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Air pollution level very high in Bengaluru, walkers and open vehicles worst hit.

Bengaluru is in the grip of rising air pollution. Official ambient air quality monitoring has already shown 57% increase in particulate matter in just 4 years (2010-2014) and 23% in one year (2013-14- 2014-15). In more than 85% of monitoring locations the levels have exceeded standards.

CSE exposure monitoring has provided 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. Bangalore 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.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released its results from its recent analysis of the official ambient air quality monitoring in Bengaluru as well as its own exposure monitoring in Bengaluru. This has exposed very high level of pollution within the breathing zone of people. This indicates serious public health risk.

The relatively lower ambient levels as compared to northern cities like Delhi should not breed complacency, as most of the health effects occur at a level much lower from the current standards. Moreover, direct exposure to toxic fumes is very high in the city. Improving urban air quality and protecting the sustainable urban commuting practices are some of the toughest challenges. “Bengaluru, while having made some significant strides in meeting air quality challenges, faces newer challenges. It needs technology leapfrog, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking for clean air,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director, CSE.

This emerged out of the media workshop conducted in Bangalore by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, CSE. It was organised to share concerns and find solutions to the daunting air pollution and mobility challenges facing our cities. Half of the urban population breathes air laced with particulate pollution that has exceeded the standards. The dialogue unveiled the unique challenges and the emerging good practices to draw lessons for the roadmap for the country.

What has CSE done?

CSE has analysed the ambient air quality data from official monitoring stations of KSPCB, to understand the real time trend over time in Bengaluru. In addition, using its realtime and portable monitor, CSE has also carried out a rapid diagnostic exposure monitoring in different locations of Bengaluru to understand what level of pollution people are exposed to on a daily basis.

What does official ambient monitoring show?

Among the key southern cities that are monitored by Central Pollution Control Board, Bangalore has recorded 57% increase in PM10 between 2010 and 2014, highest amongst southern cities just in four years. Only in one year – 2013-14 and 2014-15, the levels have increased by 23%. At the same time, NOx levels, though generally low, have also begun to increase.

Analysis of the air quality data between October 1 and later part of November, 2015 shows rapid build-up of pollution in the city. It increased several fold. “This demands immediate intervention to prevent further worsening and reversal of the trend to protect public health,” said Roy Chowdhury.

The CPCB data shows that in 85% of location the levels have begun to exceed the standards. The worst hit pollution hotspots include Graphite India Whitefield; AMCO battery Mysore Road; Silk Board Hosur; and Victoria hospital.

Results of CSE’s exposure monitoring: High exposure to toxic fumes CSE has used a state of the art portable air quality monitoring equipment to track how much pollution an individual in Bengaluru is exposed to while travelling. 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 boys and girls), industrial area (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 Central pollution control board for the city.

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 influence on public health. This has thrown up stunning results. 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 exposures

CSE monitoring during 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 an average ambient PM2.5 levels in the city in the range of 27 to 55 microgramme per cum – the actual exposure levels in the city were three to 12 times higher than the background ambient levels.

The pollution hotspots inside the cities paint the crisis:

The annual average and city average trends do not adequately capture the pollution hotspots inside the city and are not a good proxy for how much we are exposed to on a daily basis. Several localities inside the cities show hot spot trends. The worst area was the Peenya industrial area with 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 that 1 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 than ambient levels. The actual exposure is in the range between 139-260 microgramme per cubic metre. It is also the dominant approach. Even AC cars with windows rolled up have as high as 125 microgramme per cum. Commuters on sustainable modes are more at risk. This wars against WHO’s advice on active transportation of walking and cycling needed for both clean air and health security.

Particulate levels in southern cities are generally lower than other regions. But a cause of concern. Though the overall particulate levels are comparatively lower than the other regions in the country, the levels are much above the WHO guidelines. Also the global assessments that are now available from the Global Burden of Disease estimates show that the most of the health effects occur at lower levels. Also the cities have several local pollution hotspots, and road side exposures are also high. Annual averages do not help to address the risks. Air quality monitoring would need to address these challenges and issue health advisory to people. There is absolutely no reason to think that the risk in southern cities is lower than other cities. In fact, health study released by the Health Effect Institute in Chennai and Delhi in 2011 demonstrates this. In Chennai 0.4% increase in risk per 10-µg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration.

But in Delhi it is 0.15% increase in risk per 10-µg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration. Health concerns It may be noted that over the last two decade efforts have been made at local levels to assess the health impacts of air pollution. There is enough evidence to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to children, elderly, poor and all. India will have to take action now to reverse the trend of short-term effects as well as the long-term toxic effects. For toxic effects to surface there is a long latency period therefore exposure will have to be reduced today. Addressing air pollution and health risk has assumed greater importance after the release of the global burden of disease that has ranked air pollution as the fifth largest killer in India.

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