Air Pollution in Delhi worse off in 2020 winter

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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16 February 2021, New Delhi: United Residents Joint Action (URJA), the Delhi RWA body and strategic communications outfit, Climate Trends, have compiled an analysis on how air pollution has fared in the national capital this winter in comparison to previous years. The analysis comes timely at the first anniversary of the AAP government formation since elections in February 2020. Tackling air pollution in Delhi was a key commitment in AAP’s election manifesto. Two sets of analysis conducted by Climate Trends and Respirer Living Sciences show that PM2.5 levels in the winter of 2020-2021 worsened in comparison to the winter of 2019-2020.
The data set analysed by Respirer Living Sciences, a startup working on low-cost sensor based real-time air quality monitoring networks, clearly shows that while summer months from March to June 2020 and monsoon from July to September witnessed an improvement in Delhi’s air quality amidst the lockdown and economic slowdown, PM2.5 levels in winter from October 2020 to February 2021 were 186 Similar trends were observed for PM10 levels which ranged at 310 comparison to 261 µg/m³ in the previous winter. The data has been analysed from Central Pollution in comparison to 160 PM2.5 in 2019-2020 in the same months.
Control Board’s (CPCB) online network of Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Standards (CAAQMS).
However, the average annual trends for CAAQMS monitoring show an improvement in PM2.5 in
2020, ranging at 97​µg/m³​​ ​ in comparison to 159 µg/m³ in 2019, while PM10 levels increased on an
annual average to 190 in 2020-21 from 160 in 2019-20. Since PM2.5 pollutants are emitted from anthropogenic sources which were curtailed due to the lockdown and PM10 is generated from dust, the annual averages improved for Delhi.
Atul Goyal, President, United RWAs’ Joint Action & Member, Supreme Court Committee on SolidThe data proves that Delhi’s air pollution levels are the worst every winter Waste Management​said,​​ ​
from October to February. The commitment made by the Delhi government in their manifestos ahead of State Assembly elections in February 2020 seem compromised in comparison to the improvements recorded in air quality in the 2019-2020 winter season. Since returning to power, the government’s priorities seem to have slacked in monitoring ground efforts and local sources and the gains we made during the lockdown in cleaning the city’s air and water are evidently lost.”
URJA had released a People’s Green Manifesto with 10 point demands to reduce air and water pollution ahead of State Assembly Elections in Delhi in 2020. Expressing disappointment at the lack
of follow up on these commitments, Mr Goyal further added, “​ The government needs to follow a
roadmap to reduce pollution levels by 65% by 2025. The recommendations submitted by URJA under the “People’s Green Manifesto for Delhi 2020” during the elections, had received acknowledgement from political parties, experts and citizens on the pathways for air pollution management in the national capital. Unless measures are implemented in all seriousness, the issue will remain nothing
more than a seasonal narrative​ .”
A second set of analysis conducted by Climate Trends takes the levels at R K Puram monitoring station as a baseline to underscore the trends in the city. The results are similar. PM2.5 levels September onwards range higher in comparison to the levels in the same months in 2019. Compared to WHO standards, the levels in Delhi were nine times higher and also higher than the national average. Delhi had witnessed an improvement in air quality in 2019 after nearly 10 years.
Dr Palak Balyan, Consultant, Climate Trends​said,​​ “It is evident that pollution levels in 2019 winters were low compared to 2018 winters, which further increased in 2020 winters. Major factors behind this trend may be:
1. Usage of personal vehicles in 2020 winters were more compared to 2019 winters, due to post covid situation where people avoided using shared or public transportation. 2. Another possible explanation may be that the controlling authority of Punjab and Haryana were busier with COVID control protocol hence regulation of crop burning could not be implemented strictly.”
As part of the first ever real-time source apportionment (RTSA) project which explains the origin of the several pollutants in Delhi, Prof S N Tripathi of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, has studied that sources of pollution in Delhi are also influenced from air corridors in Northwest, East and Northeast of the national capital. 35 elements were found in Delhi’s air as part of this analysis.
Prof S N Tripathi, HoD – Civil Engineering, IIT Kanpur & Steering Committee Member, NCAP ​ said,
“Starting in 2019, the Real-Time Source Apportionment (RTSA) project led by our team in IIT Kanpur gave the proof of concept of RTSA for the first time which is already validated and substantiated. This project has allowed us to provide comprehensive inputs to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on how sources impact the composition of PM2.5 and its oxidative potential for Delhi.”
The IIT-Kanpur analysis finds that Chlorine-Bromine-Selenium emissions are predominantly from the northwest corridor and likely influenced from Punjab and Haryana, while some local sources like dust, non-exhaust and solid fuel combustion within Delhi can also contribute to this combination. The sulphur-rich and Chromium-Nickel-Manganese influences are likely from the Northeast to Southeast corridor in Uttar Pradesh due to coal combustion. Local power plants like Badarpur in the Southeast which is 17 kms from the sampling location within Delhi, Aligarh in the Southeast in UP and Dadri in the East are probable contributors to coal-related aerosols. The Copper-Cadmium-Lead combination is expected to have influenced from Nepal and Uttar Pradesh in the East, while Lead-Tin-Selenium originated in Haryana, Punjab and Pakistan in the Northwest. Anthropogenic (human influence) activities like electronic waste recycling, manufacturing industry and combustion will lead to these emissions.
Prof Tripathi further added,​“​ Our analysis shows that organic speciation of PM2.5 identified 3 majorregional air corridors from which heavy metals and industrial pollutants mix with the city’s air. These corridors are in the Northeast, East and Northwest predominantly. The key pollutants they bring are combinations of Chromium-Nickel-Manganese, Copper-Cadmium-Lead, Lead-Tin-Selenium and Chlorine-Barium-Selenium. The 5 major categories of sources are — Industrial, Combustion, Biomass, Traffic and Dust.The data is updated every 15 minutes.
The lockdown phase clearly highlighted which sources were controlled and which weren’t, the household emissions from fossil fuel-based cooking continued rampantly along with open burning, diesel generators and power plants. The data from the unique real-time source apportionment project is at par with global trends being followed for cities like London and Beijing and we invite the state government to use this to design policy framework for Delhi’s successful pollution mitigation strategy.”

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