areas. The monitoring was also done on different transport modes including walking, bus, car and auto. This exposure has also been compared with the background ambient levels monitored by the CPCB.  

It may be noted that the official ambient air quality monitoring indicates the overall air quality of the city and change over time. This is different from exposure monitoring that captures the level of pollution that people are exposed to due to closeness to different pollution sources in their immediate surrounding. This has a direct impact on public health. A recent draft report of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on air pollution and health has emphasized on the importance of addressing direct exposure to air pollution in micro environment. 

• Very high personal exposure: The CSE monitoring during the second week of December 2015 has found extremely high levels of exposure even when overall ambient pollution in the background has been relatively low. On days when CPCB data shows the average ambient PM2.5 levels in the city to be in the range of 27 to 55 microgramme per cubic metre, the actual exposure levels in the city were three to 12 times higher than the background ambient levels.

• Pollution hotspots inside the city: Several localities inside the city show hotspot trends. The worst area was the Peenya industrial area with the highest peak, followed by K R Road and Manipal Hospital. The CPCB value for Peenya during the same duration was 75 microgram/cubic metre, while the real time exposure for one hour was 400 microgram/cubic metre. This also shows air pollution is high across all neighbourhoods, exposing both poor and the rich to toxic effects. 

• Walkers and public transport users are inhaling very high pollution in Bengaluru. AC car users are also not safe: There is a strong variation in exposure depending on the mode of transport. The open modes like walking, open buses and autos show very high level of exposure. The actual exposure is in the range between 139-260 microgram per cu m. Even AC cars with windows rolled up have levels as high as 125 microgram per cu m.  

Particulate levels in southern cities generally lower than other regions -- But still a cause for concern

Though the overall particulate levels are comparatively lower than in other regions in the country, the levels are way above the WHO guidelines. Global assessments that are now available from the Global Burden of Disease estimates show that most of the health effects occur at lower levels. 

South Indian cities have several local pollution hotspots, and roadside exposures are also high. Annual averages do not help address the risks. Air quality monitoring in these cities would need to address these challenges and issue health advisories to people. There is absolutely no reason to think that the risk in southern cities is lower: a health study by the Health Effect Institute, done in Chennai and Delhi in 2011, demonstrates this. In Chennai, it showed a 0.4 per cent increase in risk per 10 microgram / cu m increase in PM10 concentration. But in Delhi, it indicated a 0.15 per cent increase in risk. 

What is the problem? 
Cities have many sources of outdoor air pollution and all require mitigation action. But vehicles pose a special challenge. In future, cities will witness a rapid increase in vehicular traffic. This means in terms actual exposure people will be more vulnerable to vehicular fumes. In densely populated cities, more than 50-60 per cent of the population lives or works near the roadside where levels are much higher. 

Vehicles contribute hugely to air pollution in Bengaluru: Vehicles contribute 42 per cent of particulates and 67 per cent of nitrogen oxides in Bengaluru’s air, according to the national assessment on air pollution put out by the Ministry of Environment and Forests based on a six-city source apportionment study in 2010. 

Concern over dieselisation: India has experienced rapid dieselisation of the car segment and significant increase in road based freight share. There are special concerns about growing use of poor quality diesel fuel and technology. The WHO has classified diesel exhaust class I carcinogen for strong link with lung cancer. Current emissions standards allow diesel cars to emit three times more NOx and seven times more particulate than petrol cars. 

The Supreme Court has recently cracked down on diesel emissions. Pre-Bharat Stage III trucks ahve been barred in Delhi, and the environment compensation charge on trucks has been doubled. All taxis in entire National Capital Region are to move to CNG. Registration of diesel luxury sedans and SUVs has been banned in the entire NCR. Bengaluru would need similar measures to reduce diesel emissions and quickly leapfrog to Euro VI norms when the gap between diesel and petrol emissions begin to close. Bengaluru will also need a toxic risk reduction programme for diesel transport. The new access to CNG in Bengaluru opens up new opportunities to side step toxic diesel and move to cleaner fuel. CNG programme has shown substantial decline from bus and auto fleet after they moved to CNG. 

