Centre for Science and Environment releases stunning data on the daily dose of polluted air that people breathe in Delhi

January 29, 2015

Monitors real-time individual exposure of people. Finds exposure levels much higher than ambient exposure levels measured by the government’s regulatory agencies

Demands immediate implementation of priority pollution control action

  • Official air pollution monitoring tells us about ambient air pollution. But Delhiites breathe much more than the background air while doing their daily chores, shows CSE monitoring

  • Prominent citizens of Delhi participate in the programme to know the real-time personal exposure to pollution for 24 hours

  • Even Lutyen’s Delhi and early morning hours are in grip of deadly pollution

  • As winter pollution begins to rise during November and December, actual exposure of people to pollution will go up

  • CSE presents action plan and demands pollution emergency measures

New Delhi, December 11, 2014: As you do your morning walk in that so called ‘fresh air’, you are actually breathing in air which is thick and heavy with particulate pollution. And you are not safe from polluted air even within the confines of your homes or workplaces -- says a latest Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) monitoring and research programme in which some citizens of Delhi voluntarily participated. CSE has individually monitored the amount of pollution that each of these citizens is exposed to on a daily basis, and has come up with some startling truths.

Releasing the results of the study here today, CSE director general Sunita Narain said: “This is an unique initiative to assess how much pollution people breathe on a daily basis in Delhi when the overall winter pollution levels are already high. Our data is quite shocking – we have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee. This is a serious risk to public health.”

What has CSE done
CSE has used a state-of-the-art portable air quality monitoring equipment to track how much pollution an individual is exposed to in Delhi while doing their daily chores. This dust track aerosol monitor measures both mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. A select group of prominent citizens of Delhi and also patients suffering from asthma participated in this monitoring exercise.

A 24-hour real time monitoring for each individual from the select group was carried out on assigned days in the period November 2014 till December 9, 2014. Their average exposure was compared with the background ambient levels monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee at the nearest official monitoring station.

Says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director-research and advocacy, CSE and the head of its air pollution control team: “The key lesson from this exercise is that exposure monitoring has to complement ambient monitoring to refine pollution control measures to reduce health risk as pollution levels especially linked with traffic vary widely within the city. This makes our breathe highly toxic.”

The individuals who participated in the programme

  • Bhure Lal, chairperson, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), resident of Lodi Estate in Lutyen’s Delhi

  • Harish Salve, senior advocate in Supreme Court and the amicus curiae for the on-going air pollution case in the Court, lives in Vasant Vihar in south Delhi

  • Ashok B Lall, architect, resident of Civil Lines, a pollution hotspot in Delhi

  • Randeep Guleria, head of the Pulmonary Medicine Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, works and lives in AIIMS

  • William Bissell, head of FabIndia and resident of Hauz Khas Enclave in south Delhi

  • The group also included those who suffer from asthma -- Bharati Chaturvedi, head of Chintan, a prominent NGO, lives in Ravindra Nagar in central Delhi; Kaushik Das Gupta, journalist, a resident of Patparganj; and Avikal Somvanshi, research professional and amateur cyclist, a resident of Alaknanda.

What are the key findings
Individuals are exposed to highest pollution levels during night and early morning
Pollution levels are usually expected to be low during nights and early mornings – the CSE study says otherwise. Cool and calm nights worsen the inversion effect, coupled with high pollution from truck traffic entering Delhi. Harish Salve who lives in Vasant Vihar, close to the Outer Ring Road, recorded highest exposure between 10-11 pm on November 25-26 when the hourly average of PM2.5 was about 408 microgramme per cubic metre . The level continued to remain elevated all through the night.

High pollution levels when everyone goes for morning walks
William Bissell, resident of Hauz Khas Enclave, went for his morning walk at 7.30 am to Jahanpanah Park near Greater Kailash Part II on November 19-20. The hourly real time average of PM2.5 between 8-9 am in that area was 705.68 microgramme per cubic metre . The closest DPCC background levels for the same time period was 318 microgramme per cubic metre.

Similarly, Ashok B Lall, a resident of Civil Lines, who goes for a walk every morning to the Ridge in the North Campus of Delhi University, recorded the highest hourly average of PM2.5 between 7 and 8 am at 895 microgramme per cubic metre  on November 5-6.

Those suffering from respiratory problems and asthma are particularly vulnerable
Bharati Chaturvedi, resident of Ravindra Nagar near Khan Market and an asthma patient, experienced the highest hourly average PM2.5 exposure levels during her morning walk between 6 and 8 am -- 677.65 (6-7 am) and 660.9 (7-8 am) microgramme per cubic metre . The hourly average background levels were 238 microgramme per cubic metre  and 221 microgramme per cubic metre  respectively.

Kaushik Das Gupta, another asthma patient, experienced severe breathing troubles post mid-night inside his house in Patparganj in East Delhi on November 5-6, when PM10 levels peaked at 744 microgramme per cubic metre  (1-2 am). The hourly ambient average was 249 microgramme per cubic metre .

