On the morning of 29 November, Beijing woke up to air pollution levels not seen in over a year. The city’s government immediately issued an alert and ordered factories to stop or reduce production.


The same morning, Delhi woke up to pollution levels much higher than Beijing’s.

And it hosted the Delhi half marathon.

In the name of health awareness, the runners breathed air laced with pollutants exponentially beyond safe levels. And they inhaled 10-20 times as much air as a sedentary person does.

In sharp contrast, the embassies of Norway and the United States have taken urgent steps to safeguard their personnel. While Norwegian officials are set to get “hardship pay” for working in New Delhi, the US embassy’s school has cancelled outdoor activities for its students.

The stark difference in attitudes, perhaps, is because most Delhiites know little about how exactly the city’s air is killing them. Slowly. Daily.

The government has largely failed to make people aware of how the pollution affects them, what the main pollutants are, what precautions they should take, the types of masks they should wear, and suchlike.

It only dumps air pollution data on a rather glib website, on a page full of numbers and technical terms befitting a chemistry textbook.

There is no air warning system in Delhi that could alert citizens, shut down schools and prohibit outdoor activity when pollution reaches hazardous levels.

Most of all, though, the residents should know what exactly makes Delhi’s air so toxic. Even if you know what it is – the toxin is called PM 2.5 – there is no easy way to know how harmful it is.

So, here’s a primer.

Why are we talking about PM2.5?

Delhi’s air is not polluted as much with poisonous gases as it’s with really tiny particles known as PM2.5. And its levels are consistently 16-20 times higher than the prescribed standard. At the time of the half marathon, it was 48 times the limit.

Greenpeace recently found that even inside Delhi’s classrooms, PM2.5 levels were 11 times the limit.

What is PM2.5?

PM stands for particulate matter, while the number refers to the size of the particles. So, PM2.5 is like extremely fine dust whose particles are just 2.5 microns wide — that’s thirty times smaller than the width of a human hair.
The tiny size makes it harder to prevent PM2.5 from getting into the body, making it deadlier.

What exactly is PM2.5 made up of?

There is no easy answer to this since the toxin is identified more by its size than what it contains. It could be a variety of solid or liquid chemicals.

According to the United States’ Environment Protection Agency, a PM2.5 particle, depending on where it’s emitted from, could contain compounds of any of these four materials:

Carbon – from cars, trucks, waste burning
Nitrate – from cars, trucks, thermal power generation
Sulphate – from thermal power generation
Crustal – suspended soil and metals
While individual particles obviously can’t be seen without special equipment, large amounts are visible as haze or smog.

Why is PM2.5 bad?

  1. Being tiny, these particles easily reach the lungs. From there, they can travel through the bloodstream and reach the heart.
  2. Long exposure to PM2.5 can worsen asthma and heart conditions. They also cause runny nose, sneezing and coughing.
  3. 5 coming from diesel vehicles contains carbon and is a carcinogenic.
  4. It can also cause other heart and lung diseases, or make them worse.
  5. It slow down development of lungs in children and can leave them with reduced lung function for the rest of their lives, according to the WHO.
  6. Illnesses caused by PM2.5 kill at least 3.1 million people a year across the world.
  7. The WHO estimates that exposure to PM2.5 reduces a person’s life expectancy by an average of 8.6 months.

How much of PM2.5 is safe?

The WHO says there is no safe level, PM2.5 is harmful in any amount. Still, there are standards on how much PM2.5 is too much.
As per the WHO’s own standards, the average PM2.5 levels should not exceed 10 mg per cubic metre in one year.
In one day, it should be under 25. Indian safety limits, however, are more relaxed – at 60.
WHO says PM2.5 level mustn’t exceed 25 mg/cubic metre. Yet, India has relaxed the limit to 60

What’s the best protection from PM2.5?

  1. Protecting yourself from PM2.5 doesn’t require gas masks, but cotton masks that can block very fine particles.
  2. It is recommended to use an N-95 mask, the same one used to protect against the H1N1 virus.
  3. Unfortunately, planting more trees does nothing to solve the problem.
  4. Since PM2.5 are particles and not gases, they can’t be processed by the leaves.
  5. In fact, a high tree density can make the exposure worse because the extra moisture in the air would trap the particles instead of letting them fly away with the wind.
  6. The only way to cut down PM2.5 levels is to stop it at the source – cars, factories, waste burning, thermal power plants. Until then, strap on the N-95s.

Only way to reduce PM2.5 is to stop it at source – cars, factories, waste burning, thermal plants


Source - CatchNews | Pic - Vox-cdn

Any doubts?

