New forecasting system to alert Delhi residents about air pollution

Scientists have developed a new forecasting system that they say can provide the residents of Delhi and other heavily polluted areas of northern India, critical information for reducing their exposure to potentially unhealthy air

A new forecasting system, developed by the US-based National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune, provides 72-hour forecasts of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5. “By developing this forecasting system, we are working to provide timely and accurate information to the public, about forthcoming episodes of poor air quality,” said NCAR’s Rajesh Kumar, the lead scientist on the project. “It’s critical to inform people, so they can plan in advance to reduce their exposure to air pollutants that can affect their health,” Kumar said in a statement.

PM2.5 are tiny airborne particles, 2.5 microns or less in diameter and are a major concern, because they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs or even the bloodstream, potentially causing significant respiratory and cardiac problems, the NCAR said in a statement. Air pollution can become so extreme under typical wintertime meteorological conditions that officials in Delhi have closed schools and restricted traffic on highly polluted days, they said. The new system uses measurements of pollutants, computer modelling and statistical techniques. It updates the forecast every 24 hours, researchers said. Preliminary results indicate that it is accurately predicting day-to-day variability in PM2.5, giving officials and residents advance warning of unusually poor air quality.

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It does not always capture the precise levels of the pollutant but Kumar believes they can improve the forecasting system. The technology, which scientists will refine during a two-year research project in India, may eventually be adapted to provide air quality forecasts in other polluted areas in developing countries, as well as in the US. Delhi ranks among the world’s most polluted cities, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It suffers from particularly high levels of PM2.5, a major threat to human health and economic activity throughout much of India and many parts of the developing world. Fine particulates are emitted from numerous sources, including agricultural fires, motor vehicles, and smokestacks.

On days when atmospheric concentrations of PM2.5 in Delhi soar to many times the level that is considered unhealthy, prolonged exposure to the toxic haze is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, researchers said. A recent study in Lancet found that fine particulates and other pollutants may have caused more than one million deaths in India, in 2017.

Officials have turned to air quality forecasts in the past that drew on computer modelling of basic atmospheric conditions, researchers said. However, the forecasts were unreliable, because they did not include detailed atmospheric measurements or accurate inventories of emissions, nor did they correctly capture some of the atmospheric processes that produce particulates, they said. The new system attempts to address these limitations, by incorporating satellite measurements of particles in the atmosphere and near-real time emissions from major fires associated with crop-residue burning upwind of Delhi, according to the researchers. It also draws on inventories of emissions from transportation, industry and other human activities, they said. This information is fed into an advanced NCAR-based atmospheric chemistry model known as WRF-Chem (the chemistry component of the Weather Research and Forecasting model). NCAR scientists are developing a specialised statistical system, to combine the observations and WRF-Chem output, further improving the accuracy of PM2.5 predictions and enabling scientists to reliably quantify the uncertainties in the forecast.

NGT raps Delhi Pollution Control Committee over air quality

The NGT has pulled up the Delhi Pollution Control Committee over the issue of air pollution, saying that the authority was ‘repeatedly failing to perform its duties’

April 9, 2019: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has rapped the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) over its failure to control air pollution in the national capital, saying it was avoiding its duties. A bench, headed by NGT chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, directed the Delhi chief secretary to look into the matter and take remedial measures, about proper manning and effective functioning of the DPCC.

“The tribunal may have to consider whether a statutory authority, which is repeatedly failing to perform its duties, should continue in position as one of the reasons which is contributing to unabated pollution in Delhi resulting in large scale deaths and diseases, is the failure of statutory authorities to perform their duties. In absence of responsiveness of the statutory authorities who have to carry out the orders of this tribunal, mere passing of paper orders will not advance the purpose for which this tribunal has been constituted under the law,” the bench said.

It said that no officer or authority can be allowed to defeat the law in the manner it is being done on a regular basis by the DPCC. The tribunal said that in such a situation, option may also have to be explored for action under Section 18(2) of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, whereby the central government may handover the functions of the defiant DPCC to the Central Pollution Control Board. “Before further action, we direct the chief secretary, Delhi, to look into the matter and take remedial measures about proper manning and effective functioning of the DPCC. The DPCC may file a proper affidavit of the action taken in the matter, before the next date,” the bench said.

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The Tribunal was hearing a plea filed by city resident Rajesh Kumar, alleging air pollution by a brake lining factory near Chajju Gate, Babarpur. The NGT had earlier directed the DPCC to furnish a factual and action taken report. “A report has been received vide e-mail dated March 29, 2019 to the effect that the East Delhi Municipal Corporation has sealed the premises and the SHO will be keeping strict vigil. The report does not show any steps for prosecution or recovery of compensation, for damage to the environment on ‘polluter pays principle’,” the Tribunal noted.

Delhi pollution: NGT slaps Rs 25-crore fine on Delhi government

The NGT has slapped a fine of Rs 25 crores on the Delhi government for its failure to curb pollution, saying that the authorities had ‘hardly done anything concrete, except furnishing excuses’

December 4, 2018: The National Green Tribunal (NGT), on December 3, 2018, asked the Delhi government to deposit Rs 25 crores with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), for their failure to curb the problem of pollution in the city. A bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, also asked the AAP government to furnish a performance guarantee of Rs 25 crores with the apex pollution monitoring body, to ensure that there is no further lapse in this regard.

It said despite its clear directions, there is hardly any action for compliance of orders of the tribunal and pollution continues unabated, in blatant violation of law and under the nose of the authorities ‘who have hardly done anything concrete, except furnishing excuses and helplessness’. The green panel said that even after more than four-and-a-half years, the complaint of the aggrieved parties is that the pollution caused by the unregulated handling of plastic continues to remain unabated.

See also: Prosecute government officials for not acting on air pollution complaints: SC to pollution board

The tribunal was hearing pleas filed by Mundka village resident Satish Kumar and Tikri-Kalan native Mahavir Singh, alleging pollution caused by burning of plastic, leather, rubber, motor engine oil and other waste materials and continuous operation of illegal industrial units dealing with such articles, on agricultural lands in Mundka and Neelwal villages.

The tribunal had earlier directed the Delhi chief secretary to coordinate with the concerned municipal authorities, police authorities and other officers responsible, for compliance of orders of this tribunal already passed, to ensure compliance at the ground-level, forthwith.

It had asked the chief secretary to hold a joint meeting with the persons considered responsible for compliance and till the orders remain un-complied, continue to hold such meetings at least once a month. “It will be open to the chief secretary to seek feedback from the concerned inhabitants, about the ground situation,” the NGT had said.

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