Green and clean Lutyen’s Delhi showed exceptionally high values for particulate matter
Bhure Lal, resident of Lodi Estate, was monitored on November 12-13. The hourly average PM2.5 level was the highest between 5.50 am and 6.50 am at 1195.83 microgramme per cubic metre  when he had gone for a walk in the Lodhi Garden. This is the place where the rich and powerful of Delhi come for their walks.

As that day was also a smoggy day, Mr Lal’s monitoring was repeated on December 8-9: levels had come down a little, but the morning hours still showed very high levels. During 5-6 am and 6-7 am, the hourly average PM2.5 levels were 672 microgramme per cubic metre  and 762 microgramme per cubic metre  respectively -- about two times higher than the background ambient level.

People walking and cycling are highly exposed to air pollution
On November 23, asthma patient Avikal Somvanshi followed the pollution trail around venues for outdoor exercise – India Gate where the Delhi Marathon was organised and Connaught Place where the weekly weekend event Raahgiri is organised. The morning was visibly smoggy and reported the coldest temperatures till that date this year. At 7 -8 am at India Gate, the levels were as high as 815 microgramme per cubic metre  – a time when the Delhi Marathon started. This was 2.4 times higher than the background ambient level of 339 microgramme per cubic metre . The levels went up near President’s estate (Mother Teresa Crescent Road) – where an hourly average of 1,029 microgramme per cubic metre  between 8-9 am was recorded: this was 3.4 times higher than the ambient levels.

In Connaught Place, where the Raahgiri event was taking place in the morning, the hourly average level between 9-10 am was a phenomenal 1,050 microgramme per cubic metre . This was close to three times higher than the ambient levels. While traffic was closed in the inner circle, there was traffic on the outer circle of Connaught Place. When monitoring was repeated in late afternoon when it was warmer with improved wind speed, levels had reduced to 200 microgramme per cubic metre  .

Says Roychowdhury: “This clearly shows how smog build-up during nights and early mornings can harm people when they are doing physical exercises for their health.”

Warmer and sunny days with good wind speed showed comparatively lower levels
The study noted that warmer days with good wind speed can lead to lower levels. On December 2, Randeep Guleria of AIIMS was monitored for 24 hours as he spent his time in the hospital and traveled to North Campus. His overall exposure and 24-hour average was much less than other participants in the programme. The 24-hour average recorded by him was 188 microgramme per cubic metre . The nearest monitoring station at R K Puram also recorded low levels – 124 microgramme per cubic metre .

When overall pollution levels in the city rise, exposure for the individual also increases

The 24-hour trends recorded by individuals correlate with trends in ambient background levels measured at the nearest official monitoring station -- but are higher.

Winter pollution worsens personal exposure

This year, winter pollution is back with a vengeance. Almost throughout the month of November and December 2014, the levels of PM2.5 have remained -- on an average -- at least three-four times the 24-hourly standard of 60 microgramme per cubic metre. Higher averages are reaching up to four to seven times the standards and smog episode peaks hit eight to 10 times the standards. This is extremely dangerous for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory and cardiac problems, and also for children and the elderly.

Says Roychowdhury: “When CSE applied the National Air Quality Index announced by the ministry of environment and forests to the pollution level in November, it found that 53 per cent of the days monitored for PM2.5 are in very poor category and 47 per cent of the days are in severe category. The cocktail of pollution can be deadly for Delhi which is already gasping for breath. Without a stringent roadmap, every winter will turn back the pollution clock. Air pollution is rising steadily over the years. Every year, asthma and respiratory and other diseases will only increase. Delhi will have to take tough measures to control growing air pollution and fast.”

We need stringent action and pollution emergency measures
CSE also released a priority action plan here today that includes pollution emergency action for smog episodes, and short and medium term measures for more lasting and durable change to meet clean air standards in a time-bound manner.

Implement the Air Quality Index with health advisories and pollution emergency measures.

Leapfrog emissions standards to Euro V in 2017, and Euro VI in 2020. Nation-wide Euro IV should be in place by 2015.

Control dieselisation with tax measures. Diesel has been branded as class I carcinogen by WHO.

Need fiscal measures to keep clean fuels like CNG competitive vis-a-vis diesel.

Need stringent measures for on-road and older vehicles.

Strategies for older cars: The potential impact of banning 15-year-old private vehicles is limited. Studies have shown that the average age of personal vehicles in Delhi is much shorter – four-seven years. Therefore, a variety of strategies is needed to control pollution from on-road vehicles.

Tighten PUC testing method and compliance: Grossly polluting vehicles can occur at any age group or vintage and these will have to be weeded out with a good inspection programme and smoky vehicle checks.

Deploy more advanced in-use monitoring strategies. Integrate on-board diagnostic system for in-use inspection; introduce remote sensing technology for screening on-road vehicles among others.

