Air pollution: Firecracker ban puts lid on toxic brew, a step in right direction
As for those who value clean air—the apex court order is just a good first step. It is an intervention that makes much more sense than steps such as the temporary ban on new diesel vehicles, the odd-even scheme, environment specialists say.
“This will play a crucial role in regulating air pollution in the region and reduce the impact on human health,” said Ajay Mathur, Director General of New Delhi-based think tank, The Energy and Resources Institute, or TERI.
The order, restores the pristine glory of Diwali, when people celebrated the festival with earthen lamps and a few sparklers; but in recent decades, the festival has been marred by ostentatious use of firecrackers that contain lethal doses of chemicals, and release poisonous gases, putting people to risk of cancer, skin disorder.
Bursting crackers was a major contributor to the dark 10-day haze that enveloped Delhi last year, with poisonous substances at alarming levels, he said. “The ban by the Supreme Court would ensure that unlike previous years, Delhi does not gasp for clean air after Diwali, and those suffering from respiratory diseases do not have to consider leaving the city during this time,” Mathur said.
Data recorded by monitoring stations shows that the levels of toxins that can accumulate in humans, animals and plants, jumps three to four times the average levels of October and November.
Unlike other experts, Mathur, who has been a part of international group of scientists working with the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change, stresses the ban on firecrackers is just a first step. “With meteorological conditions not being favourable for dispersing dust and particulate matter in a short interval, the ban is a step in the right direction,” he said.
Those arguing that the ban will diminish festive fervour would benefit from a quick glance at the toxic brew that goes into a seemingly innocuous firecracker. Every firecracker from the simple phuljhari to the more elaborate rocket requires oxidising agents to produce the oxygen required to burn the mixture, a reducing agent to burn the oxygen, a regulator to determine the speed of the reaction and colouring, and binders to hold the mixture together.
Materials used include nitrates, sulphur, charcoal, aluminium, titanium, copper, strontium, barium, dextrin and paron. Virtually every organ in the body is at risk especially given the huge quantities of firecrackers that are burst during Diwali. Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, who gave the firecracker ban judgment, observed in the five days that Diwali is celebrated, roughly 10 lakh kg of firecrackers are burst each day.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, Central Board of Pollution Control , the country’s apex pollution regulator, analysed the four commonly sold types of firecrackers— atom bombs, Chinese crackers, maroons, and garland crackers. It found that the four key ingredients used were aluminiumpowder, whichgives firecrackers its brilliant flames and white sparks, sulphur, potassium nitrate, and barium nitrate.
These ingredients, according to the scientists at CPCB, are a major constituent of the smog that forms on bursting of firecrackers and hangs over the city like an impenetrable cloak for days after Diwali. This smog has high levels of sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter containing heavy metals such as lead, mercury, strontium, lithium, and aluminium.
The CPCB says that a “major concern being the inappropriate stoichiometric amounts of the ingredients in making common firecrackers.”
What worries the regulators in the quantities in which the ingredients are used to make firecrackers louder, brighter and even longer lasting. The end result is that every firecracker burst adds to the already heavy pollution load. TERI’s point person on air pollution, Sumit Sharma, says “The ban will certainly lead to lesser pollution levels, especially during the days after Diwali.” Scientists have known for long about the contribution of firecrackers to making the air dirty and the harmful health impacts of the particular brew of pollutants.
In 2003, Khaiwal Ravindra and his two colleagues at department of environmental sciences and engineering at Guru Jambeshwar University studied the effect of fire crackers on the air quality of Hisar City in Haryana during Diwali. They found a clear link—the levels of sulphur dioxides increased tenfold while that of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter increased two to three folds. Similar studies have been undertaken by scientists from the Meghnad Saha Institute of Technology in Howrah, All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Sanitation, Kolkata, and Jadavpur University. They too recorded an exponential spike in pollution. Their 2007 study, which was restricted to the Howrah area, revealed an increase in the incidenceof cardiovascular mortality andmorbidity of 125% and 175%, respectively.
The Supreme Court’s judgment comes as a validation to these researchers. Bhargav Krishna, co-founder of Care for Air, and researcher with the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India, says this is an important judgment as “it places public health front and centre, ahead of economic interests of anyparticular groupandtheimportance of this frame cannot be overemphasised.”
But not everyone believes that the state governments have treated the issue with the seriousness it requires. Atul Goyal, president of the United Residents Joint Action of Delhi (URJA) argues that Delhi government needs to step up its public engagement on the issue. “The government needs to put the information on the harm caused by the firecrackers much more aggressively.
For the most part people are ignorant of what goes into the firecrackers and how it hurts them. The information needs to be hammered into them to change people’s mindset.”
The Supreme Court judgment, Krishna explains “is a first and important step in a broad swathe of actions required to address the air pollution issue in Delhi and the region.” To effectively control of air pollution in the city, stringent measures are required for other major sources, which emit toxic pollutants all-round the year.
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Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: Can We Follow a Green Diwali This Year?
