Pollution levels shoot up; doctors warn of serious health consequences; activist slams TNPCB for not doing enough
Chennai city was on Saturday morning covered by a thick blanket of smog as residents in many areas burnt garbage, old mats and clothes to celebrate Bhogi, the first day of Pongal. The smoke from these fires mixed with the fog and the lack of winds let the smog remain in the ambient air till as late as 9.30 a.m. Many residents suffered from breathing difficulty, cough, sneezing and watery eyes.
Madhavaram resident G. Devarajan, an asthma patient, said he felt breathless due to the thick smoke engulfing his area. “Though there is a lot of awareness among the people about not burning garbage, many still continue to burn old mats and clothes saying it is part of the tradition. I had to take medication for my condition,” he said.
Elders, kids at risk
Pulmonologist Hisamuddin Papa explained that Saturday’s smoke was very bad and in the long run it can cause problems. “Over a period of time, such smoke and exhaust from vehicles can lead to Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease. People who have lung problems, elders and children are more vulnerable. For those with asthma, these physical particles can trigger an attack. We will get to see patients coming in for a week or ten days with issues,” he said.
According to data provided by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), among the 15 zones of the Chennai Corporation, the Valasaravakkam zone recorded the highest PM10 (particulate matter up to 10 microns) level and it reached 386 microgram/cubic metre. The permissible limit for PM10 is 100 microgram/cubic metre. The TNPCB said that when compared to last year, pollution levels were higher in 13 zones.
G. Kumar, a resident of T. Nagar, said that he delayed his morning walk due to the smog. “I also ensured that children stayed indoors. The smell of burning matter hung in the air. It could be sensed even inside homes till late in the day. We do not close the windows since it is pleasant at nights this time of the year. However, by 3 a.m. we had to close them,” he added.
Even on pre-Bhogi day, pollution levels were beyond the permissible limit in eight zones. Data obtained from the Central Pollution Control Board National Air quality Index (AQI) of 315 (where 315 is PM2.5 levels measured in microgram/cubic metre) at the continuous monitoring station at Manali, which touched 500 later in the day, which means that the pollution levels would affect even healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases. While the station at the Alandur bus terminus recorded an AQI of 238 and a maximum of 445 microgram/cubic metre where the AQI meant that the smog would lead to breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure; the one at IIT-Madras recorded an AQI of 116 and a maximum of 462 microgram/cubic metre.
Too much on Anna Salai
An independent air quality monitoring exercise undertaken by Huma Lung Foundation and Health Energy Initiative India at five locations showed that some points including, Kodungaiyur and Anna Salai, recorded PM2.5 over 500 microgram/ cubic metre.
Environmental activist Swetha Narayan said the TNPCB has not done much to control the smog on Bhogi day. “Between 2005 and 2010, the Board did massive awareness work and pollution levels were bearable. As a person who has lived here for 14 years, I feel this is the worst Bhogi so far. What happened this year? How much have they spent on monitoring? What action have they taken on violators,” she asked.
Thousands of passengers suffered as all flights at the Chennai airport were delayed and 12 of them were diverted due to poor visibility, officials said. The last flight departed from the airport at 3.30 p.m. and after that, the visibility began to dip at the airport. As the visibility was reduced to 50 m and then to almost zero, none of the flights could land or take off after that.
Twelve flights, eight international and four domestic were diverted to destinations like Bengaluru and Hyderabad. At 9.30 a.m., Air India's flight from Delhi arrived and one after another others too began to land. As the morning operations came to standstill, the consequential delays of other flights continued till late noon. Few flights to destinations including Pune and Sharjah were cancelled too.
Lakshmi Ramnarayan, a passenger from Mumbai who had to arrive from Muscat at 6.30 a.m., came only by 9.30 a.m. “I realised it was a big mistake to have to taken an early morning flight on the day before Pongal. I had a meeting scheduled at 9 a.m. and my clients were waiting for me. It was such an embarrassment. I was frustrated by the time we landed,” she said.
Another passenger Reema. S, who had to go to Kochi was disappointed as her flight was cancelled. “I had to attend a friend's wedding in the evening. Now, I am left wondering how to reach Kochi,” she added.
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