A First-Of-Its-Kind Magazine On Environment Which Is For Nature, Of Nature, By Us (RNI No.: UPBIL/2016/66220)

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TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.


High level of air pollution impact respiratory track in the human body and can cause swelling in the airway. High levels of air pollution have respirable pollutants that pass through the nose...


Smog, haze or succinctly put, air pollution, is a big problem not only in India but across the globe. It has compounded so much that air purifiers are fast making inroads on e-commerce portals as well as in affluent households and establishments. Inhaling toxic air is not only a major health risk, particularly for those with breathing problems but also impacts climate change, ecosystems, and biodiversity. Can something be done or are we heading towards an era when air purifiers will become household necessities like ACs, heaters, ROs, and water purifiers? TreeTake takes a look....

Air pollution is a familiar environmental health hazard. Sights of brown haze over a city, exhaust fumes billowing across a busy highway or a plume of smoke rising from a stack are not uncommon sights in India. Some types of air pollution are not seen, but the pungent smell alerts one. In summer, the hot winds sweeping over the cityscape are laden with dust and at Diwali the air is thick with fumes of crackers, causing untold misery to many. Air pollution is, in fact, a major threat to global health and prosperity. Air pollution, in all forms, is responsible for more than 6.5 million deaths each year globally, a number that has increased over the past two decades. Dr Santosh Kumar, senior faculty in pulmonary medicine department at the King George's Medical University, Lucknow said: “High level of air pollution impact respiratory track in the human body and can cause swelling in the airway. High levels of air pollution have respirable pollutants that pass through the nose," he said. “The size of particles affects their potential to cause health problems, like particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less are small enough to pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs. These particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects,” he added. Another chest specialist said: “Air purifiers can help some people to some extent but at a heavy cost and no one can remain locked up in air purified rooms 24/7. Air purifiers have mechanical filters which need to be replaced if the ambient air is too dirty. This is expensive and furthermore, domestic air purifiers can’t deal with noxious gases, only particulate matter.” 

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is a mix of hazardous substances from both human-made and natural sources.
Vehicle emissions, fuel oils and natural gas, by-products of manufacturing and power generation, particularly coal-fueled power plants and fumes from chemical production are the primary sources of human-made air pollution. Nature releases hazardous substances into the air, such as smoke from wildfires, which are often caused by people; ash and gases from volcanic eruptions and gases like methane, which are emitted from decomposing organic matter in soil. Traffic-Related Air Pollution (TRAP), a mixture of gasses and particles, has most of the elements of human-made air pollution: ground-level ozone, various forms of carbon, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and fine particulate matter.

Ozone, an atmospheric gas, is often called smog when at ground level. Ozone is created when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants and industrial boilers etc. react chemically in sunlight. Noxious gases, which include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur oxides (SOx), are components of motor vehicle emissions and byproducts of industrial processes. Particulate matter (PM) is composed of chemicals such as sulfates, nitrates, carbon, or mineral dusts. Vehicle and industrial emissions from fossil fuel combustion, cigarette smoke, and burning organic matter, such as wildfires, all contain PM.

A subset of PM, fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is 30 times thinner than a human hair. It can be inhaled deeply into lung tissue and contribute to serious health problems.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC) vaporize at or near room temperature—hence, the designation volatile. They are called organic because they contain carbon. VOCs are given off by paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, some furnishings, and even craft materials like glue. Gasoline and natural gas are major sources of VOCs, which are released during combustion.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen. In addition to combustion, many industrial processes, such as iron, steel, and rubber product manufacturing, as well as power generation, also produce PAHs as a by-product. PAHs are also found in particulate matter.

Air pollution and climate change

Air pollution and climate change affect each other through complex interactions in the atmosphere. Air pollution is intricately linked with climate change because both problems come largely from the same sources, such as emissions from burning fossil fuels. Both are threats to people’s health and the environment worldwide.

