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Toxic air isn’t limited to Delhi — Chennai & other southern cities too gasping for breath

While Chennai saw unexpected episodes of smog last week, high PM levels were noted in Bengaluru and cities in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh too.

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New Delhi: Delhiites aren’t the only ones gasping for breath. Air quality deteriorated to ‘very poor’ levels in Chennai and other parts of southern India too in the past week. Unexpected episodes of smog in Chennai and high particulate matter (PM) levels in Bengaluru and Andhra Pradesh were witnessed in the last couple of days, sending signals that air pollution may now be a nationwide problem.

The recent episodes of Chennai smog have now forced experts to believe that southern India is in need of more air quality monitoring stations. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has only a limited number of monitoring stations in the South — four in Chennai and one is Coimbatore — as opposed to 37 in New Delhi.

On Friday, Chennai’s Manali had recorded an AQI of 341 (considered ‘very poor). Experts have till now believed that coastal cities have an advantage in combating pollution since sea breeze helps disperse air pollutants, unlike what is observed in areas in the Indo-Gangetic plains.

R.B. Ushyankunar, the Chennai Revenue Disaster Management Minister, had Monday said that depression powering ‘Cyclone Bulbul’ in Eastern India resulted in clouds to descend upon Chennai, blocking sunlight and arresting wind flow in the city.

“This…led to suspension of particulate matter in the air, visible as smog.”

Satellite data from the European Union Earth Observation Programme shows that pollutants from smoke plumes over the Indo-Gangetic plains have spread down the eastern coastline, possibly due to wind patterns created by ‘Cyclone Bulbul’.

Throughout last week, the CPCB data also shows that different cities in the adjoining state of Andhra Pradesh also experienced bad air quality, with spike in PM2.5 levels pushing AQI  to severe category in Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada.

Bengaluru also recorded several instances of high PM2.5 levels, indicating that air pollution in southern states may be more widespread than believed.

Also read: Why Punjab’s farmers continue to burn stubble and poison Delhi’s air

‘Pollution is a problem in South India too’

Adverse meteorological conditions are, however, only part of the problem in South India.

Chandra Bhushan, CEO of International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology (iFOREST), told ThePrint that the Chennai coast has become highly industrialised in the recent years. “So if there are calm wind conditions…the pollutants will not be flushed out.”

He added, “The general assumption is that in South India, air pollution is not a problem. So the number of monitoring stations are also very limited. We have to now change that perception.”

N. Puviarasan, director of the Area Cyclone Warning Centre in Chennai, however refuted the possibility that pollutants from North India was causing conditions of smog in Chennai.

He said it was not possible for pollutants to travel such long distances, adding the pollution in Chennai must have been a local phenomena since other parts of Tamil Nadu did not experience smog.

Also read: Delhi’s toxic air killed over 30,000 in just three years, 33 on average died daily in 2016


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