Make PUC certificate conditional requirement for obtaining annual insurance for vehicles.

Need road worthiness tests for private vehicles.

Divert non-destined trucks and check overloading.

Stringent action on visibly polluting vehicles: Smoky vehicle inspection based on spot check and on-road surveillance, high penalty and instant removal from road can make a difference inside the city as well as along the borders.

For scrappage of old vehicles:

  • Implement cleaner emissions standards for new vehicles that will replace older vehicles.

  • Formal scrappage policy must ensure infrastructure to scrap old vehicles and at least 95 per cent of scrapped material is recycled.

  • Implement end-of-pipe regulations for vehicle manufacturers to ensure more than 90 per cent of the material used in cars are recyclable.

Implement colour coding of old vehicles of pre-Euro I, Euro I and Euro II vintage and restrict their plying during smog episodes.

Impose higher taxes on older vehicles of Euro I and Euro II vehicles.

Improve and scale up public transport and last mile connectivity: Bring all the 11,000 buses within a year. Ensure reliable and frequent services, GPS enabled public information system; multi-modal integration for metro and bus and last mile connectivity.

Implement non-motorised network plan for time-bound implementation: Mandate people and cycling friendly street design guidelines and standards for all roads. These should be made mandatory for approval of road network projects in Delhi. Protect walkways and cycle tracks from encroachment and ensure safe crossing. Implement the provision of Motor Vehicle Act 1988 that bars vehicles from being parked on pavements.  

Restrain growth of cars with parking restraints and taxes: Eliminate free parking. Introduce effectively high and variable parking charges; introduce residential parking permits with fees;. Ban parking on footpaths under the provision of the Motor Vehicle Act 1988. Implement parking management area plans to plan and implement legal parking, ban and penalise illegal parking and rationalise on-street and off-street parking; Prohibit parking in green areas and in neighbourhood parks.

Need NCR-wide plan: Expand real-time air quality monitoring in the NCR and implement daily real-time data reporting.

Implement seamless public transport system in the NCR: Implement NCR-wide seamless bus system and para transit system and remove tolls and tax barriers across borders for public transport within a year under reciprocal agreement; Implement plan for improved rail network

Stop farm fires in the NCR: Make paddy straw burning an offence in the region. Need stringent enforcement under the Air Act 1980 to ban farm fires. This needs be enabled with incentive and subsidy for innovative farming methods that allow mixing of the straw with the soil to act as fertilizer and avoid stubble burning; Promote alternative uses of paddy straw for power generation.

Set up urban transport fund by tapping the revenue sources.

Implement priority action for power plants, open burning, generator sets and construction.

Need exposure monitoring to complement ambient monitoring: A few static stations for ambient monitoring cannot assess human exposure as pollution levels associated with traffic vary widely within the city.

Innovate and leapfrog air quality monitoring: Exposure monitoring based on new emerging low cost but advanced sensor-based monitoring equipments can become a game changer in air quality monitoring globally. Needed to bridge the gap in data availability to citizens and assess personal exposure.

 

 

Presentations

Down to Earth

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August 01, 2017

So that we can breathe easy

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August 01, 2017

Living with asthma in Delhi

Slideshow

 

 


Toxins they inhaled

 
Media Clippings
High pollution levels in Delhi may have cost Obama 6 hours of his life

FirstPost, Jan 28, 2015

Delhi’s Terrible Air Quality in Four Charts

Rukmini S, The Hindu, Dec 13, 2014

Subah Ki Hava nahin rahi tarotaza

Amar Ujala, Page 5, Dec 12, 2014

Dilli ki morning walk dama rogiyon ke liye khatarnaak

Dainik Bhaskar, Page 2, Dec 12, 2014

Even inside homes, Delhiites not safe from air pollution: CSE

Financial Express (PTI), Dec 12, 2014

Delhi's foul air may pose serious health risks: Experts

Business Standard (IANS), Dec 11, 2014

Air quality worst at night, early morning

TNN, Dec 12, 2014

Delhi needs an emergency pollution plan, says CSE

The Hindu, Dec 12, 2014

Delhi's air pollution level alarming in winter mornings: CSE

Somesh Jha, Business Standard, Dec 12, 2012

Walk outs dark pollution secret

G.S. Mudur, The Telegraph, Dec 12, 2014

Air at public places badly polluted

Jayashree Nandi, TNN, Dec 11, 2014,

New Delhi losing battle against air pollution, finds study

Age Correspondent, Dec 12, 2014

Even Inside Homes, Delhiites Not Safe From Air Pollution: Study

NDTV, Dec 11, 2014

Delhi's foul air may pose serious health risks: Experts

India Gazette (IANS), Dec 12, 2014

Delhiites not safe from air pollution even inside homes: CSE

Jagran Post News Desk, Dec 11, 2014

How Delhi is losing the pollution battle

The Hindu, Dec 11, 2013