Air pollution, apart from casting a hazardous impact on human health, also affects the earth’s climate and ecosystems. Lower levels of air pollution result in better cardiovascular and respiratory health of populations in both the long- and short-term. Reducing ambient and household air pollution can also reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon particles and methane, therefore contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change.

Many of the sources of outdoor air pollution are also sources of high CO2 emissions. For example, the use of fossil fuels for power generation, industry and polluting transport are all major sources of both particulate matter and CO2. Air pollutants, such as methane and black carbon, are powerful short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) that contribute to climate change and ill-health. Although SLCPs persist in the atmosphere for short lifetimes, their global warming potential is often much greater than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Black carbon, a component of fine particulate matter, is one of the largest contributors to global warming after CO2. Black carbon warms the earth’s atmosphere by absorbing sunlight, thereby accelerating the melting of snow and ice. Methane, another SLCP, is a potent greenhouse gas that is 84 times more powerful than CO2 and is a precursor to the air pollutant ozone. Ozone and black carbon affect weather processes and decrease agricultural yields, thus threatening food security. 

Health impact of air pollution

Studies by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in the US have established a link between fine particulate matter and mortality. Air pollution exposure is associated with oxidative stress and inflammation in human cells, which may lay a foundation for chronic diseases and cancer. In 2013, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified air pollution as a human carcinogen. Mortality rates related to air pollution are a concern. Exposure to the air pollutant PM2.5 is associated with an increased risk of death.

A team of researchers found that deaths decreased after air pollution regulations were implemented and coal-powered plants were retired.  More specifically, they found exposure to PM2.5 from coal was associated with a mortality risk that was twice as high as the risk from exposure to PM2.5 from all sources. PM2.5 from coal is high in sulfur dioxide, black carbon, and metals. Public health concerns include cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and reproductive, neurological, and immune system disorders.
A large study of more than 57,000 women found living near major roadways may increase a woman’s risk for breast cancer. The NIEHS study found other airborne toxic substances, especially methylene chloride, which is used in aerosol products and paint removers, are also associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Occupational exposure to benzene, an industrial chemical and component of gasoline, can cause leukemia and is associated with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

A long-term study, 2000-2016, found an association between lung cancer incidence and increased reliance on coal for energy generation. Fine particulate matter can impair blood vessel function and speed up calcification in arteries. Air pollution can affect lung development and is implicated in the development of emphysema, asthma, and other respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Increases in asthma prevalence and severity are linked to urbanization and outdoor air pollution. Children living in low-income urban areas tend to have more asthma cases than others. Research published in 2023 tied two air pollutants, ozone and PM2.5, to asthma-related changes in children’s airways. PM and nitrogen oxide are linked to chronic bronchitis.
Air pollution affects everyone’s health, but certain groups may be harmed more. Almost 9 out of 10 people who live in urban areas worldwide are affected by air pollution, like children, for whom higher air pollution levels increase short-term respiratory infections. Breathing PM 2.5, even at relatively low levels, may alter the size of a child's developing brain, which may ultimately increase the risk for cognitive and emotional problems later in adolescence.
Prenatal exposure to PAHs was associated with brain development effects, slower processing speed, attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, and other neuro-behavioral problems in urban youth. Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, may have up to twice the risk of having a child with autism. In older adults and senior citizens, Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias are a health challenge. Air pollution was also found linked to a greater chance of developing several neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias.

Air pollution in India

Air pollution in India is a serious environmental issue, and ironically, among the country's top 10 most polluted cities, at least eight are situated in Uttar Pradesh. The main causes for toxic air are industrial pollution, vehicular emissions, crop burning and other sources. In autumn and spring, large scale crop residue burning in agriculture fields is a major source of smoke, smog and particulate pollution. Fuel wood and biomass burning is also a reason for haze and smoke observed above rural and urban skies.  The unsanctioned tyre pyrolysis plants, which recycle rubber tyres into low-grade oil and carbon black also contribute to air pollution.
Use of adulterated fuel by auto-rickshaws and traffic congestion are also reasons. Traffic congestion reduces the average traffic speed. At low speeds, scientific studies reveal that vehicles burn fuel inefficiently and pollute more per trip.

