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With input from Dr Monica Vasudev
1117: Round Table – HCFI Expert Group on Environment Meeting on “Air Pollution issues in winter months and its link to COVID-19”
18th October, 2020, 12-1 pm
- Dr KK Aggarwal, Padma Shri Awardee and President, Heart Care Foundation of India and CMAAO.
- Shri Jatinder Singh Kamyotra, Ex- Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board.
- Prof SK Singh, Head, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Delhi Technological University.
- Prof Meenakshi Dhote, Dept. of Environmental Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi.
- Dr SK Tyagi, Ex- Additional Director, Central Pollution Control Board.
- Dr Sanjeev Agarwal, Ex- Additional Director, Central Pollution Control Board.
- Shri Radhe Shyam Tyagi, Ex- Member (Drainage), Delhi Jal Board.
- Dr MP George, Sr Scientist, Delhi Pollution Control Committee.
- Shri SK Gupta, Director, Envirotech Instrument, Delhi.
- Shri Pradeep Khandelwal, Chief Engineer, East Delhi Municipal Corporation.
- Shri SA Verma, General Manager (Environment), Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.
- Shri Sharat Kumar, Superintendent Engineer, Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation.
- Dr M Dwarkanath, Ex- Member Secretary, Puducherry Pollution Control Committee and Ex- Senior Scientific Officer, Department of Environment, Govt. of Delhi.
- Dr BC Sabata, Ex- Director, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Combating Climate Change, Delhi and Ex- Senior Scientific Officer, Department of Environment, Govt. of Delhi.
- Dr KK Kalra, Ex-CEO, NABH and Director, Heart Care Foundation of India.
- Dr Uday Kakroo, Director, Heart Care Foundation of India.
- Dr Anil Kumar, Ex- Director, Department of Environment, Govt. of Delhi and Director, Heart Care Foundation of India
- Ms Ira Gupta, Advocate, Heart Care Foundation of India.
Key points from the discussion
The Meeting was chaired by Shri Jatinder Singh Kamyotra
- Every winter, the air quality reduces due to meteorological conditions and particulate matter (PM) levels exceed the norms by many folds. This is a cause for concern, especially in view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, and particulate matter (PM 10, PM2.5 and PM1) have the same pathophysiology; they cause inflammation in the body. There is, therefore, a direct relationship between the COVID virus and the particulate matter.
- If we do not control air pollution, mortality due to coronavirus may be higher during winter.
- Winter air pollution is particularly a problem for senior citizens and children.
- Every winter, there is almost 30% increase in respiratory and allergic diseases in the emergency department due to pollution.
- Government has been working, but things are not improving. There is a need for guidelines on how to keep pollution to a minimum in our vicinity. We should focus on the individual responsibility in the campaign to reduce air pollution.
- A proper health advisory from time to time has to come from an authenticated source, which can be the government health department or a body like the IMA.
- Staggering of academic sessions for schools and other activities can be done in winter.
- Winter break for schools/colleges can be extended depending on the severity of pollution.
- In summer, the major contributors to particulate matter are fly ash, soil, road dust; in winters, the major contributors are vehicular particles and secondary pollutants or conversion of NOx and SO2 emissions to particles combined with biomass burning. We need to control these sources.
- Activities that contribute to air pollution, such as biomass burning or municipal solid waste burning, should be avoided.
- Use private vehicles only when necessary or there is an emergency.
- Switch off the vehicle engines when waiting at red lights.
- Synchronization of traffic signals, so that vehicles do not have to wait much; this saves fuel and reduces pollution.
- With social distancing, the need for public transport has increased manifold, which was already short to begin with. More private vehicles are being used. This is a big challenge.
- An Italian study has correlated NO2 and high particulate level (PM2.5) with COVID-19. All steps must be taken to control NO2 and PM2.5.
- About 25% of contribution is from biomass burning; it is not in our hands to control emissions from stubble burning in neighboring states, but we can at least stop Delhi’s local contribution, i.e., local sources of pollution.
- A scenario has to be visualized where closure of power plants and use of GenSets can be controlled.
- Management of solid waste has to be improved. RWAs, MTAs can play a leading role in this.
- COVID preparation at construction sites: mandatory thermal screening, sanitization and hand wash at the entry and all over the site, mask check for workers and staff.
- It is important to control dust at the construction site. A total ban on construction activity is not needed. When pollution becomes severe, activities can be divided: Those which are carried out indoors and do not cause any air pollution; some procedures like drilling etc., where some amount of dust is generated; and thirdly, activities which cause dust. Sprinkling can be done to control dust.
- A blanket ban does not help; some relaxation with stringent measures.
- Diesel cars older than 15 years should be taken off the road by giving some incentive and/or penalty.
- Emission of obnoxious gases (CH4, NO2, SO2) from untreated sewage flowing into the drains also pollutes the environment. More work needs to be done on this.
- Treated effluent water should be used for sprinkling to control dust pollution.
- PM and the virus will remain in the air for some time and aggravate the pandemic, if timely precautions are not taken.
- The main pollutants in the industrial areas are from road dust and burning of garbage. DSIDC has prepared an action plan to reduce pollution in industrial areas. Regular inspections are being carried out to identify polluting industries. Penalties are being imposed. Repair of roads (potholes) is being carried out, which are sources of dust. Sprinklers (treated water) are being deployed to control road dust.
- More studies need to be done to investigate the association between PM and what is happening inside the body. The medical fraternity has to come forward for this. Populations living around the ambient air quality monitoring stations can be studied for a start. Adequate data is now available on air pollution.
- Burning of waste in landfills adds to air pollution. This needs to be looked at.
- There is an ongoing study investigating the concentration of nanoparticles and microparticles in the ambient air and their impact on health.
- Right architecture is required; micro- and macro-planning is very important.
- Studies have shown a correlation between activity buildup and pollution.
- An environmental revolution is needed similar to the Green and White revolutions in the country. Three issues in pollution - solid waste, air pollution and drainage – which can be solved only by people participation. We need to have micro treatment plants at RWA level or Mohalla level, wherever space is available. This can be done by RWAs and the government can help them either with the budget or give them technical guidance.
- Most of the plantation that has been done in Delhi does not help with oxygen production. The indigenous plants have been virtually replaced by plants which are just for cosmetic purposes and not for providing clean environment.
- We need to have target fixed long-term plans and policies. Every citizen needs to share the responsibility.
- Long-term studies on impact of air pollution are needed. The air quality during the first lockdown can be taken as the baseline.
- Pollutants have changed, from CO, SO2 in the 90s to NO2, ozone, PM2.5 now.
- We need some common prevention for corona and PM; one is face mask (0.3µ). N95 mask (this will take care of PM2.5 up to 95%) is better than surgical mask (this will take care of PM2.5 up to 80%), which is better than fabric mask (this will take care of PM10).
- CDC has said that the coronavirus may be transmitted indoors in poorly ventilated areas; use air purifiers in such areas with 6 exchanges per hour.
Dr KK Aggarwal
President CMAAO, HCFI and Past National President IMA