  1. Nagu Mailari

    What is n-95 mask

  2. Neha Barwa

    thanks for providing brief theory on it…..

  3. MK

    Hey, I can’t find the link for the daily PIB news on the site, someone please reply with the right link for the same!

  4. Rashid Anchad

    please explain the difference between black carbon and brown carbon
    how their effects on humans are different

  5. nitika mann

    Must increase the number of public transport and use more n more public transport for same department employees. …Instead of their private vehicles…government have to take some sensable steps rather than jus odd n even formula….

  6. Siddhartha Singh

    Please make correction in the number of pollutants used in AQI. Total 8 pollutants are considered for prescribing the quality of air. These are- PM10, PM2.5, NH3, NO2, SO2, O3, Pb and CO.

    Source- PIB

  7. Ankur Yarazarvi

    AQI pollutants, in some places its given as 5 pollutants are monitored , and in others 7 pollutants and I remember reading 8 pollutants too! Which is correct.?

    1. Simran Bains

      Eight eight eight!! Though many get confused between eight n six!

    2. Arun Muradnar

      We have to refer Ministry of Environment and forests release, which says –
      The proposed AQI consider eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb)

      Link –

  8. Rakesh Tagavula

    Why doesn’t organizations make use of buses instead of bunch of car’s?

  9. Rohit Pande

    This is a good one! Did SC take up the matter on its own? I presume this would cover vehicles used for on duty staff, right?

Simply put: How firecrackers work, impact your health

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Central Pollution Control Board, Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA), Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), Yanshui Festival, Guy Fawkes Night

Mains level: Air pollution and various aspects related to it



  1. Citing toxins in the air, Supreme Court has banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR this Diwali
  2. In November 2016, as a great smog enveloped Delhi for days after Diwali, the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) told the Supreme Court that the capital’s terrible air quality had been “compounded” by the burning of firecrackers

Document available for impact of fireworks

  1. The only official document on the ‘known health impact’ of fireworks is a compilation of findings of surveys, put together by Central Pollution Control Board
  2. This was also done after the court ordered the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, to study the harmful effects of firecrackers following the EPCA’s submission
  3. The CPCB did not carry out the detailed study that the Supreme Court asked for
  4. Why? It said the competence lay with the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the explosives regulator under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry

Existing guidelines

  1. The CPCB affidavit refers to four types of explosive firecrackers — atom bombs, Chinese crackers, garland crackers and maroons — for which guidelines exist
  2. According to these guidelines, the sulphur content must not exceed 20%, nitrates 57%, and aluminium powder contents, 24%
  3. The guidelines were silent on heavy metals such as cobalt, copper and magnesium, extremely toxic compounds of which are widely used as colouring or regulating agents
  4. In July 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that “no firecrackers manufactured by the respondents shall contain antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead”

How firecrackers impact health

  1. Studies in Europe, Canada and China have found links between increases in the concentration of fireworks, and variations in air quality
  2. Most of these studies have focused on festivals such as the Yanshui Festival in Taiwan, Montreal International Fireworks competition, Lantern Festival in Beijing, Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, etc
  3. According to 2014 study, ‘Potential Impact of Fireworks on Respiratory Health’, in Lung India, “Adults exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution have shown increased prevalence of chronic cough, phlegm, and breathlessness and are, therefore, at an increased risk of developing respiratory symptoms, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, allergic rhinitis, lower respiratory tract infections, and lung cancers.”
  4. A 2007 study, ‘Recreational Atmospheric Pollution Episodes: Inhalable Metalliferous Particles from Firework Displays’, had found that children were susceptible in particular since their defenses against particulate matter and other gaseous air pollutants were weaker


Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO)

  1. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) formerly Department of Explosives, Nagpur is the nodal Organization to look after safety requirements in manufacture, storage, transport and use of explosives and petroleum
  2. This Organisation comes under, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, Government of India
  3. As a statutory authority, PESO is entrusted with the responsibilities under the Explosives Act, 1884; Petroleum Act, 1934; Inflammable Substances Act, 1952, Environment (Protection Act), 1986

Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA)

  1. It is a Central Government constituted committee for the National Capital Region in compliance with the Supreme Court order dated January 7, 199893
  2. It was constituted under subsection (1) and (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 by MoEFCC
  3. This authority was constituted with sole objective of assisting SC for protecting and improving the quality of environment and preventing, controlling and abating air pollution in Delhi NCR

[op-ed snap] Don’t ban, say no


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Separation of powers between various organs, dispute redressal mechanisms & institutions

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Air pollution and factors related to it

Mains level: Efforts being done by government, society to reduce air pollution and their outcomes, way forward


  1. The Supreme Court has put its weight behind the 2016 ban on the sale of fireworks in Delhi-NCR
  2. This was imposed in response to an unusual plea filed by children affected by air pollution

Is ban a right step?