Prof Venkatesh Dutta, Department of Environment Science, Babasahab Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, said: “Industrial activity, construction and vehicular emissions and solid waste burning  etc. all contribute to air pollution. Roads are uneven and there is a lot of idling at traffic signals, Proper road infrastructure and traffic planning are essential in urban areas to ease vehicular pollution. Individuals should use public transport as much as possible. In our university, there is a no vehicle day every week. Every Wednesday is a bicycle day. One should go for higher norms when buying vehicles and ensure they are fuel efficient. People should avoid leaf and garbage burning. In constructions, norms should be followed like using barricading and sprinklers. The watering of the site is very important.” 

Action taken by government

The government has taken several measures to check air pollution. These include:

- Switching to BS-VI norms from BS-IV for fuel and vehicles since April 2018 in NCT and from April 1, 2020 for rest of the country has been introduced.

-Network of metro rails for public transport is enhanced and more cities are covered.

-Development of Expressway and Highways are also reducing fuel consumption and pollution.

-Eastern Peripheral Expressway & Western Peripheral Expressway has been operationalized to divert non destined traffic from Delhi.

-Ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles and 15-year-old vehicles in Delhi NCR.

-Environment protection charges (EPC) have been imposed on diesel vehicles with engine capacity of 2000cc and above in Delhi NCR.

-Introduction of cleaner/alternate fuels like CNG, LPG, ethanol blending in petrol.

-Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) -2 schemes rolled out.

-Permit requirement for electric vehicles has been exempted.

-Promotion of public transport and improvements in roads and building of more bridges to ease congestion on roads.

-Ban on use of pet coke and furnace oil in NCR, use of pet coke in processes in cement plants, lime kilns and calcium carbide manufacturing units.

-Stringent emission norms for Coal based Thermal Power Plants (TPPs).

-Installation of online continuous emission monitoring devices in highly polluting industries. Shifting of brick kilns in Delhi- NCR to zig-zag technology for reduction of pollution.

-Notified emission standards for industrial boilers and five industrial sectors i.e. lime kiln, foundry, ceramic, glass and reheating furnaces, in the year 2018.

-Notification of eight waste management rules covering solid waste, plastic waste, e-waste, bio-medical waste, C&D waste, hazardous waste, battery waste and ash generated from thermal power plants.

-Setting up infrastructure such as waste processing plants.

-Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) framework for plastic packaging, battery waste, tyre waste and e-waste have been implemented.

-Ban on burning of biomass/garbage.

-Expansion of air quality monitoring network of manual as well as continuous monitoring stations under programmes such as the National Air Monitoring Programme (NAMP).

-Initiation of pilot projects to assess alternate ambient monitoring technologies such as low-cost sensors and satellite-based monitoring.

-Public Grievances and Response System (PGRS) is developed under NCAP

-Emergency Response System (ERS) has been prepared in NCAP cities.

-Air quality monitoring cell constituted across the country in NCAP Cities.

-Implementation of Air Quality Early Warning System for Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow. The system provides alerts for taking timely actions.

-Public complaints regarding air pollution issues in Delhi NCR are taken through ‘Sameer App’, emails and social media 

-At present, ambient air quality is monitored through 1208 manual and real-time monitoring stations in 460 towns and cities across 28 states and 7 UTs in the country, further strengthened under NCAP.

-Under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs - Urban Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 there is a provision of Rs. 1,41,678 crores under SBM 2.0 for the period 2021-2026 for source segregation of garbage, reduction in single-use plastic, effective management of C&D waste, bio-remediation of all legacy dump sites and Metro rail projects to augment public transport network in cities and thereby improvement in air quality.

