Greenpeace study claims that Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad air most toxic in south India

Published : January 29, 2022 12:37 IST

Heavy fog and air pollution one morning in Hyderabad in December last year. Photo: RAMAKRISHNA G.

The annual PM2.5 levels in Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad exceeded the WHO guidelines of 5 micrograms per cubic metre by seven to eight times. Hyderabad had an annual average of a little over 40 points.

A study by the not-for-profit non-governmental organisation (NGO) Greenpeace India has found that the air quality in the Telangana capital Hyderabad is the second most toxic in the whole of south India; the Andhra Pradesh port city of Visakhapatnam is the most contaminated. The study, which analyses Central Pollution Control Board’s data from 10 major cities of southern India, claims that average pollution levels in the cities far exceed the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The study reiterates what several earlier studies have shown — that toxic air is more likely to cause premature death and numerous health hazards, including asthma, lung cancer, stroke, preterm birth, low birth weight, depression, schizophrenia and diabetes.

Both Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam exceed the permissible limits set by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) in terms of two key atmospheric air quality parameters — particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and particulate matter 10 (PM10). Particulate matter is defined by the width of the particles and is an indication of the total solid and liquid particles, both organic and inorganic, suspended in the air. These particles could be 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5) or 10 microns or smaller (PM10) and come in the form of dust, pollen, smoke, soot and liquid droplets. While PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) is generally generated by polluting vehicles, dust from construction sites is PM10 (coarse particulate matter).

The Greenpeace India study compares air quality data in Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Amaravati, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Mangaluru, Puducherry, Coimbatore and Mysuru, and was conducted between November 20, 2020, and November 20, 2021. The Greenpeace India report said that the annual PM2.5 levels in Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad exceeded the WHO guidelines of 5 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre) by seven to eight times. Hyderabad had an annual average of a little over 40 points. While in Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Mangalore and Amaravati annual PM2.5 levels exceeded the WHO guidelines of 5 µg/m3 by six to seven times, in Mysuru, Kochi, Chennai and Puducherry, it was four to five times. Vijayawada exceeded the limit by three to four times.

As for annual PM10 levels, according to the study, Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad exceeded the prescribed WHO guideline of 15 µg/m3 six to seven times, Bengaluru, Mangalore, Amaravati, Chennai and Kochi exceeded the safe limit by three to four times. Mysuru, Coimbatore and Puducherry exceeded the limit by 2 to 3 times. Apart from that, in Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad the values are 1.5 to 2 times higher than the NAAQS prescribed standards.

The report based on six monitoring sites, also mentions the most heavily polluted areas in Hyderabad. Among the six pollution monitoring sites, the highest annual pollution levels in terms of both PM2.5 and PM10 were observed in Sanath Nagar, Zoo Park and Bolarum. In terms of PM2.5, Sanath Nagar had an annual average of nearly 50 points, while in terms of PM10, the worst hit was Zoo Park with levels exceeding 100 points, followed by Bolarum and Ida Pashamylaram, where the levels were around 87 points. Past source apportionment studies by the CPCB indicate that the main contributor of high PM2.5 and PM10 levels in Hyderabad is vehicular pollution. The report does not cite the most polluted areas in Visakhapatnam.

Said Avinash Chanchal, Campaign Manager of Greenpeace India: “We have to prioritise the immediate shift to clean energy and clean transport to stop more damage.”

The WHO’s revised air pollution guidelines state: “Both PM2.5 and PM10 are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs, but PM2.5 can even enter the bloodstream, primarily resulting in cardiovascular and respiratory impacts, and also affecting other organs.”