India has launched a new air quality index to help citizens understand complex pollution data and its implications for their health.
A World Health Organization (WHO) study of 1,600 cities released in May found New Delhi had the world’s dirtiest air with an annual average of 153 micrograms of small particulates, known as PM2.5, per cubic metre.
Thirteen of the dirtiest 20 cities worldwide were in India, the WHO said. However India rejected the report.
The new index, launched as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Clean India Mission’, will provide one consolidated number after tracking eight pollutants and will use colour coding to describe associated health impacts.
This (index) will provide the common citizen one colour, one number and one description so that he can understand what is the level of air pollution.
Currently, India’s air quality status is reported through “voluminous data”. This makes it difficult for people to understand particle names such as PM2.5 or PM10.
People don’t know what these pollutants are and what happens when they reach a certain level. This index will help people understand air quality better.
The government would also start action-oriented programmes in collaboration with the states to improve air quality, but he gave no details.
India needed to do more and should have emergency measures in place when pollution levels are high. In China, for example, primary schools are shut when pollution levels are at “red alert” levels.
Air pollution killed about seven million people in 2012, making it the world’s single biggest environmental health risk, the WHO, a United Nations agency.
Advocacy and research group Center for Science and Environment lauded the announcement but said that the measure needed to be rolled out quickly to protect public health.
Highlights of the Index:
Pollutants to be monitored: The AQI has been developed for eight pollutants – PM2.5, PM10, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, ozone, and carbon monoxide. The ministry has also taken additional steps to include lead and ammonia, that also have harmful effects over time.
Colour coded warning: AQI has been developed in relation to the Ambient Air Quality Standards and air quality has been classified into six bands and described simply as good, satisfactory, moderately polluted, poor, very poor, and severe. Each band has cut points of concentration with a colour code to visually express the level of severity that people can understand easily. This recognises the principle that from a public health standpoint, even air quality standards that are the regulatory targets to push action are not good enough. From that perspective, air quality is classified as good if the pollution levels are at least 50 per cent below the regulatory standards. This will be reported daily by the state pollution control boards.
Health advisory to raise public awareness: The government will now issue health alerts to people based on air quality index. Possible health consequences of each air quality band will be indicated separately to alert the vulnerable—especially the elderly, children, and those already predisposed towards heart and respiratory problems. This will also indicate health consequences for general public during severe smoggy episodes. For instance, good air quality days will have minimal impact. On days that are satisfactory, it may cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people. On severely polluted days there may be respiratory impacts even on healthy people, and serious health impacts with lung and heart disease and so on.
National implementation: AQI will be implemented nationally in cities with million plus population first and then the next rung in the next phase.