Data on ambient air quality from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) averages out pollution through the day. The process claims that Bengaluru has either moderate or satisfactory air quality — much better than some cities in northern India.
However, does that mean you are breathing clean air? A recent independent study shows that the breathable pollution level is much higher in the city, especially during peak traffic hours, putting a large number of people in harm’s way.
A seven-day air quality monitoring exercise taken up by Co Media Lab and Climate Trends, has found that the particulate matter averages observed over four hours during peak time in the morning and evening were consistently above 200 micrograms per cubic metre, indicating very poor air quality levels. Climate Trends is a Bengaluru organisation that works on solutions to air pollution, and Co Media Lab is a community media lab.
A low-cost monitor used to measure personalised exposure levels was installed in an auto fitted with a GPS tracker which travelled to various junctions and sensitive areas where pollution spikes have taken place before. The impact of traffic on pollution levels was monitored during the peak hours on arterial roads, including, Jayanagar/Banashakari, Silk Board, Electronics City, Whitefield, Uttarahalli, M.G. Road, and Mehkri Circle.
“The pollution control board monitors the ambient air quality, which have regulatory standards. What we have monitored is the peak-hour pollution level, which do not have any national standards. So while the KSPCB says that the ambient air quality is either good or satisfactory, our study shows that people are exposed to high level of pollutants while travelling,” said Aishwarya Sudir, a city-based environmental researcher.
The national ambient air quality standard of 60 micrograms (μg) per cubic metre (m3) for PM 2.5 (the smallest and the most harmful particulate matter and commonly used as the best indicator of severe air pollution) and 100 μg/m3 PM10 was crossed by a huge margin on all these roads, the study found. The PM 2.5 at New Tharagupet was found to be highest during peak hour at 200 μg/m3, followed by Kengeri Road at 195 μg/m3.
“It is sad that the right to develop has become the right to pollute as well. Every time I ride to office I can feel the dust and smoke in the air. The authorities should do something to improve public transport so that more people can use it,” said Selvakumar R., a regular commuter.
Stating that vehicular traffic and waste burning were the major reasons for the pollution in the city, each contributing over 25%, followed by construction and road dust, Ms. Sudir added that like Delhi, Bengaluru also needs a implementable action plan to address pollution. “Just announcing car-free Sundays wont help. The traffic and pollution problem is there on the weekdays. The government should involve citizens to find scientific solutions to the problem,” she said.
KSPCB officials, however, said any study using low-cost monitoring equipment should be taken with a pinch of salt as they were inherently unreliable. “Different equipment cost between ₹40,000 and ₹28 lakh. The lower the cost, the worse the calibration,” said an officer, and added, “The Central Pollution Control Board specifies 24 hour averages and nearly 12 parameters to be followed. Data should be taken at ambient level (3 m above ground) as closer to the street level, even a passing truck can lead to spikes in pollution.”
Many pollution blind spots in city
While concerns rise over the Bengaluru’s air pollution levels, many parts of the sprawling city may be in the pollution blind spot.
According to the KSPCB, they run 20 air quality monitoring stations, while the Central Pollution Control Board runs five. “If we have one more station, we meet the standards of two stations for one million population as set by the World Health Organisation,” said an official. Each monitoring station can cost from ₹3 lakh for manual monitoring to over ₹1.25 crore for continuous real-time monitoring.
However, what the KSPCB admits is the disproportionate coverage of areas by these monitoring stations. Mysuru Road, for instance, has four pollution monitoring stations, while the busy road towards the airport (20-km stretch between Balekundri Circle and Bagalur) has only one, at Hebbal.
There is a clear concentration of monitoring stations in south Bengaluru, and industrial areas of Peenya and Yeshwantpur, while large parts of east Bengaluru — stretching from Shivajinagar till Banaswadi — are nearly uncovered. West Bengaluru has just one air pollution monitoring station.
“Many of the monitoring stations are in older areas. We haven’t kept pace with the growth of the city. However, we may still get an accurate picture as the wind speeds, which are good, will carry pollution from one uncovered area to the nearby monitoring station,” said an official.
This is an unedited news that first appeared on thehindu.com