Beware! City air is carcinogenic now


Beware! City air is carcinogenic now

As though increasing levels of air pollution in the City, contributing to respiratory illnesses were not enough for Delhiites, there are far more serious alarm bells ringing - which can land you and your loved ones into extreme trouble vis-avis health. The air we breathe is no longer restricted to particulate matter that causes harm to lungs but it is the presence of heavy metal (in it) that has made it carcinogenic (cancer causing particles) too!

According to a toxicology research assessment report prepared by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Department of Environment, there are alarming levels of heavy metals like nickel and cadmium in City’s air besides a high percentage of particulate matter.

Hauz Khas, Dhaula Kuan, Okhla, Kaushambi and areas surrounding JNU had particulate matter and heavy metal far above the prescribed levels. In Okhla, the air was found highly polluted by lead, nickel and cobalt whereas the air in Kaushambhi has a high percentage of lead, manganese and nickel.   

It is an alarming yet a disturbing report for environmentalists who are surprised with the presence of nickel and cadmium in the urban air. “It is surprising (that there is nickel and cadmium) but if one believes the report, then the next question is, what is the source of it,” says Dr TK Joshi, director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC). 

“In the case of cadmium, one factor could be burning of batteries in large amounts and electroplating illegally. Another obvious source could be the pollutants released from the power plants and car exhausts. Similarly, nickel is generated from combustion of fuel and coal. As the City has three power plants, this could be a possibility. Fumes generated from it contain all heavy metals like mercury, nickel, lead, aluminium and others,” says Joshi.  

While not overtly challenging the authenticity of the report, Dr Joshi does pose queries about the manner in which the air was analysed by JNU scientists. According to him, there are special and sensitive instruments to study the presence of metal in the air. Research scholar Rajesh Kushwaha, who has prepared the report along with his supervisor clears that everything was done in the best scientific way. 

When Metrolife contacted Rajesh, he was reluctant to speak about the report, yet confirmed that the best of the devices have been used. “We have used the best of instruments to study the air. Following procedure we have collected samples from different locations and studied it very carefully,” says Rajesh who was has been doing research on this subject since 2010 and his report published in National Academy of Sciences recently. 
 On the other hand, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) officials also tried to evade the issue. J S Kamyotra, member secretary, CPCB refused to speak on the issue. “No, this is not a matter I want to talk about,” he told Metrolife bluntly.  

What is of specific concern to environmentalists is the high level of toxicity when metal mixes with other components in the air. “Citizens are already reporting of problems in the eyes, nose and throat irritation. The presence of metals will lead to a spurt in the number of patients suffering from lung cancer,” says Ravi Aggarwal of Toxic Links, asking the government to seriously look into the matter.

Meanwhile Dr Joshi says, “There are not many patients of nickel allergy but if nickel is in the air then definitely there will be hike in the number of such patients, who can also have severe ear sores.” Will the government like the CPCB also brush aside the serious issue or take adequate steps? Only time will tell. 

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