Doctors appeal to Mamata Banerjee not to allow bursting of crackers during Diwali as increased air pollution will add to the COVID-19 threat

Published : October 31, 2020 16:53 IST

Bursting firecrackers in Kolkata, a file picture. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

An organisation of doctors of West Bengal have appealed to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to ensure that this year no firecrackers are burst during Diwali and Kali Puja as the resulting pollution will be particularly dangerous in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter dated October 30, the Joint Platform of Doctors said: “In the last six weeks the spread of COVID-19 and number of deaths in the State has been increasing. It is with great sadness that we are seeing West Bengal emerging as one of the worst-affected States in the country…. In this present situation, we appeal to you to ensure that air-pollution causing crackers and fireworks are not burst, and thereby save the people of the State from danger and serve as an example to other State governments.”

The doctors’ body pointed out that with approaching winter and the deteriorating air quality in Kolkata, more and more people will be susceptible to cough and cold and with the constant threat of COVID-19 looming over them, further pollution of the air by bursting crackers and fireworks will be dangerous for people with weak lungs. “The poisonous gas that is emitted from crackers and fireworks is particularly dangerous for people who are suffering from COVID and are in hospital and in quarantine. Poisonous gas, sulphur, carbon and other chemicals from firecrackers that pollute the air can exacerbate breathing problems and coughing and even cause death. This is particularly dangerous as far as the heart and lungs are concerned of the elderly and the children,” the letter stated.

The doctors stressed the fact that fine particulate matter such as PM2.5 was particularly deadly as it can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause various complications. Referring to a Supreme Court judgment in 2018, they said that bursting crackers increased the levels of PM2.5 in the air and was a serious health hazard. The letter also drew attention to the fact that in 2019 around 16,70,000 people died of illnesses caused by air pollution. “Last year there was no COVID! And this is a COVID year!” the letter warned. Punyabrata Gun, convener of the Joint Platform of Doctors and the West Bengal Doctors Forum, told Frontline, “We have sent this letter to the Chief Minister, and a copy to the Chief Secretary. We have also been in touch with the Pollution Control Board. We appeal to the people to pay heed to our warning and not burst crackers and fireworks and keep this Kali Puja and Diwali pollution-free.”

According to the letter, the situation will be dangerous even for those who have managed to overcome COVID or those who are convalescing. “Many of those who have recovered are still very weak and tired. Some are still suffering from breathing problems. People have also been affected psychologically and financially. There are innumerable people around us just gasping for some fresh air…. For the sake of the pleasure of a few people who want to burst crackers and fireworks, so many people’s lives should not endangered,” the letter stated. Recently the Air Quality Index in Kolkata crossed the 200 mark, signifying “poor” air quality, which, upon prolonged exposure, can cause breathing problems.

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