  1. A ban is an inefficient instrument
  2. Aimed at restricting a celebration, the ban on firecrackers may alienate people who were otherwise receptive to the idea of giving up or cutting down on the fireworks
  3. Besides, it would have the predictable effect of driving sales underground at inflated prices

Effect on Supreme court’s authority

  1. A Supreme Court ban which cannot be implemented in spirit would have the unfortunate effect of undermining the authority of the apex court in the eyes of the people

Other factors

  1. While the court has admitted that other factors like stubble burning contribute to the disastrous air quality of Delhi, the focus on fireworks makes its response seem unequal
  2. Livelihoods will be harmed by the court’s order

Judicial overreach?

  1. Matters of policy and implementation are ideally left to the legislature and executive
  2. The court has a moral obligation to step in if they are in complete dereliction of their duty to the people
  3. Since governments and society itself have shown an inclination to stop polluting practices, the last resort has been unnecessarily invoked

What court should have done?

  1. The Supreme Court could have urged government to intensify its efforts to influence the public will, and the process could have played out under its cautionary eye
  2. That would have been a better solution than to impose a ban which may be observed more in the breach

[op-ed snap] Getting charged up

Image Source


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Q.) “Research and smart trade agreements are needed to realise India’s ambitious electric vehicles target.” What kind of research and trade agreements are we looking for?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NEMMP, CEEW

Mains level: This topic is strategically and environmentally important.



  1. The article is related to India’s ‘ambitious electric vehicles target’

Important announcement

  1. The Government has recently announced that only electric vehicles (EVs) will be sold in India from 2030
  2. The current National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) has set a sales target of only 5-7 million EVs and hybrid electric vehicles annually by 2020

What is needed to achieve the above target?

  1. The Indian automobile market is expected to increase to an annual sales figure of around 23 million by 2030
  2. Replacing these with EVs would require a significant push as far as vehicle-charging infrastructure and batteries are concerned
  3. Technical Requirement: The transition would require a battery capacity of about 400 GWh (gigawatt hours) each year
  4. It is equivalent to increasing the current global EV battery production by a factor of five, just to cater to the Indian EV market

Can this target be achieved by imports?

  1. The annual EV battery market is expected to be around $30-55 billion
  2. India cannot afford to fulfil the demand solely through imports

What kind of batteries are used in EVs?

  1. Variants of lithium-ion batteries such as lithium-titanate, lithium-cobalt, and lithium-sulphurare predominantly used in electric vehicles

A Study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)

  1.  According to a study on India’s critical non-fuel minerals by the CEEW, manufacturing lithium-ion batteries would require critical minerals
  2. These minerals includes cobalt, graphite, lithium and phosphate
  3. Among them, lithium is of particular importance

Issues with lithium Prices

  1. 95% of global lithium production comes from Argentina, Australia, Chile and China
  2. The recent demand surge in the electric mobility market has already resulted in a twofold increase in lithium prices
  3. It is estimated by the CEEW that India would require about 40,000 tonnes of lithium to manufacture EV batteries in 2030
  4. it is important that India secure mineral supplies for its domestic industry by acquisition of overseas assets such as mineral reserves and the associated production

The Way forward

  1. There is a need to formulate policies which can encourage domestic public and private mining companies to invest in overseas lithium mining assets
  2. Also, India must focus on creating a vibrant battery research and development ecosystem domestically
  3. Research should focus on developing alternative technologies containing minerals with low supply risks
  4. And battery recycling techniques to recover associated minerals and materials
  5. Recycling lithium batteries will significantly reduce the burden in procuring fresh resources


[op-ed snap] It’s time to focus on the toxic air we breathe

Image result for National energy policy

Image source


Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Op-ed discusses about the draft National Energy Policy and its shortcomings.

Once you are done reading this op-ed, you will be able to attempt the below.

Critically examine the features of  Niti Aayog’s draft National Energy Policy?

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Air pollutants, National ambient air quality Index

Mains level: Features of National Energy Policy



  1. Niti Aayog released the draft National Energy Policy.
  2. Several public policy research and civil society organisations criticised the policy from various standpoints.

