In the past two-and-ahalf years, Kolkata’s air qualified as ‘good’ only once for a fortnight in August 2015. In the 31 months between January 2014 and July 2016, there wasn’t a single instance when the average monthly SPM count was below the permissible limit. Worse, it turned absolutely toxic for a fortnight this January.
This year, the city’s air quality has been particularly bad with the PM2.5 count hovering over the Indian threshold of 60 microgramcubic metre. The WHO threshold is even more stringent at 25 microgramcubic metre. “People complain about the air quality of Delhi. But on several days, the air in Kolkata is worse than Delhi,” US consul general in Kolkata Craig Hall said at a workshop on the city’s air quality at the American Centre on Thursday . Later, a brainstorming session was held in association with Jadavpur University’s Global Change Programme and social enterprise Banglanatak.com to chalk out probable strategies to improve the city’s foul air.
According to data recorded by equipment installed at the consul general’s residence at Ho Chi Minh Sarani off Chowringhee since August 2013, fine suspended particulate matter of 2.5 micron dimension that enters the respiratory system unhindered and has severe health impact, varies from high to very high to terrible between October and March every year. The worst month is January when the air is laden with PM2.5 that hangs low over the surface and rushes into our respiratory tract with every breath. The best month is August when rains cleanse the air and wash away the deadly particles.
“It is time Kolkata took notice of the foul air and acted with urgency to improve it, particularly between September and January when the SPM2.5 count breaches that of Delhi. Alarm bells have started to ring in Delhi. It needs to happen in Kolkata as well,” said Rajeev M Sharma from the resource conservation unit at the US embassy .
Vid Nukala, a biomedical science-and-technology advisor who is in the US department of health and human services at the US embassy in Delhi, said pollution in South Asia, including India, had gone up 8% in the past two years. He also pointed out Kolkata’s high pollution level was despite more than half the population walking to work or taking a bus. While those who walk contribute least to the city’s pollution, they are among the most vulnerable to lung cancer, stroke and heart disease.