Step out of the home and it seems you are in midst of post-apocalyptic themed Hollywood flick like Mad Max: Road Fury or Maze Runner – The Scorch Trials. The entire city is enveloped in a dusty haze. It has been like this for nearly a week now. No winds, no sun are making things worse. So much so that government schools have shut down. The private schools have asked kids to wear anti-pollution masks to the school. Noida smog which started post Diwali is persistent.
The air pollution has even moved indoors complain our fellow Noida residents. The worsening air quality, therefore, is making elderly and the young kids breathless. As we took a stroll outside it caused our eyes to burn. There is low visibility due to smoke and dust. The disposable surgical masks are doing a brisk sale quips our local pharmacist. No wonder!
What is causing Noida smog
The haze and dust blanket over Noida city could be, perhaps, attributed to – annual stubble burning by farmers, vehicular emissions, road dust, construction activities and record fire crackers burning during Diwali.
The mechanized road sweeping was introduced in Noida in July last year. There already is a plan in place to keep the six main roads of Noida clean. These roads with a nocturnal mechanized road cleaning program are – MP-I, MP-II, MP-III, Dadri-Surajpur-Chalera (DSC) road (now Lt Vijayant Thapar Marg), Noida-Greater Noida expressway and Udyog Marg. While the interior roads are swept manually by the authority’s sweeper staff.
Construction and Vehicular Emission
Noida is a hub of construction projects. There is humongous construction activity, residential as well as commercial, currently underway in Noida. Presently even the main roads mentioned above are part of government ordered constructions for widening as well as construction of flyovers and metro rail. Consequently adding the haze and dust to Noida smog.
There is no denying of the traffic woes in Noida. Being a suburb to the national capital Delhi, Noida city sees heavy vehicular movement. It is a no brainer that gas emissions from these automobiles make huge contribution to the particulate pollution (high levels of PM 10 and PM 2.5) in Noida.
Crop burning too has been pointed out as a major pollutant in Delhi-NCR by monitoring agencies the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi Pollution Control Committee and SAFAR. The farmers in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana prep for Rabi crop during October. In the process they burn the stubble of paddy crop.
The Diwali weekend is said to have contributed a fair share this time to poor air quality in the city. As we were reveling in the festivities and lighting firecrackers we did not realize that these emit hazardous levels of PM2.5. According to a study done in 2016, six popular firecrackers–the snake tablet, the laad (string of 1,000 crackers), fuljhadi (sparkler), the pul-pul (string sparkler), anar (flower-pot), chakri (spinning firecracker)–emit particulate matter 200 to 2,000 times the safe limits as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The study was conducted by the Chest Research Foundation, Pune, and students from the Interdisciplinary School of Health Sciences of the University of Pune.
Wind Speed and Wind Direction Adding Woes to the Pollution Problem
All these factors have played their bit in raising the pollution levels to unprecedented levels not seen in nearly 10 years. The changed wind patterns have actually compounded the pollution woes for city dwellers. The low wind speeds and reversal in wind direction has been cited by met officials preventing dispersal of pollutants. Normally, the wind direction in Delhi is north westerly (west to east). But from October 28 till date, the north north easterly (east to west) component was prevailing as per the met department.
The Health Hazards of Air Pollution
The World Health Organization recommends that PM2.5 is kept below 10 as an annual average. It says exposure to average annual concentrations of PM2.5 of 35 or above is associated with a 15% higher long-term mortality risk. Exposure to particulate matter for a long time can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, lung cancer and heart attack. Last year, the Global Burden of Disease study pinned outdoor air pollution as the fifth largest killer in India.
What Can Possibly be Done
It is observed pollution is persistent problem of the city. Therefore, it requires solutions to tackle this by focusing on contributing factors for poor air quality in Noida. Mechanized vacuum road cleaning, as we wrote earlier, is already undertaken by the Noida authority. Sprinklers or mist fountains are the need of the hour. Construction sites should be properly covered as was done by the Wave City Center project after complaints by the RWAs of the nearby areas. Night sweeping should be done to allow dust settle down by morning.
Vehicular emissions could be curbed by taking measures like banning trucks in the city during day. Discouraging heavy emission vehicles by levying high taxes. Incentivize energy efficient electric vehicles. Raise parking fees. Make main markets as no vehicle zones. Develop cycle tracks. Remove encroachments from pedestrian tracks. Cycle track work in Noida is under development. However, the track loops sometimes abruptly terminate in dead ends.
Crop burning issue needs sensitization of farmers. Programs should be run to spread awareness about the pollution situation. So does the message of green Diwali should come stronger. We were too happy to drive away the demons of chikungunya with our cracker burning. Seems like the city too choked on the smoke. Although the share of cracker bursting might have been little and short term in pollutant contribution. Yet we all should do our bit for a cleaner, greener and a better city.
Lets hope for strong westerlies. In the meantime keep your mask handy for Noida smog.
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