Delhi’s air quality improves, experts say may deteriorate due to toxic air from fire at Bhalaswa

By: | Published: October 22, 2018 10:52 PM

Delhi's air quality showed signs of improvement Monday as it moved from 'very poor' to 'poor' category, but experts said it might deteriorate in the coming days due to the toxic air coming out of a fire at Bhalaswa landfill site.

Delhi air quality, CPCB, North Delhi Municipal Corporation, SAFAR, Delhi Fire Services, CSEThe Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi at 272 in the evening. (IE)

Delhi’s air quality showed signs of improvement Monday as it moved from ‘very poor’ to ‘poor’ category, but experts said it might deteriorate in the coming days due to the toxic air coming out of a fire at Bhalaswa landfill site. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) recorded the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi at 272 in the evening. An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered ‘good’, 51 and 100 ‘satisfactory’, 101 and 200 ‘moderate’, 201 and 300 ‘poor’, 301 and 400 ‘very poor’, and 401 and 500 ‘severe’.

However, a fire has been raging at the Bhalswa landfill site here since October 20. Three fire tenders were working to douse the blaze, which was finally “almost” brought under control by 7.30 PM on Monday, a Delhi Fire Service official said.

An North Delhi Municipal Corporation official said, “We always keep a fire tender stationed there in case any fire occurs. In today’s case, we do not know yet if the fire occurred on it own or some cigarette or ‘bidi’ triggered it. We are on stand by.” The Centre-run System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) reported an AQI in the ‘very poor’ category.

On Sunday, the AQI had oscillated between ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ categories. Faridabad and Gurgaon recorded ‘poor’ air quality; Noida and Greater Noida too reported ‘poor’ air quality while Ghaziabad reported ‘very poor’ category.

The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), under which a host of measures to control pollution is taken, is already in force in Delhi after the air quality had dipped to ‘very poor’.

Meanwhile, Delhi Environment Minister Imran Hussain expressed serious concern over the fire that broke out in Bhalaswa, since Delhi is already bracing itself with the adverse impact of stubble burning in the neighbouring states, which is likely to aggravate air quality in the city in the coming days.

He directed officials of the Delhi Fire Services to depute one fire tender exclusively for putting out the incidents of fire in Bhalaswa landfill site.

In a meeting, which was convened by Hussain to review the preparedness of the municipal corporations in handling such incidents at the three sites — Bhalaswa, Ghazipur and Okhla — was informed that the three sites were not equipped to handle situations.

The three municipal commissioners did not attend the meet, the Delhi government said in a statement. “The officers of the three municipal corporations also informed that the three sites are primarily not scientifically designed and all of them have exceeded their prescribed garbage storage capacities. They are in the process of developing new sanitary landfill sites and waste to energy plants for better disposal and processing of waste,” an official statement said.

Hussain asked the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to coordinate the efforts for preventing fire incidents with all the three municipal corporations.

The minister also asked for speedy development of scientifically-engineered landfill sites and also for installation of waste to energy plants by the concerned municipal corporations so that the ever-increasing garbage quantum is properly disposed, processed and managed.

The experts pointed out that the air quality is likely to be affected due to such fires. Anumita Roychowdhury of CSE said, as winter approaches, toxic air emanating out of such landfill fires is likely to affect the air quality.

“If the wind speed is lower and the temperature dips, the polluted air coming out of the landfill fires will get trapped, which would severely affect the air quality,” she said. She said the municipal bodies should try and mitigate the damage to environment by applying slope stabilisation measures for landfill sites.

Civic bodies in east and south Delhi have already been working on stabilisation of Ghazipur and Okhla landfill sites. “They must do it quickly as winter is close by, and fires during winter will make matter worse. Bhalswa fire cam recur so, civic authorities must take action urgently,” she said.

On Saturday, a haze had engulfed the national capital and the worst air quality of this season was recorded at 324. An official had then said the air quality of Delhi might deteriorate to ‘severe’ category in the coming days as the air becomes heavier and results in the formation of smog.

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Protection Control Authority (EPCA) Friday had held a meeting with officials of Punjab, Haryana and the Delhi governments to discuss the pollution situation in the national capital.

An EPCA member Friday said stock of the situation was taken and it was decided that special attention would be given to vulnerable hotspots where ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ air quality was observed.

The PM2.5 (presence of particles in the air with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres) was recorded at 134. The PM2.5, also called fine particulates, can be a matter of more serious health concern than PM10. The PM10 level (presence of particles in the air with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres) in Delhi stood at 280, according to the CPCB data.

A CPCB official said a number of factors were responsible for the deteriorating air quality, including vehicular pollution, construction activities and meteorological factors like direction of wind, which is now flowing from the stubble burning areas. Satellite imagery by NASA Sunday showed countless spot fires already burning in Haryana and Punjab.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Friday warned that Delhi would become a “gas chamber soon” as the Centre, Punjab and the Haryana governments were doing “absolutely nothing” for farmers involved in stubble burning.

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