Air quality dips in four major Indian cities during Diwali: Environment startup

Written By: Nischita Verrendra WION
Bengaluru, India Updated: Oct 31, 2019, 04:31 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

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In October 2018 the Supreme Court had banned the use of firecrackers that contained mercury, arsenic and barium.

With the revelry of Diwali festival, also comes the worry of air pollution in India. Despite court intervention and tireless activism, firecrackers continue to worsen the air quality in the country. 

Ambee, an environment start-up in Bengaluru provides real-time hyperlocal air quality data from close to 500 sensors across the country. With 100 sensors in Bengaluru alone, the start-up found that the IT-city saw its air quality worsen six times the normal level during the festival weekend. 

''[In Bengaluru] From a 20-30AQI [in 2012], it is now ranging at 80-120AQI, that is four times worse mainly due to urban traffic. We started observing an increase in pollution a week or two before Diwali with the increase in the number of trucks coming into the city. So, we were already at a 100-110AQI in various parts of Bengaluru. Then during Diwali, we had projected an AQI of 300-350 in certain parts of the city and we saw it rise to almost 400AQI. Particulate matter itself was ranging at 250-350 in some areas. When you burn crackers it is not just particulate matter, but you are also generating nitrogen dioxide which directly correlates with sulphur dioxide, all of this has contributed in the substantial increase in numbers'', says Madhusudan, Co-founder, Ambee.  

Despite the spike, Bengaluru was also one of the Indian cities that fared better than others. While the data saw Bengaluru's AQI jump to 245 from 80 in 2 days and 2.5 levels jump from 76 to 2015, the national capital was the worst hit. In Delhi, the already severe air quality at 220 AQI worsened to 390 on October 27 and saw the PM 2.5 levels almost double to 334. In Mumbai, the air quality index went from 105 to 250 and PM2.5 levels rose from 96 to 243. In Hyderabad, the Avg AQI rose to 280 and PM2.5 levels also multiplied three times to 224.5 in the festival weekend.

''A 10 point increase in particulate matter is approximately equivalent to one cigarette. Now picture a city going from 20 to 200, and that air being taken in by a 5-year-old child. That is how bad it can actually get. It might be a one-time exposure during this period, we have found that it does not get better and people are exposed to very poor air quality'', says Jaideep Singh, Co-founder, Ambee

In October 2018 the Supreme Court had banned the use of firecrackers that contained mercury, arsenic and barium. But over a year later firecracker sellers in Bengaluru were unaware of what green crackers were. 

''Living in Delhi reduces a person's life expectancy by 9 years. You don't have to be a smoker, you don't have to do anything, you just have to live in Delhi and you will live for nine years lesser. This is not improving anywhere else in the world. My co-founder Madhusudan built the first device to save his son. This is what prompted us to start building the company. We need to know what kind of air we are breathing. We are very particular about the kind of food or water that we consume, but we take the air for granted. That is something that needs to change'', says Jaideep Singh.

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