Public health and growth

  1. It ignores is public health, especially in the context of the energy mix envisaged under the NITI Ambition Scenario
    • Ambition Scenario is a tool to arrive at a range of possible energy futures for the energy sector till 2040.
  1. National Health Policy of 2017 views reducing air pollution as vital to India’s health trajectory.
  2. However, the National Energy Policy neither reflects nor supports the commitment outlined by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Ministry

Air pollution menace

  1. WHO reports that air pollution is the number one environmental health risk. In 2012, about 3 million premature deaths were attributable to ambient air pollution.
  2. Children are most affected by air pollution and will be the primary beneficiaries of policies to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
  3. Research has also established links between public health and a nation’s economic growth.
  4. The estimated cost of ambient air pollution in terms of the value of lives lost and ill health in OECD countries, India and China is more than $3.5 trillion annually.
  5. Joint study by the World Bank and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that the aggregate cost of premature deaths due to air pollution was more than $5 trillion worldwide in 2013 alone.
  6. In East and South Asia, welfare losses related to air pollution were about 7.5% of GDP.


WHO’s  Health Indicators of Sustainable Energy

  1. It lays out a few core and expanded indicators that can help monitor the progress of a nation’s energy policy.
  2. The core indicators address issues related to health equity where health impact assessments become an integral part of energy policy design and implementation.
  3. It stress on the need to develop baseline data by generating emission inventories and source apportionment of urban air pollution that can inform mitigation and intervention policies.

Way forward

  1. National Energy Policy have to strive to minimise the unavoidable health impacts of energy production, and their associated health costs, especially given the policy’s stated objectives of sustainability and economic growth.
  2. It should include a health impact assessment framework to weigh the health hazards and health costs associated with the entire life cycle of existing and future energy projects and technologies
  3. Ensure that policies directed at energy security are compatible with public health goals.

IIT team tracks brown carbon’s effect on atmospheric warming

  1. Source: Study by a team of researchers from IIT Kanpur
  2. Finding: The effect of biomass burning in increasing atmospheric aerosols and in turn atmospheric warming through light absorption
  3. The role of black carbon produced by biomass burning in increasing atmospheric warming is already known
  4. Brown carbon: This study highlights the lesser-known role of brown carbon
  5. Though brown carbon is 10 times more than black carbon in terms of mass, the absorption capacity of black carbon is 50 times more than brown carbon
  6. The study was conducted in Kanpur and can be extended to the entire Indo-Gangetic Plain because the sources of aerosol are the same

Air pollution: NGT directs setting up of monitoring panels

  1. What: NGT passed a slew of directions including setting up of centralised and state level monitoring committees
  2. Purpose: To prepare action plans to combat pollution
  3. It also asked 4 northern states to consider banning old diesel vehicles, in a bid to tackle environment emergencies
  4. The NGT directed that every state committee should, in their first meeting, notify one district where land use of agriculture is high
  5. It should then be made a model district for implementing orders to stop stubble burning
  6. It came down heavily on states for not taking action against farmers burning farm residues
  7. And asked them, particularly Punjab, to consider withdrawal of incentive including grant of free power to farmers burning crops
  8. It said that providing breathable air to citizens is the “constitutional” obligation of the state governments

India overtook China in number of deaths due to pollution: Report

  1. Source: Greenpeace India report
  2. Findings: India had more people dying every day as a result of outdoor air pollution in 2015 than China – a first since 1990
  3. India had 3,283 premature deaths due to ambient air pollution every day, as opposed to China’s 3,233 per day
  4. The number of deaths per day due to air pollution in India has risen from 2,139 per day in 1990 to 3,238 in 2015
  5. After toxic levels of particulate matter between 2005 and 2011, China implemented some harsh measures to curb air pollution

[op-ed snap] The arhar solution to pollution

  1. Context: Pusa Arhar 16 has the potential to be grown in the paddy-growing regions of India, with yield greater than those of the existing varieties
  2. Its uniform size will make it amenable to mechanical harvesting
  3. Advantages over paddy: Arhar straw, unlike paddy straw, is green and can be ploughed back into soil
  4. Paddy straw has high silica content, which does not allow for easy decomposition
  5. Social Benefits: Pulses will use less fertiliser, less water, fewer emissions, and will replenish the soil with nitrogen unlike paddy which depletes the soil
  6. However, because of guaranteed MSPs in paddy, it is less risky to grow than pulses

[op-ed snap] Persisting smog-reasons and measures to be taken

  1. Two-pronged approach needed: policy changes to help farmers stop burning crop waste and tackle problems created by urbanization
  2. Role of farmers: Farmers not at fault for trying to remove waste from land, they need help
  3. In northwestern States, they resort to burning straw to prepare for a wheat crop weeks after harvesting rice
  4. Indian Agricultural Research Institute’s report: emphasis on converting paddy straw into livestock feed, compost, raw material for power generation, biofuel production and as substrate for mushroom farming
  5. State support needed: for straw to be used as fodder, farmers should be assisted with supplemental stocks of urea and molasses, green fodder and legume waste
  6. State-guided modernisation programme needed: pave all roads well to curb dust, show zero tolerance to civic agencies leaving exposed mud after executing projects
  7. Clean transport sector- bus fleet should be augmented, preferably doubled, with modern high-capacity zero emission electric vehicles

