There is no room for more pollution either in our air or in our lungs, says CSE's pre-Diwali assessment on the city's air quality

November 10, 2015

Need public support to say ‘no to crackers’ 

  •  The new analysis of the air quality data at the onset of this winter shows that the killer particles have already increased by 5 to 7 times since October 1st  

  • Toxic fume from cracker will only worsen this trend and will also deposit deadly chemicals in our environment that will remain trapped for days. 

  • Do not mar the festival times with ill-health

  • Delhi is awaiting a deadly winter. Acton to control pollution this winter must gather momentum. 

New Delhi, November 10, 2015: Centre for Science and Environment has issued a warning about the deadly impact of cracker pollution at the onset of winter when the air is already saturated. The new analysis of the air quality data available from the Delhi Pollution Control Committee shows that the levels of tiny particles of less than 2.5 micron size has already increased 7 times since October 1st this year. 

“This leaves no room for additional pollution in the city especially from crackers that not only pushes up the pollution spike but also laces it with deadly cancer causing substances,” says CSE executive director (research and advocacy) Anumita Roychowdhury. 

Since 2010, average Diwali pollution levels have shown very rapid build-up at least seven to eight times, but peak levels have hit ten times the standards. This leads to very high exposures that harm health of not only those who suffer from respiratory and cardiac problems but even that of the normal healthy people. Doctors in the Capital have noticed significant increase in emergency hospital admissions and increased use of medication in the general population during the Diwali week.  It is not enough to quibble over marginal changes in Diwali peak pollution from year to year. This requires strong community sensitization as well as judicious mix of regulatory controls to protect public health. 

CSE has analysed the air quality data for PM2.5 at the onset of the winter – from October 1 to November 10, 2015. This analysis paints a scary trend: 

• About 5 to 7 times increase in air pollution since October 1: The average PM2.5 level in the city on 1st October was 76 microgram/cubic metre. This has increased to  327 microgramme per cum on November 9 -- 4.3 times increase. But the highest average was on November 3, 2015 at 439 microgram/cubic metre – seven times increase over October 1 levels. The national ambient air quality standard for PM2.5 is 60 microgram/cubic metre. 

• Number of days with poor air quality to severe pollution days – as described in the official air quality index – are increasing rapidly: CSE has applied the official air quality index and found rapid increase in the number of days falling in ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ categories over the past few weeks. 

  • October had at least 3 days with moderate pollution; 7 days with poor air quality; 18 days with very poor category.  There were no days with severe pollution levels.

  • November so far has already shown 7 days with severe pollution levels 

• November 2015 so far has recorded higher pollution than same time last year: The pollution data for the period November 1-9, 2015 and the same period last year has shown higher levels this year. The average for this period last year was 230 microgramme per cum which has increased to 275 microgramme per cum. 

• The peak pollution at the onset of winter has already hit more than 9 times the standards: The highest 24-hour PM2.5 value so far since October 2015 has been recorded in Anand Vihar on 3rd November at 565 microgram/cubic metre. 

Several efforts are on table to control this problem. These include noise regulations for crackers, ban on unregulated Chinese crackers, time restrictions for crackers along with advisory on distance from residence, schools and hospitals. But enforcement has remained a serious challenge. 

Says Roychowdhury: “But this is also an issue that cannot be tackled only with command and control measures. This requires strong public campaign to build awareness and support.” 

What is at stake – our health
Crackers are a mix of deadly chemicals. It’s a myth that silent crackers and sparklers are safer. In fact, their coloured flames include deadly toxic metals. Crackers not only emit more of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide but also spew cancer causing toxins. 

Doctors are warning against breathlessness, cough, ashthma, pulmonary disease, rhinitis, and lower respiratory tract infection. Those suffering from broncho constriction, wheezing; chronic obstruction pulmonary disease need precaution. High exposures to metal particles are known to be associated with lung cancer, pneumoconiosis, emphysema and high toxic effect on cells in the long run. Though Diwali is a short term exposure it adds to the already high exposure in the city.

Children are more vulnerable. Already the joint studies of Central Pollution Control Board and Chittaranja National Cncer Research Institute have shown every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs. At their growing age due to greater level of physical activity they inhale more volume of air and therefore more pollution. 

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 issues emergency plan to curb air pollution. This includes ban on fireworks when the city experiences 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 halts fireworks sales entirely if the pollution rises to dangerous levels. There are time and place restrictions. All fireworks are labelled.

Shanghai has cut the city's number of authorised firework sellers after pollution levels increased five times after fireworks extravaganza in 2013. 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. 

• 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. There can be fine up to £5,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 6 months for selling or using fireworks illegally. This also includes on-the-spot fine of £90. and a penalty of up to £5,000 or six months in prison can be issued for a breach. There is strict time restriction for cracker burning and sales. 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. 

Act now

• Enforce time restriction already in place and discourage fireworks in sensitive areas including near hospital, schools and densely populated residential areas 

 Issue continuous alert on pollution levels during Diwali to make people aware of the worsening pollution 

• Limit licenses and areas of sales to control volume of sales

• Organise random inspection to check non-compliant crackers. 

• In the longer term tighten sound standards for crackers and regulate chemical composition; Impose high pollution cess on crackers based on polluter pay principle

• Enforce strict labeling of crackers with warning on health

• Expand the scope of monitoring of environmental risk from fireworks 

• Intensify public campaign to sensitise community 

 

For queries and interviews, please connect to Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/ vrinda.nagar@cseindia.org.