Air pollution kills

Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh *

"The burning of plastic grain bags releases chemicals into the air that we all breathe, causing serious lung damage and contributing to other long-term health problems. For people with lung diseases such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, even a single exposure to this type of smoke can worsen their disease".
Dr. Brian Graham, President and CEO of Lung Association of Canada

The other day, one of my friends who had just retired told me that he would die of air pollution. He was telling that so much of smoke and plastic fume is there by the evening, he is afraid for the evening, for him evenings are dreadful. Evenings are tortures for him. He has no escape, there will be smoke and plastic fume everywhere outside and inside the house, even inside his bedroom and in fact, one has no place to run or hide from air pollution.

One of my cousin said that at night so much of plastic smokes are there and many a times, it was not bearable, so he and my uncle would get up, take a bucket of water each and douse the plastic fires on the other side of the road. The writer also had to endure the trauma of plastic smoke pollution many a nights, and those nights were like nightmares. It is quite evident that India's record of air pollution is not that good considering the recent incident of air pollution in Delhi and surrounding areas and their smog problem.

We get smokes of all sorts, the Carbon dioxide, Monoxide, Sulphur Dioxide, fumes of burning Plastic, Exhaust smoke of Vehicles and all. The plastic fumes contain polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins which are highly carcinogenic. Farm burnings, garbage burnings and wildfires also contribute towards making our air polluted. In Manipur, farm or stubble burns are not that serious as we have in Delhi.

Here in greater Imphal areas, burning of garbage and plastics are more serious. Plastics are burnt everywhere, in market places, in individual households, roadsides, garbage dumps, sometimes the fire would continue for days together.

One character of smoke is that the smoke of fire one raises disturbs him little, but disturbs the others more, so he is not mindful of what he is doing, so the cycle of smoke is continuing and is to continue killing more and more people. For the sensitive group of populations of asthmatics, children, pregnant woman and elderly people, air pollution is more dangerous.

The burning of Plastic, Rubber and other waste has become so dangerous for the people living in a locality and that is why, the NGT passed an order on 13 Dec, '13, banning burning of these items in NCR and adjoining regions. It further observed that the Municipal authorities to properly handle the plastic waste under Plastic Waste management and handling Rules, 2011 (amended in 2016).

The said Rule says that municipal authorities should provide enough of plastic waste collection points (Rule 6(c) and (d)) so that citizens dispose the plastics there instead of burning. According to Rule 5 (c) of the said Rules, the use and manufacture of plastic carry bags below 40 microns is prohibited.

Further, on Dec 23, 2016, the Green Tribunal again banned burning of plastic and waste across the country. So, burning of plastic and other waste in the open is an offence in the country. The penalty fixed by the tribunal is Rs. 5000/ for smaller burnings and Rs 25000/- for bulk burnings as compensation. As per Rule 6(2)(g), the local bodies shall ensure that burning of plastic does not take place within its jurisdiction.

The plastic fumes have carcinogenic properties and fumes released by it are highly toxic (Let us stop burning of plastic; TSE 27.12.2013). Long exposure to high air pollution affects human respiratory systems and particulate matter PM 2.5 (suspended matters in the air below 2.5 micrometres size) and PM 10 (suspended matters in the air below 10 micrometres size) can trigger many other diseases; heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.

The PMs are of very fine particles produced by the burning of organic matters, fine Pollen, fine dust etc. The PM2.5 is said to be highly dangerous as it can go deep inside the organs up to alveoli, where oxygen exchange takes place in lung and can cause damages. The National Air Quality Index (AQI) was launched in October, 2014.

The accumulation of pollutants up to 200 in Air Quality Index (AQI=sum of pollutants present in per unit sample air; ėg/m3 or ppm) is considered moderately polluted. The pollutions of AQI 201-300, AQI 301-400 and AQI 401-500 are categorised as Poor, Very Poor and Severe respectively.

Air pollution kills. The killing capacity of the air pollution is more than one can imagine. Every year, 9 million people are killed by pollution, out of which, 2.5 m are in India and 1.81 m are in China. Out of the 9 million pollution deaths, 6.5 million are of air pollution. For fighting the pollution related diseases, all the countries of the world are spending in billions.

Globally, $ 4.6 trillion is the cost due to pollution related sickness amounting to 6.2% of global GDP. The welfare loss to India is $270 billion (13% of GDP) of India against $1.3 trillion of China (12% of GDP). In India, 1 in 4 deaths are of pollution and 28% of pollution deaths of the world are in India and this is the highest in the world.

Having said so much, it would be worth visiting the relevant provisions of the Plastic Waste (Management and handling) Rules, 2016. As per Rule 5(a), (b) and (d), the waste which can be recycled shall be channelized to registered recycler; what cannot be recycled be used in road construction as per guidelines of Indian Road Congress and the remaining waste be disposed as per Solid Waste Management Rules.

Rule 6 (1) and (2) says that the local body shall set up infrastructure for segregation, collection, storage, transportation, processing and disposal of the plastic waste either on its own or by engaging agencies or producers. Rule 8 (1) has been framed on the principle of polluters pay and says that waste generator shall take adequate steps to minimise plastic waste and segregate waste at source and shall not litter waste but ensure segregated storage and handing over to local body.

In Imphal and its sub-urban area pollutions are mainly due to solid waste burning, plastic burning and vehicular pollution. The industrial air pollution is not much in Imphal; it is more of domestic biomass burning.

In rural areas, it is due to brick kilns, household air pollution due to firewood burning and stubble burning etc. the domestic biomass burning is assuming serious proportion in rural Manipur too. Whatever the case may be, the air pollution in Manipur and in greater Imphal area in particular is becoming highly alarming and all concern should take adequate steps so that it is checked in time.

Even today, there are many people who believe that burning is the best way of disposal of plastic waste, the mind-set needs change.

Another problem is inadequacy of collection and handling capacity which needs stepping up of handling capacity and reduction in waste generation. Separating plastic waste from other biodegradable waste shall also help in reducing the quantity of waste and shall make waste handling easier.

I believe that if all of us are conscious of it and act together, it is possible to check this monster.

* Akham Bonbirdhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on January 27, 2018.

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