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Cracker-Ban: The Aftermath

The 24-hour average level of PM2.5 during Diwali and the morning after (12 pm - 12 am), October 19-20) was 397 microgrammes per cubic metre (mg / cu m) even after carcker ban. This is 6.6 times higher than the standards and more than two times higher than the levels of pre-Diwali day when the 24-hour average was 184 microgramme per cu m.

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The air quality in New Delhi this Diwali had improved compared to last year, according to data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The Air Quality Index (AQI) value on Thursday, 19th October was 319, putting it in "very poor" category, while the AQI last Diwali (October 30, 2016) had touched "severe" level after recording an index value of 431.

As per the AQI released by the CPCB, particulate matters -- PM 2.5 and PM 10 -- were the major contributors to "very poor" air quality on Thursday, the day of Diwali. The Supreme Court had on October 9 banned the sale of firecrackers during this Diwali to see effects of its suspension in the light of the severe pollution and smog-like conditions prevalent in Delhi during this period. While it is difficult to quantify the immediate effect of the ban on firecrackers, residents across the national capital felt the beginning was hopeful with neighbourhoods reporting much lesser noise and smoke, compared to the previous years.

According to the SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research), the 24-hour rolling average of PM2.5 and PM10 were 154 and 256 micrograms per cubic metre respectively at around 11 pm on Diwali. The condition was similar, if not worse, in the neighbouring regions of Delhi such as Gurgaon, Noida and Ghaziabad, where crackers were burst as usual, and raising question marks on the effectiveness of the administration in enforcing the apex court's ban. Air quality swung back to pre-Diwali levels with most monitoring stations in the NCR registering “very poor” on the index. This was primarily due to high concentrations of particulate matter 2.5, a class of pollutants implicated in aggravating respiratory diseases. The statistics at several monitoring stations in the capital show a worrying picture. Levels of particulate matter (PM) are over 15 times permissible limits.

Data from 15 stations on Sunday said that AQI stood at 329 or the “red zone”, but several points below the “maroon zone” or 400, when air quality is deemed to be “severely” bad. The day after Diwali, the AQI had dropped to “severe”. Despite the cracker ban the 24-hour average level of PM2.5 during Diwali and the morning after (12 pm - 12 am), October 19-20) has been 397 microgrammes per cubic metre (mg / cu m). This is 6.6 times higher than the standards and more than two times higher than the levels of pre-Diwali day when the 24-hour average was 184 microgramme per cu m.

Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change had urged scientists to develop zero-pollution firecrackers that do not cause health hazards to children, in an event earlier this month. “Banning firecrackers has positive impacts on reducing PM 2.5, other toxic chemicals as well as noise pollution - the health benefits of which are significant. Therefore, the call by the Environment Ministry for pollution- free crackers is a step in the right direction.  It must also be recognized that Delhi's pollution comes from multiple sources and is influenced meteorological conditions. Therefore, we must be careful not to attribute lower pollution values next Diwali solely to the firecracker ban or higher values to its failure”, said Dr Hem Dholakia, Senior Research Associate at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

“The pollution peaks in Delhi as stubble burning in North India and Diwali coincide with the onset of winter making pollution dispersion difficult. Long term solution is the need of hour but planning should begin forthwith. Quality and reduced emissions fireworks are definitely required, along with cleaner forms of celebrations with community-led fireworks being organised by RWAs. Corporates CSR initiatives could be encouraged to help remove stubble from farms in N India which could then be disposed of in a sustainable manner”, said Damandeep Singh, Director-India, Carbon Disclosure Project.

According to Vinay Pathak, Subject Matter Expert - 3M Asia Pacific Region and General Manager & Technical Head - 3M India Personal Safety Division, “As India celebrated Diwali last week, much of the country shimmered under a fury of fireworks with an uncountable number of crackers exploding over various parts of the big cities in India. Fireworks are made of various chemicals that explode into vibrant and noisy displays when lit up. However, when the fireworks are over, the burnt remains of these materials fall back to Earth as small particulate matter. A major indicator of air quality is the concentration of PM2.5 (particles 2.5 microns across or smaller). These can cause significant health problems in the heart and respiratory system because they lodge themselves deep in the lungs.” Pathak added that, “The effects of this chemical smoke stays post Diwali too and it’s advisable to be cautious by doing the following: Watch the AQI(Air Quality Index) before going outdoors and stay in clean air environments if the AQI levels are too high Use an AC Filter which can capture PM2.5 in your AC or a good air purifier, inside your home. It very important to use a respirator (not a mask) when being outdoors during high AQI levels”

Upon contacting major firework dealers, manufacturers and distributors from Sivakasi, the cracker-manufacturing hub of India, a representative of Pioneer Agencies said that in the “likely future, there seems to be very little possibility of pollution-free crackers”, however, denied commenting further as they are dealers, not manufacturers. Representatives from Bishop Fireworks refused to comment on how sales were affected due to the cracker ban in Delhi, alleging it’s a regional issue. A representative from Jubilant Crackers said, “We are using potassium nitrate in our fireworks, we have nitrate-based crackers which are already environmentally friendly. Potassium nitrate is used in agriculture fertilizers, hence it's eco-friendly. China uses hazardous chemicals in its fireworks, while we prescribe to the safety guidelines issued to us. We can’t compare pollution levels from fireworks, as there are other sources like industries and vehicles which are a major cause of pollution, while crackers are just used occasionally for religious festivals. Any type of burning will cause smoke and pollution, so completely pollution-free crackers will be difficult”.


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