[op-ed snap] India has 13 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world-WHO II

  1. Financial efforts: Adopt new technologies that cut down on harmful emissions, rural women should be compensated for switching to cleaner-burning cook stoves
  2. Farmers who now burn agricultural stubble need both financial and technical help to instead gather up that waste and convert it to energy
  3. Build new coal-fired power plants, use less-expensive solar power
  4. India’s advantages over China: Independent courts, free media, thriving environmental watchdogs
  5. India is at an earlier stage of development, it has a chance to avoid some of the mistakes its larger neighbour made

[op-ed snap] India has 13 of the 20 most polluted cities of the world-WHO I

  1. Context: India’s air has become unbreathable. Urgent action is needed to cleanse Indian skies
  2. Measures: Government has agreed to speed the adoption of tougher vehicle emissions standards, making them mandatory by 2020
  3. SC has doubled the fees for commercial trucks entering Delhi, Capital’s taxis ordered to switch from highly polluting diesel to compressed natural gas
  4. Bans on burning garbage and agricultural waste, fines levied for spreading construction dust
  5. Efforts needed: Rethink existing car-centric policies, more investment needed in buses and commuter rail lines
  6. To make driving more expensive, cities should raise parking fees, impose traffic-congestion charges and even institute an auction system like Singapore’s that imposes a cost on every car
  7. Urban areas need more walking and cycling paths, encourage shift of freight from roads to railways and waterways
  8. Construction companies that fail to minimize dust levels should be fined aggressively, cities need to invest in vacuum sweepers to clean roads frequently
  9. Where possible, streets should be paved “wall to wall,” eliminating dusty and debris-filled roadsides

2 billion children breathe toxic air worldwide, UNICEF says II

  1. Measures to reduce pollution: New Delhi has barred cargo trucks from city streets
  2. Required drivers to buy newer cars that meet higher emissions standards
  3. Carried out several weeks of experimental traffic control, limiting the number of cars on the road
  4. But other pollution sources including construction dust and cooking fires fueled by wood or kerosene continue unabated
  5. It launched a smartphone application called “Change the Air” inviting residents to send photos and complaints about illegal pollution sources

2 billion children breathe toxic air worldwide, UNICEF says I

  1. Source: A new report from UNICEF
  2. Finding: Most of the 2 billion children in the world who are breathing toxic air live in northern India and neighboring countries
  3. Result: They risk serious health effects including damage to their lungs, brains and other organs
  4. New Delhi’s air pollution spikes every winter because of the season’s weak winds and countless garbage fires set alight to help people stay warm
  5. Children breathe twice as quickly, taking in more air in relation to their body weight
  6. Also, their brains and immune systems are still developing and vulnerable

Pollution cloud hangs over northern cities after Deepavali

  1. What: Cities in northern India were choked by particulate matter pollution due to Deepavali
  2. Locations: The Air Quality Index (AQI) reading for Agra was 384, Ahmedabad 385, and Faridabad and Delhi the worst, at 428 and 445
  3. An AQI of 100 is the limit for good air quality
  4. Safe cities: Bengaluru, Chennai and Mumbai were in the ‘moderate’ to ‘satisfactory’ category, similar to last year’s Deepavali
  5. Other reasons: The AQI has also deteriorated from October 27 in northern cities due to an ‘anticyclone’ effect

Lung friendly: Palampur to set the standards for air quality

  1. Event: The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), a CSIR organisation, has set up instruments in Palampur
  2. Issue: They will measure atmospheric levels of a wide range of pollutants including ozone, nitrous oxides, ammonia and particulate matter.
  3. NPL: It is best known for the being the repository of physical standards such as the kilogram, second and the centimetre
  4. Result: With this, Palampur, a hill station in Himachal Pradesh may soon set the bar for clean air in India

Burning of municipal waste discolouring Taj Mahal?

  1. Issue: Burning of municipal solid waste in the vicinity of the iconic Taj Mahal is significantly contributing to the discolouring of the world heritage monument.
  2. Airborne particulate matter in cities poses a range of problems, including degradation in air quality leading to health concerns and also the discolouration of ancient buildings.
  3. Other steps taken in Agra to protect the Taj Mahal: restricting vehicles near the complex, requiring iron foundries to install scrubbers and filters on their smokestacks;
  4. Prohibiting new polluting enterprises from being built in buffer zone around the mausoleum, and — most recently — banning the burning of cow dung cake as cooking fuel.

