Demanding for an effective plan at the state level to combat sources of localised air pollution, Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation and member of Clean Air Collective has written to the Environment and Climate Change minister Aaditya Thackeray. Abdulali, in her letter, has pointed out that there is an urgent need to tackle garbage burning which is one of the most prominent sources of localised air pollution.
In Mumbai’s urbanised outskirts, Thane, Bhiwandi, Panvel and beyond, scattered heaps of mixed garbage is burned as people walk casually past it.
Since 2016, Awaaz Foundation has been documenting burning of garbage at numerous sites at Panvel, Dharamtar, Poynad, Chondi, Mumbai-Alibag road, Alibag city centre, Bhiwandi, Kalher and other sites in Thane District. "In the absence of adequate Municipal garbage disposal system, heaps of garbage being burnt near highways and roadsides are an everyday sight in many parts of Maharashtra. Burning is the easiest disposal: many of these dumps are deliberately or accidentally set on fire," said Abdulali.
Starting January 2020, Awaaz Foundation measured PM2.5 at some of these sites and found that pollution levels had a direct correlation with the size of the garbage dump burning, with the dump yard at Bhiwandi stretching for several kilometres alongside a busy road showing the highest level of PM2.5. The measurements were taken at 1-minute, 5-minute and 15-minute intervals at various times from January to December 2020. PM2.5 at Bhiwandi at 1-minute intervals recorded 612µ/mg3, at Panvel Naka recorded 182µ/mg3, at Dharamtar recorded 181µ/mg3.
Along with organic biomass from households and agriculture, roadside garbage dumps contain a high volume of plastic. Burning plastic is particularly hazardous, releasing harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and arsenic which not only lead to respiratory disorders but also cancer, liver and immunity disorders, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Localized air pollution sources kill people even though they may not increase overall AQI level of a larger area to ‘severe’ levels due to weather patterns. Burning plastic is especially toxic and can cause respiratory disease, cancer, liver failure and other diseases. The ICMR Report contains shocking data about premature air pollution-related deaths in Maharashtra, at 1,39,118 people comprising 16.7% of overall deaths. Maharashtra, at 1.4 lakh, has the second-highest air-pollution related deaths in India.
"We hope that Maharashtra may lead the way to effectively tackling air pollution in India through detailed studies and effective plans to tackle every individual source of localized air pollution, directing all civic body across the state to prepare a road map to ensure no garbage is burnt and also implement the Solid Waste Management Rules so that no burning of any kind of waste takes place across Maharashtra," added Abdulali.