-Focus is also on e-buses and more than 15 lakh other categories of e-vehicles, setting up 5,000 Compressed Bio-Gas (CBG) production plants, CBG for use in automotive fuels.

-Under Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), target of providing 8 crore LPG connections has been achieved and focus is on further increasing the LPG coverage to reduce emissions from households due to cooking and adoption of cleaner fuels in the country

-Machines for in-situ crop residue management are promoted

-Subsidies are provided for establishment of Custom Hiring Centres.

-The government is also focusing on implementation of BSVI standards and phasing out older vehicular through the vehicle scrapping policy.

-It is going in for promotion of solar power and introducing schemes on bio-gas/ bio-methanation plants for managing organic wastes, Waste to energy plants, etc. apart from providing financial incentives for renewable projects.

-There is thrust on increasing forest/ tree cover on forest/ non-forest lands and improving quality of forest cover along with a Nagar Van Yojana.

As per environment expert Suman Mor: "While the current steps are excellent, stronger, more consistent, and more persistent implementation is essential. People have a crucial role in supplying social capital and enabling successful solutions in large cities.” According to her, sources of air pollution should be eradicated comprehensively, focusing not just on megacities like Delhi but also on other cities. This will necessitate not only short- and long-term planning, but also systematic execution, Cities with a healthy environment and culture should be rewarded, while others should be penalized. Air pollution education is also needed to raise public awareness. Another environmentalist said on condition of anonymity: “The government should give thrust to providing easy, convenient and comfortable public transport rather than building multi-layered parking lots which promote car buying.” 

Sanjeev Pradhan, environment engineer, Lucknow Municipal Corporation, said: "We ensure end-to-end paving to reduce dust, collect construction waste, go for water sprinkling and keep an eye on fires and biomass burning. We are increasing the capacity of C&D (construction and demolition) waste plant. On 25 hectares of land, we are developing green belt, which includes biodiversity park and Miyawaki forest to develop green lungs for the city. There is a plan for Nagar Van Yojana on 14 hectares of land. All this is for green lungs of the city. We are also developing parks and roadside green belts in coordination with departments concerned. We are also running awareness programmes in schools and through NGOs."

Civic/development bodies' role

The building bye laws and regulations entrust municipal bodies with the task of monitoring compliance of air pollution control measures by builders and plot owners. Municipal bodies should regularly monitor compliance with dust control measures by builders and plot-owners. They can also delegate monitoring functions to resident welfare associations (RWAs), at least for construction sites in and around residential colonies.

Ready mix concrete (RMC) mixture is essentially a mixture of concrete that is manufactured in a factory or at a batching plant and transferred to a construction site. The mixture emits a large amount of fly ash, which then contributes to air pollution. Civic bodies should intervene and regulate fly ash emissions from RMC plants. On-street parking in residential areas should  be made extremely difficult through the imposition of hefty fines and multiple conditions. Development bodies should ensure developers follow norma like using iron curtains, covering buildings with jute cloth  and using water sprinklers and smog guns.  Air pollution comes at a heavy cost to society, as well as the planet. Alarm bells are ringing as the climate is changing fast. Are we ready to change?

What people can do

There are many small, but critical sources of air pollution in our homes and neighbourhood, like vehicles, construction equipment, lawn mowers etc. Total emissions from these smaller but widespread sources are significantly large. 

-Use your car less. Vehicle exhaust is a major source of air pollution . Use a bicycle, carpool or public transport as far as possible.

-Keep your car in good repair. Fix exhaust and other problems as soon as possible.

-Turn off your engine. An idling engine creates a hot spot of pollution 

-Don't burn garbage. It is dangerous to health and environment.

-Plant and care for trees. Trees filter pollutants and absorb carbon dioxide. Trees also release oxygen into the atmosphere and help cool our homes.

-Switch to electric or hand-powered lawn equipment. 

-Use less energy. Choose efficient appliances. Turn off electrical stuff you are not using. 

-Become a champion for clean air, guiding others to follow suit.

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