What are the health effects of PM/ PM 2.5?

  1. The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health is understood to be from long-term exposure to PM2.5
  2. It increases the age-specific mortality risk, particularly from cardiovascular causes
  3. Exposure to high concentrations of PM can also exacerbate lung and heart conditions, significantly affecting quality of life, and increase deaths and hospital admissions
  4. Children, the elderly and those with predisposed respiratory and cardiovascular disease, are known to be more susceptible to the health impacts from air pollution

What is Particulate Matter? What is PM2.5?

  1. PM is a term used to describe the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air
  2. It can be either human-made or naturally occurring
  3. Examples: Dust, ash and sea-spray
  4. PM (including soot) is emitted during the combustion of solid and liquid fuels, such as for power generation, domestic heating and in vehicle engines
  5. It varies in size (i.e. the diameter or width of the particle)
  6. PM2.5 means the mass per cubic metre of air of particles with a size (diameter) generally less than 2.5 micrometres (µm)
  7. It is also known as fine particulate matter (2.5 micrometres is one 400th of a millimetre)

Bulk of Delhi’s pollution comes from neighbouring States

  1. Source: An analysis of Delhi’s air pollution and future trends by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a CSIR body
  2. 60% of Delhi’s particulate matter pollution comes from neighbouring Haryana and Uttar Pradesh
  3. Moreover, even if Delhi were to adopt the cleanest-grade fuel available, ensure that power plants in the vicinity adopt stringent emissions and ensure tidy pavements, pollution would persist well above globally-recommended safe levels, unless neighbouring states too adopted similarly stringent policies
  4. Even if Delhi’s neighbours were to cooperate, it would at best halve Delhi’s pollution and still be short of the government-ideal of 40 microgram/cubic metre
  5. Why? This is because of Delhi’s geographical location and land-use pattern are such that a fixed mass of PM will persist
  6. Delhi’s PM pollution hovers between 300 and 900 microgram/cubic metre, depending on the weather
  7. Transport sector contributed nearly a fifth of the PM 2.5

Delhi tops most polluted megacity list, says WHO

  1. Source: World Health Organization (WHO)
  2. Delhi’s air is the worst among world megacities
  3. IndiaSpend‘s #breathe network of air-quality sensors reported PM2.5 levels were almost four times above daily safe levels, on average, for the seven-day period from September 22 to 28, 2016
  4. For long-term exposure, these 24-hour levels are nearly 11 times above the WHO health standards
  5. Over the monsoons, Delhi’s air was relatively cleaner because the rain and wind diminished the impact of pollutants
  6. But with the season changing, three of five sensors in the National Capital Region (NCR) registered ‘poor’ to ‘very poor’ air-quality levels
  7. In December 2015, week-long analysis of data from #breathe devices showed Delhi’s air pollution was one-and-a-half times worse than in Beijing

41 Indian cities have bad air quality, CPCB survey finds

  1. In 2015, 41 Indian cities with a million-plus population faced bad air quality in nearly 60% of the total days monitored
  2. Context: A latest analysis released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
  3. Coimbatore and Rajkot had highest number of good quality days, while Varanasi, Gwalior and Allahabad didn’t have even one good air quality day among all the days when their air quality was monitored
  4. Good day: Days wherein all monitored parameters like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter are within the prescribed norms

IEA report on air pollution

  1. Context: A report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that air pollution has become a major public health crisis
  2. It leads to around 6.5 million deaths each year
  3. Reiterated to need to work with new emerging energy economies (China and India) who are emerging as major energy consumers and polluters
  4. Proposal of low-cost actions that could make major strides in reducing pollution over the next 25 years
  5. Includes adopting more ambitious clean air standards and more effective policies for monitoring and enforcement
  6. IEA: Was founded in response to the Arab oil embargo in 1973 to coordinate international responses to energy issues
  7. Agency has 29 wealthy, industrialized countries as members

New PCB data on air pollution less scary

  1. Context: The Ambient Air Quality monitoring report by the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB)
  2. Report: Two of the major air pollution parameters, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were well within the permissible limits in the State during the past five years
  3. Also the Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter of sizes between 2.5 micron and 10 micron recorded a dip in 2015
  4. It is contrary to perception that pollution is going up in state
  5. Earlier: NGT has banned diesel vehicle with the capacity of 2000 cc, whether light or heavy, which are more than 10 years old within Kerala
  6. Nitrogen dioxide is emitted by vehicles and sulphur dioxide by industries

What is PM 2.5?

