First National Air Pollution Study of India Declares Air Unfit to Breathe
New Delhi, 3 June 2006:
Millions of Indians are exposed to dangerous levels of highly toxic
gases, including Volatile Organic Compounds and Sulphur gases, through
the air they breathe, according to a report released by Chennai-based
Community Environmental Monitoring. Titled "Smokescreen: Ambient Air
Quality in India," the report documents at least 45 chemicals,
including 13 carcinogens, that were found in 21 air samples taken from
13 locations around the country between 2004 and 2006. Twenty-eight
chemicals were found at levels up to 32,000 times higher than levels
considered safe in residential air by US environmental Protection
Agency (USEPA). The samples have been taken from residential areas and
public thoroughfares in or near industrial areas, effluent discharge
channels, smoldering garbage dumps and toxic waste facilities that
include landfills and incinerators. The chemicals found target
virtually every system in the human body – eyes, central nervous
system, skin and respiratory system, liver, kidneys, blood,
cardiovascular system, reproductive system.
India has no
standards for these chemicals in ambient air. As a result, there is
neither monitoring for nor regulation of the toxic gases in ambient
air. "After nearly a century of industrialization, as India is poised
to nearly double its industrial capacity in the coming years, our
nation is pathetically behind in terms of its infrastructure to
safeguard its environment or the health of people from air pollution,"
said Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring. "Air
pollution monitoring and regulation is primitive, and the world’s
fourth largest economy has no standards for some of the most toxic and
commonly found air pollutants."
2004, pursuant to a report by Cuddalore-based SIPCOT Area Community
Environmental Monitors, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee directed
the Central Pollution Control Board to lay down standards for VOC and
Sulphur gases. But the task has not been done till date. Even worse, as
early as in 1999-2000, the Ministry had provided $6.5 million for
"Ambient Air Quality Monitoring" for benzene and other VOCs, and set
aside an additional $1 million (Rs. 4.5 crores) for setting standards
for VOCs. The outcome of this project is not known. Meanwhile,
regulators are refusing to acknowledge community concerns about air
pollution stating that nothing can be done because no standards exist.
"It is suicidal
to dismiss community complaints of odours from chemical factories, or
burning garbage dumps, or traffic pollution as a mere nuisance. Odours
indicate the presence of potentially toxic chemicals which have real
health effects and effects on the economy," said Denny Larson of US
based Global Community Monitor (GCM). According to 1995 estimates in a
study commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, total
annual economic losses due to air pollution could exceed 9000 crores
equivalent to about 1 percent of the GDP.
"The sweet smell
of nail polish may indicate the presence of acetone; a rotten cabbage
smell means sulphur-carrying mercaptans; hydrogen sulphide smells of
rotten eggs and so on," said M. Nizamudeen of FEDCOT, an activist
working with the pollution-impacted communities in the SIPCOT chemicals
industrial estate in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu. Community monitors in
SIPCOT have c\documented 36 different odours through a unique odour
monitoring exercise in the chemical estate.
Some of the notable samples included:
Delhi Traffic junction at ITO: 18 chemicals found; cancer-causing benzene 104 times higher than the safe levels
Chemplast Sanmar PVC factory in Mettur Dam: 17 chemicals including six carcinogens; 1,2-diclhoroethane 32000 times above the safe levels.
Garbage burning in Perungudi, Tamil Nadu:
27 chemicals found, including carcinogenic 1,3-butadiene and benzene at
34782 times and 2360 times higher than safe levels respectively.
Landfill Gas at Hindustan Insecticides Ltd, Kerala:
The only sample that detected hexachlorobutadiene, an indicator of
dioxin – one of the most poisonous chemicals known to science.
The report was
released today by Ms. Sunita Naraian of Centre for Science and
Environment, and followed by a panel discussion addressed by Dr. D. B.
Boralkar, Chairman Maharashtra Polution Control Board, and Dr. B.
Sengupta, and Dr. Chandrabhushan of CSE. Others addressing the meeting
include: M. Nizamudeen, FECOT (Tamil Nadu); occupational health
specialist Vijay Kanhere; V. Purushan of Periyar Anti-pollution
Committee and Shibu Nair of Thanal Kerala.
in the National Air Toxics exercise include: West Konur Farmer’s
Association (Mettur), Save Palliakarnai Marshlands Forum (Chennai), The
Other Media (Delhi), Global Community Monitor (USA), Paryavaran
Suraksha Samiti (Gujarat), Patancheru Anti-pollution Committee (Andhra
Pradesh), Farmer’s Action Group (Surat), and Citizens Against Pollution
(Andhra Pradesh), Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samiti and Thanal of
GCM has played a
major role in popularizing the Bucket sampling device used by
communities in Phillipines, South Africa, USA, Australia, India and
many others for grabbing polluted air samples for analyses. Bucket
samples, such as the 21 taken from India, are sent to a US EPA
accredited laboratory in California, where they are tested for 67 VOCs
and 20 sulphur gases.