How bad is Bengaluru air?

How bad is Bengaluru air?

Trump says India’s air is filthy. Metrolife looks at comparative levels

A major share of Bengaluru’s air pollution is caused by vehicular traffic, say environmentalists. Between 2015 and 2020, the city saw an 80 per cent rise in respiratory illnesses triggered by air pollution.

When it comes to air pollution, Bengaluru is way better than Delhi, but worse than top US cities.

Metrolife compared numbers soon after US President Donald Trump said, ‘Look at India. The air is filthy.’ (See box).

Things work differently in the US and strict enforcement makes a difference, say environmentalists in Bengaluru.

Unlike Delhi, where stubble burning in addition to vehicular and industrial pollution contributes to air pollution, construction and vehicular traffic are the villains here.

Air pollution is connected to industrial pollution in areas like Peenya Industrial Area and Mysuru Road, says Tara Krishnaswamy, co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru (CFB).

“There are much better laws for protection and enforcement in the US,” she says.

Tara says the Karnataka Pollution Control Board, despite massive petitioning, does not question mammoth projects about pollution levels.

In Washington DC and New York, emission control boards are stringent. Also, both cities have a good bus system, bus lanes and an efficient suburban railway system. Parking charges are high and dissuade people from using their own vehicles, she observes.

‘India harmed more’

Since the implementation of the Clean Air Act, air quality has dramatically improved in the US.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a US regulatory body, sets standards and requires the country’s states to match and go beyond them, says Leo Saldanha, full-time coordinator and trustee, Environment Support Group.

“In terms of setting targets, air pollution limits, moving away from coal and gas, there are progressive and not-so-progressive states in the US. The biggest difference is that it is not easy to get away after breaking the standards set by the EPA,” he says.

He cites the example of how a US federal judge ordered Volkswagen to pay a huge penalty for rigging diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions tests.

“There are teeth in the law but it’s deliberately weakened by the political and bureaucratic administrations so that the guilty can escape. There is no way one can clean the city’s air without punishing the big polluters,” he told Metrolife.

Officials who don’t take action should also be punished. India is harmed more by environmental violations as it is more densely populated than the US, he says.

Pollution deaths

Air pollution is a big concern both in India and the US, says Sanjana Acharya, a core volunteer of FridaysForFuture Karnataka. “In the US, it is responsible for one in 25 deaths. In India it is about one in eight deaths. Life expectancy has been shortened by an average of 5.25 years because of air pollution here,” she says.

Between 2015 and 2020, Bengaluru saw an 80 per cent rise in respiratory illnesses. Those who use two wheelers, street vendors and construction workers are most exposed to pollution.

“In the US, air pollution has been decreasing,” she adds.

Specific measures

PM10 and PM2.5 are the primary pollutants in Bengaluru. D T Devare, trustee with Bangalore Environment Trust, says that unlike in Delhi, the contribution to air pollution through transport is higher in Bengaluru. “A study by The Energy and Resources Institute says that PM10 comes from transport (42 per cent) and road dust (20 per cent). Since road dust gets stirred by vehicular movement, a significant percentage of the 20 per cent should be added to transport, making the contribution by transport above 50 per cent,” he says.

Among the vehicles, cars including jeeps and taxis play a greater role than other vehicles. “They constitute about 21.5 per cent of total vehicles in Bangalore Urban. Over 35 per cent of these run on diesel which is relatively more polluting,” he says. Big and luxury cars, SUVs, which constitute about 30 per cent of the total number of cars, cause both pollution and congestion. A number of measures need to be implemented to discourage the use of cars, he suggests.

A road tax based on the size of the car and not just its value should be applied. “General recommendations won’t help, specific measures need to be taken,” he says.

How to check AQI?

You can check the Air Quality Index (AQI) of your city by logging on to www.cpcb.nic.in. An average for 24 hours is available there.

Air quality is ranked as good (0 to 50 AQI), satisfactory (51 to 100), moderate (101 to 200), poor (201 to 300), very poor (301 to 400) and severe (401 to 500).

Pollutants measured

AQI is a measure of eight pollutants: PM10, PM2.5, Ozone (O3), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), Lead (Pb) and ammonia (NH3). PM refers to particulate matter.

Air pollution levels on Oct 28

Delhi 297

Mumbai 130

Chennai 71

Kolkata 178

Bengaluru 96

(Data: Central Pollution Control Board)

Washington DC 53

New York 33

San Francisco 46

(Data: AirNow, partners with US Environmental Protection Agency)