  1. It refers to atmospheric particulates with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres
  2. These are microscopic solid or liquid matter suspended in the Earth’s atmosphere
  3. Sources: All types of combustion activities, crushing or grinding operations, and dust from paved or unpaved roads, from the chemical change of gases
  4. Risk: Affects everyone but most harmful to children and senior citizens
  5. Effects: Premature death from heart and lung disease, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma

Delhi not ‘most polluted’, but dirty air fouls many cities

  1. Context: The latest ‘Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database (update 2016) released by WHO
  2. Delhi has improved its ranked in terms of most polluted city and Delhi’s place as most polluted is taken by Zabol in Iran
  3. Delhi stands 11th among 3000 cities of 103 countries in terms of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) and 25th in terms of bigger particulate matter (PM 10)
  4. Earlier: In 2014, Delhi was ranked as most polluted city in terms of PM 2.5
  5. Four cities of India are among the 10 world’s most polluted cities- Gwalior (2nd), Allahabad (3rd), Patna (6th), Raipur (7th)

Emissions lower, but dust pollution up, finds study

  1. Context: Study on air quality by SAFAR
  2. The level of harmful dust particles is more than previous year
  3. Emission from all sources have reduced in Delhi
  4. The harmful fine particulate matter level has increased
  5. The levels of dangerous ozone gas are found to be less
  6. SAFAR: air quality analysis station by the Union Ministry of Earth Science

Ban on 2,000 cc diesel vehicles in NCR to continue

  1. Context: The rising air pollution in Delhi
  2. Background: In Dec 2015, Supreme Court had imposed a ban that was effective till March 31, 2016
  3. News: The SC has decided to continue the ban on registration of diesel vehicles with engine capacity of 2,000 cc and above in the NCR
  4. Future: The court would consider whether to impose an environmental cess on the sale of diesel cars in New Delhi

India’s pollution levels beat China’s: study

  1. Context: Rising air pollution in India and China
  2. News: Greenpeace analysed NASA’s satellite data of particulate matter from 2003 to 2015 in India and China
  3. Basis: The study looked at the aerosol optical depth, which is the amount of fine solid particles and liquid droplets in air
  4. Report: The average Indian was exposed to more particulate matter than the average Chinese citizen in 2015
  5. The levels in India have increased over the years, North India being the most polluted
  6. Model: China implemented a national air pollution action plan in 2013 that included stricter emission norms for coal-based power plants and industries and greater enforcement of standards

Don’t wait for 10 years like China: environmentalists

  1. Context: India’s air pollution problem, especially in metropolitan cities
  2. Experts: Environmentalists who worked on China’s successful pollution control measures offered their learnings
  3. Proposal: India should put in place the regional and national level action plans quickly
  4. Challenge: The measures restricted to Delhi can not have any substantial impact on the air quality

What is AQI?

  1. In India, AQIs are determined based on the concentrations of 8 pollutants
  2. AQI help in comparing pollution levels at a glance with a colour code and a numerical value
  3. This includes PM2.5 (fine, respirable particles), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO)

Delhi’s air not worst in India: CPCB data

  1. CPCB has published air quality indices (AQI) for 24 cities across India for the month of January
  2. The reports suggests that in January, while air quality indices in Varanasi, UP and Muzaffarpur, Bihar had ‘severe’ values of 409, Delhi scored a ‘very poor’ with 362
  3. Faridabad was worse with an AQI values of 399
  4. Bengaluru, Haldia and Panchkula are the only three cities out that had moderate air quality during the period

Govt aid helps car makers go green and cheap to fight smog crisis

  1. Car makers are gearing up to launch affordable hybrid and electric cars for India in the next few years.
  2. They are lured by govt incentives for fuel-efficient vehicles as India accelerates efforts to cut worsening air pollution.
  3. FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric cars) was launched last year & offers concessions of up toRs.1,38,000 on the sale of Hybrid cars.
  4. Meanwhile, Maruti has already invested in developing a low-cost version of hybrid technology, irrespective of government incentives.

Public reluctant to drop diesel for CNG: Centre

  1. The Centre remained non-committal on phase out of old diesel fleet to cut air pollution.
  2. It blamed the common man’s reluctance to dump diesel for CNG fuel.
  3. Govt. pointed out that already 32% of total CNG stock in the Capital were not utilised by the public.
  4. The lack of interest may be due to the increased VAT charged, making diesel cheaper than CNG.
  5. The court is looking at various measures to solve roadblocks to implement a more effective and accessible public transport system in Delhi and the outskirts.

Clearing the air

China has declared war on air pollution. India needs to resume a long-detailed discussion on air quality.

