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Apex Court's Action Plan for Air Pollution in Delhi-NCR
Dec 06, 2016

What we are discussing: 
The alarming situation of Air Pollution in Delhi-NCR
The Supreme Court approved a comprehensive action plan aimed at putting an end to a blame game between central and state authorities and institutionalizing measures to tackle air pollution emergencies in the capital, 

A bench comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and justices A.K. Sikri and S.A. Bobde directed the centre to adopt reports submitted by the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), which list steps to be taken whenever air quality deteriorates beyond a certain level.

Key Points

  • EPCA’s reports categorize four levels of air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) centred around Delhi, based on atmospheric particulate matter (PM) levels. 
  • Particulate matter can be fine—measuring 2.5 micrometres or less and coarse—those that are 10 micrometres or less. 
  • The plan sets in motion a series of steps that every authority—central government, Delhi government, municipal corporations and Delhi’s neighbouring states—need to take as pollution levels spike. 
  • For the first time a system is being created for pollution emergency response. 
  • Enforcement of the plan shall be under the orders of Environment Pollution (Control and Prevention) Authority (EPCA) and all other authorities should act in aid of such direction This will have legal backing as the Union environment ministry will notify it. 
  • Air pollution will be classified into four categories of air quality—moderate to poor, very poor, severe, very severe or emergency.
  • The Centre termed levels of pollution when particulate matter (PM) 2.5 levels are above 250 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³) or PM 10 levels are above 430 µg/m³ in the ambient air as severe, and said immediate steps need to be taken at such a point, including a ban on construction and implementation of odd-even scheme.
  • The court also asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to upgrade existing infrastructure and set up more monitoring stations in Delhi-NCR within six months.
  • The bench directed the CPCB to file a status report on setting up additional monitoring stations in Delhi-NCR within six months. 
  • It also asked the Centre to examine within four weeks the harmful effects of petroleum coke and furnace oil used in industries and power generation plants in NCR.
  • A task force of officials from the central and state pollution control boards, health experts and India Meteorological Department officials will also be set up. This body will work on forecasting and review of pollution levels.


What is Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate Matter or PM, is a mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air. Some particles are released directly from a specific source, while others form in complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. 10 micrometers is less than the width of a single human hair. 

  1. Coarse dust particles (PM10) are 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources include crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles on roads.
  2. Fine particles (PM2.5) are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, and can only be seen with an electron microscope. Fine particles are produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.


Effects on Human Health

Hazardous chemicals escape to the environment by a number of natural and/or anthropogenic activities and may cause adverse effects on human health and the environment. Increased combustion of fossil fuels in the last century is responsible for the progressive change in the atmospheric composition. 

Air pollutants, such as carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone (O3), heavy metals, and respirable particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), differ in their chemical composition, reaction properties, emission, time of disintegration and ability to diffuse in long or short distances. 

Air pollution has both acute and chronic effects on human health, affecting a number of different systems and organs. It ranges from minor upper respiratory irritation to chronic respiratory and heart disease, lung cancer, acute respiratory infections in children and chronic bronchitis in adults, aggravating pre-existing heart and lung disease, or asthmatic attacks. In addition, short-and long-term exposures have also been linked with premature mortality and reduced life expectancy. These effects of air pollutants on human health and their mechanism of action are briefly discussed.

 

 


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