Need stringent technology roadmap: It is extremely worrying that even after the implementation of the Auto Fuel Policy in 2010 which introduced Bharat Stage III in the country and Bharat Stage IV in few cities, the government of India has not set the next target for moving quickly to Euro VI emissions standards. New automobile production and investments in the country are not even linked to any further commitment to improving vehicle technology and fuel quality. This will significantly delay adoption of clean diesel technology in the country and add to the toxic risk. Cities need early timeline for introduction of Euro VI emissions standards. It is important to note that only at Euro VI level diesel and petrol emissions begin to close gaps. Introduce Bharat Stage IV nationwide immediately so that all trucks can move to Bharat Stage IV and leapfrog quickly to Euro VI emission standards. 

Avert mobility crisis and pollution: Cities are paying a very high price for congestion. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. Usual commuting time has increased significantly during peak hours. On many arterial roads the traffic volume has exceeded the designed capacity and the service level of the road. A quick glance at the city development plans and other sources bring out the nature of mobility crisis in Bengaluru. 

As of now, there are approximately 58 lakh vehicles in Bengaluru -- this is second highest after Delhi. For every two persons, there is one vehicle (1:2 ratio). There are almost 1,25,000 trips every day of which 45 per cent are using public transport. 50 lakh people travel using BMTC while 7-8 lakh travel using autos. More than 1300 vehicles are registered every day, and two-wheelers and cars are 90 per cent of the total registered vehicles. Travel speed has dropped to 15 kmph during the peak hours, there is no parking spaces left for vehicles and public transport vehicles vying for road space. 

An average citizen of Bengaluru spends more than 240 hours stuck in traffic each year resulting in loss of productivity, reduced air quality, reduced quality of life, and increased costs of goods and services. About 120 lakh person trips by mechanical modes are estimated to be generated in 2025 in Bengaluru. Present modal split of 54 per cent in favor of public transport is estimated to fall to 49 per cent by 2025, says CSE analysis.

Not only the vehicles taking over road but also the urban space to meet the insatiable demand for parking. In Bengaluru the numbers of car and two-wheelers have already crossed the numbers of walk and cycle trips. In Bengaluru the average distance is 10 km. This emerges from the analysis of the data from the study on ‘traffic and transportation policies and strategies in urban areas’, a study conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates for Ministry of Urban Development. Car centric infrastructure – signal free and one-way corridors are facilitating more car movement and locking in enormous pollution.  

Learn from Delhi: Even after putting 23 per cent of its geographical area under road network and building more than 70 flyovers Delhi is the most polluted and gridlocked city today. Delhi is now forced to take pollution action measures like odd and even formula for personal vehicles so that at a time at least 50 per cent of the vehicles can be taken off the road. More steps are on cards – parking policy as a car restraint measures, fiscal disincentives, scaled up public transport system, walking and cycling infrastructure among others. These are the signs on the wall for other cities to know and understand.    

Clean air is non-negotiable
Our cities still have the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. More road space is not the answer. Cities need to make maximum investment in redesigning their existing road space and travel pattern and achieve compact urban form to provide the majority of the people affordable and efficient mode of public transport that can be an alternative to personal vehicles, says CSE analysis.

If cities do not want to wheeze, choke and sneeze then it has to act now. It is time to set new terms of action. Soft options have all been exhausted. Reducing personal vehicle usage, upgrading public transport, walking and cycling, and leapfrogging vehicle technology and fuel quality to Euro VI, curbing dieselization are the key options left for us.  Plan cities for people not vehicles. Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking. Not cars. This will have to be supported by action in sectors of pollution including industry, power plants, trash burning and dust sources. “These are the options for the city to cut killer pollution, crippling congestion, expensive oil guzzling and global warming impacts of vehicles,” said Roy Chowdhury.


For further information, please contact Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/