  1. China has acknowledged that environmental problems have hit crisis levels, and its growth model would have to be adjusted to account for the alarming degradation of air and water quality.
  2. India could also do with a renewed focus on air pollution but official response is one of denial questioning the methodology of various studies.
  3. Yale Environmental Performance Index ranked India a dismal 174 (out of 178) on air quality, the official response was, predictably, to question its methodology
  4. India’s own Central Pollution Control Board in 2011 found that nearly all cities were in violation of national standards for respirable particulate matter.
  5. Health costs of such pollution is huge with one even suggesting that air pollution is the fifth-largest killer in India and another estimating a loss of 3.3 years from life expectancy at birth.
  6. Paralysing confrontation has been set up between environmental concerns and growth, a false choice that has hurt both growth prospects and the vital project to protect the environment.
  7. The environment debate needs to explore the opportunities that are created when industry is greened and growing incomes open up spaces for the adoption of more eco-friendly policies.

Is govt not a polluter, asks SC

  1. The SC bench asks Centre why its fleet of ageing diesel vehicles should not be scrapped.
  2. Govt. should join forces with the citizen who is forgoing his personal comfort to fight pollution in the National Capital.
  3. The apex court asked why the government apparatus required differential treatment from the citizen.

Let’s know about Road Dust

  1. Road dust is a mix of both coarse and fine particles, while the latter is relatively more worrisome.
  2. Sources – Burning of biomass and municipal solid waste, and industrial stacks.
  3. Dust is a generic term for a vast mix of metals –silicone, aluminium, titanium, manganese, copper, barium, antimony, selenium and zinc.
  4. Health Implications – respiratory diseases, asthma and silicosis.

Cars not the biggest polluters

  1. According to a IIT Kanpur study, road dust contribute a far greater share of the city’s air pollution.
  2. Road dust contributed 56% of all PM10 pollution while it was 38% for PM2.5.
  3. It is relatively hard to tackle dust because of Delhi’s geographic location and propensity to dust from the Thar desert.
  4. Also, the winter air traps dust along with a host of other airborne pollutant.
  5. The lack of larger policy to contain road-side construction and the regular cleaning of roads is also a major cause.

More Chinese cities issue red alerts for heavy smog

More Chinese cities are issuing their first red alerts for pollution in response to forecasts of heavy smog.

  1. Shandong province in eastern China issued alerts in 4 cities after warning that the density of particulate matter in the air would exceed high levels for more than 24 hours.
  2. China’s air pollution is notorious after 3 decades of breakneck economic growth.
  3. Beijing issued its first two red alerts in December under a 4-tier warning system that has been in place for two years.
  4. Environmental authorities said that their forecasting model must predict 3 or more days of smog at particular levels on the city’s air quality index.

Once again, it’s SC cracking down to clean up air

Ban on registration of over 2000 cc diesel vehicles until March 31.

  1. SC has banned the registration of all diesel SUVs and luxury cars in the entire NCR of Delhi.
  2. The SC ruling aims at curbing the alarming pollution level in Delhi.
  3. Trucks carrying goods for Delhi will have to shell out a steep environment compensation charge (ECC).
  4. These diesel vehicles produce much more carcinogenic nitrogen oxide than petrol cars and are one main source of Particulate Matters.

Premature deaths due to air pollution

India second highest in premature deaths caused by outdoor air pollution, with 1.35 million deaths annually.

  1. In 2010, the rate was 0.65 million in India and the overall rate in the world was 3.3 million.
  2. China has the highest numbers with the premature deaths.
  3. Major reasons? Residential energy used for heating and cooking. Power generation causing nearly 90,000 deaths in 2010.
  4. At 42,000, industry and biomass burning caused equal number of deaths, followed by 30,000 deaths from land traffic in India.

Paris car ban imposed after pollution hits high

  1. Only motorists with odd-numbered number plates were allowed to drive.
  2. Public transport was made free of charge for three days in an attempt to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
  3. The capital’s air quality has been one of the worst on record, rivalling the Chinese capital, Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities.
  4. PM10 particulates are emitted by vehicles, heating systems and heavy industry. They crossed their safe limit of 80 microgrammes.

CPCB officials stress need for uniform air quality data

India now grades air quality along a colour-coded chart based on pollutant levels.

  1. The new National Air Quality Index measures – PM2.5, PM10, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide.
  2. Officials warned that the quality of new monitoring stations was mixed across the country – This augurs bad for such a comprehensive move.
  3. 12 Indian cities were among the WHO list of the world’s worst 20 for air quality.
  4. Also, India does not yet have a mechanism in place to bring down peak pollution levels.

:( We are working on most probable questions. Do check back this section.

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