October 15, 2014
by Rumani Saikia Phukan
One of the most awaited festivals in India and abroad for Indian Hindus is Diwali. Diwali always falls on the darkest night of the year and that is why we illuminate everything around us with lights and diyas on this day. We follow the age-old tradition of offering our prayers to Goddess Laxmi and welcoming her to our nicely decorated homes. And yes, how can we forget the tradition of burning of fire crackers on this day? The sounds of the crackers fill the air, the lights illuminate the sky and our homes and there is happiness all around. Sounds great, isn’it? Like everyone else, I also look forward to this day every year. But, this festival is also associated with some harmful effects on the environment.
Impact of Diwali on the Environment and the Society
- Air pollution: The fun of Diwali lies in bursting of firecrackers. And the result is tremendous air pollution. The already polluted cities of our country get more air polluted on this day. Burning of fire crackers releases toxic gases and pollutants in the air like as sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide etc. This, in turn, causes air-polluted diseases like asthma and bronchitis. The elderly and children are affected. Also the animals and birds. It also creates smog which leads to reduced visibility in the nights after Diwali.
- Noise pollution: Not only dust and smoke, bursting of firecrackers leads to noise pollution which is equally harmful and affect the sick old people, the patients in the hospitals. In extreme cases, noise pollution can lead to hear loss, high blood pressure and insomnia. Animals and birds are also very badly affected during Diwali by the loud sounds of crackers.
- Child Labour: While we enjoy burning crackers, we should not forget that most of the crackers are prepared by young children who work as labourers in the factories. These crackers are prepared using hazardous substances, chemicals and acids. In the process, they fall sick due to harmful fumes, they burn their legs, hands and eyes, and they work in very shabby conditions at a very low wage.
- Consumption of Energy: Using of electric lights and bulbs is a trend these days in Diwali. Not only homes, business establishments, offices, shops, monuments and roads are also decorated with electric lights, much before Diwali and even after that. The result is heavy load on electrical energy sources and consumption of huge amount of electricity.
- Garbage all around: How can we forget about the garbage and litter that gather on the roads, in our localities just after Diwali? The quantity of garbage released after Diwali is very high. Last year, in Delhi alone, approximately 4,000 additional metric tonnes of garbage were released. Double the amount in Mumbai. This garbage is hazardous as it includes sulphur, phosphorous, potassium chlorate, and burnt paper of the fire crackers. Not only that, you also find empty sweet boxes, gift wrappers, dried flowers all across the roads.
- Accidents and Burns: Last but not the least, we cannot ignore the minor and major accidents that take place on Diwali, including the burn injuries. Over 40% of burn injuries are of children below 14 years of age. According to a report, around 10,000 people get injured by the crackers every year. There are minor injuries which are not recorded but cause great pain to the victims.
Government of India’s Legal Steps
- Right to Peaceful Sleep is a fundamental right of every citizen of the country. Considering this, the Supreme Court of India has banned bursting of crackers after 10 pm during the Diwali festival. Same is applicable for Dussehra and other festivals too.
- There is a decibel limit fixed for firecrackers at the maximum of 125dB, under the Encironment Protection Act, 1986.
- The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has banned fire-crackers whose dB level is more than 125 at a distance of 4 meters from the point where they are burned.
- Also, loudspeakers cannot be used after 10:00 pm and the offenders can face 5 years of jail or Rs. 1 lakh as fine.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Green Diwali We always talk of keeping our environment clean. But, then again, we are the only ones who pollute it. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched on 2nd October 2014 stresses on a Clean India. Prime Minister has appealed to each and every one of us to maintain cleanliness in our homes and localities. Under these circumstances, I wonder how people are going to celebrate Diwali this time, when this is one festival which creates the maximum pollution in a year just, that too, within a short duration.
Can we follow a Green Diwali this time? Green Diwali is not a new concept. Keeping the impact of environmental pollution in mind, it should be our duty to play an environmental friendly and green diwali this time. And it is not that tough. If we have the will, we can do it.
- First of all, let us replace the electric lights by burning earthen lamps or diyas. The age old tradition is much better than the new trend of decorating homes with electric lights. No doubt, this consumes more oil but there will be less pollution as the duration of the diyas is shorter. Plus, it looks beautiful.
- I know, it is easy to say “stop bursting fire crackers” but in reality it is difficult to do so. After all, how can we stop all of a sudden an age-old tradition? It is better to purchase crackers from legal shops, where the packets are properly labelled with the manufacturer’s name, the instructions, the name of the item, including the decibel level.
- Nowadays, environmental friendly crackers are also available which produce less smoke and sound.
- Reduce the amount of purchase of fire crackers than you usually do.
- Select a common open space in your locality to burst crackers with all friends, family members and others from your community. Try lighting noiseless crackers.
- Make sure to clean that area the very next day and throw the garbage in the allocated space.
- Make rangolis using ingredients available in our homes and kitchen shelves like as rice powder for white, turmeric or pulses for yellow, sindoor for red, including fresh flowers.
By observing an environment friendly Green Diwali, we as citizens of this country, can make our little contribution towards the society, the environment as well as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
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