A joint, three-year study by the The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and Toyota Corporation has pointed to the possibility of India suffering from a double whammy of dangerous dust and ozone levels over the next 10 to 20 years unless action is taken now.
If things are allowed to go an they are, the report warns that nearly the entire country be classified into the “highly dangerous” category by 2030 as far as concentration of fine dust in the air is concerned and most of the Northern plains will be similarly classified in terms of Ozone concentration by the same year.
Currently, only a handful of cities like Delhi and Ghaziabad and the coal mining belt of Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Orissa are classified as having dangerously high levels of fine dust (dust particles bigger than 10 microns or PM-10).
This will expand to occupy nearly the entire country, with the exception of the southern tip of Tamil Nadu and the Western districts of Rajasthan and Gujarat (shown in green in the picture above).
The level of dust will go up from around 100 microgram per cubic meter of air to 200 or more in the next 20 years, in the business as usual (BAU) scenario, the report warned.
At levels of 200 microgram or more, PM-10 dust has been accumulate in the lungs and are linked to asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular issues, and premature death, indicating a health challenge for the entire country.
As may be clear from the thick concentration of PM-10 in the coal and steel belt, they are primarily released from the smoke stacks of big industries.
The second big pollution threat is Ozone — a three-atom compound of Oxygen linked with premature death, asthma, bronchitis, heart attack, and other similar problems. Ozone also has another devastating effect — it destroys crops and disrupts the food production.
Ozone, however, is not directly produced by any industry or activity, but is produced when Ultra Violet rays from the sun fall on certain compounds such as Nitrogen Oxides (released from vehicles) and carbon compounds released from burning of fire-wood and other dead tissue.
Delhi, Bangalore, Pune and Kolkata were found to have very high levels of Nitrogen Oxide, which causes respiratory illnesses besides causing the formation of Ozone.
The good news is that the study found no big stretch of land that had very high levels of Ozone at present, though the a 150 km wide corridor on the southern side of the Himalayas had moderately high levels in 2005. This entire area will move into the dangerous level (120 microgram per cubic meter) by 2030 if action is not taken, it said (see picture below).
“These concentrations are likely to impact human health in many ways and there could be a substantial decline in the yield of various food crops due to rise in Ozone concentrations,” TERI warned.