In addition to already highly toxic air of National Capital, benzene levels in the air shoot up for yet another time and with growing cold, the concentration of the carcinogen is expected to rise. According to scientists, benzene concentrations are higher in colder areas and if the temperature drops in the coming days, the levels are bound to rise. The pollutant is highly toxic even at low concentrations and is known to cause leukemia in the long run, which is a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leucocytes.
The biggest source of benzene in the air is vehicular exhaust and fuel vapours. According to experts, while some benzene is produced when fuel is burnt, the major part is contributed as vapour from petrol pumps.
If stats by Indian Express are to be believed, on Tuesday, around midnight the benzene levels in the air quality at Anand Vihar, touched 43.7 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), almost 9 times the prescribed standard of 5 µg/m3. During the evening hours on the same day, the benzene level at R K Puram counted as 37 µg/m3. It has to be noted that at both places, the concentration of benzene did not go below 8 µg/m3 at any time during the past three days.
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A shocking fact comes up when we got know that despite its toxicity, benzene is not part of the pollutants that comprise the National Air Quality Index. Though, DPCC officials say they are aware of the high levels of benzene and have been ringing an alarm bell for many months. Taina step towards fixing the issue, in February, DPCC wrote to oil companies and asked them to install vapour recovery systems at petrol pumps to reduce pollution.
Anil Kumar, director, Environment Department was quoted as saying, “We have again raised the issue in recent meetings with officials of the Environment Department. The levels are very high and benzene has a tendency to settle in colder areas. The coming days could see higher concentrations. Vapour recovery systems are crucial at this stage and we are insisting on them.”
According to T K Joshi, director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, he says that according to studies, benzene at lower levels is much more toxic than at higher concentrations. And soon the levels we are seeing would fall into the category of low levels and can be very dangerous. The compound is typically linked to myloid leukemia which a form of blood cancer. He also warned that the situation is alarming and a vapour recovery system is crucial now.