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Study says country's air infit to breathe

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Jun 4: 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 latest report released here.

The 'Smokescreen: Ambient Air Quality in India' report, prepared by Chennai-based Community Environmental Monitoring, documented 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), it said.

The samples had been taken from residential areas and public thoroughfares in or near industrial areas, effluent discharge channels, smouldering garbage dumps and toxic waste facilities that included landfills and incinerators, it added.

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, the report said.

''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 industrialisation, 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,'' according to 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,'' she added.

In September 2004, pursuant to a report by Cuddalore-based SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee had directed the Central Pollution Control Board to lay down standards for VOC and Sulphur gases. But the task had not been done till date, the report said.

Even worse, as early as in 1999-2000, the Ministry of Environment and Forests had provided 6.5 million dollars for 'Ambient Air Quality Monitoring' for benzene and other VOCs, and set aside an additional one million dolars (Rs 4.5 crore) for setting standards for VOCs. The outcome of this project was not known, it said.

Meanwhile, regulators were refusing to acknowledge community concerns about air pollution stating that nothing could be done because no standards existed, it added.

''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,'' US-based Global Community Monitor's Denny Larson said.

According to 1995 estimates in a study commissioned by the Environment Ministry, total annual economic losses due to air pollution could exceed 9000 crores equivalent to about one per cent of the Gross Dometic Product, the report said.

''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 had documented 36 different odours through a unique odour monitoring exercise in the chemical estate.

The study recorded 18 chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene 104 times higher than the safe levels, at traffic junction at ITO in the national capital.

Chemplast Sanmar PVC factory in Mettur Dam showed 17 chemicals, including six carcinogens -- 1,2-diclhoroethane 32,000 times above the safe levels.

Garbage burning in Perungudi, Tamil Nadu had 27 chemicals, including carcinogenic 1,3-butadiene and benzene at 34,782 times and 2,360 times higher than safe levels respectively.

Landfill Gas at Hindustan Insecticides Ltd factory in Kerala a sample had hexachlorobutadiene, an indicator of dioxin, one of the most poisonous chemicals known to science.


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