Found in ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ category during first six months this year

For poor air quality in the state, farmers usually take the blame for causing it by resorting to stubble-burning. However, a perusal of the data based on the monthly Air Quality Index, collected from six air monitoring stations across the state, reveals a different story.

It shows that the air quality in the state was never in the “good” category and rarely in “satisfactory”. It was rather “poor” or “very poor” during the first six months of this year. There was no stubble-burning during this period, which usually takes place in October.

While 0-50 microgram per cubicmetre (µg/m³) RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter) is considered good, 51-100 satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 severe. The average air quality in the first six months of this year was recorded between moderate to poor with sometimes reaching “very poor” category due to dust storms and other factors.

Depleting forest cover in the state has further added to the woes. At present, the Punjab Pollution Control Board records air quality at monitoring stations in Patiala, Amritsar, Mandi Gobindgarh, Khanna, Jalandhar and Ludhiana.

Charanjit Singh, a senior PPCB official, said: “Usually the reading is above 100 RSPM on most days, but goes on to alarming levels when farmers resort to stubble-burning or when we have dust storms. The other major reason for the high pollutants in the air is the declining forest cover in the state.”

“During winters, the burning of wood as fuel for cooking and crackers also add to pollution in addition to low air velocity, while in summer months, dust storms are the major reason,” he claimed.

In October and November last year, the air quality had turned “very poor” following farm fires and bursting of crackers, with the RSPM reaching around 340 µg/m³, causing smoggy conditions. Many schools in the districts were asked to shut down due to smog.

Another senior PPCB official said industrial and vehicular pollution and smoke emanating from brick-kilns usually continued throughout the year and made the matters worse. “What is now worrying is the flow of air laden with dust and other particles and less rain spells during the pre-monsoon period. Further, pollens also worsen the air quality in addition to construction-related activity,” he said.

What is particulate matter

Particulate matter (PM) is a complex mixture consisting of varying combinations of dry solid fragments, solid cores with liquid coatings and small droplets of liquid. It may be divided into many size fractions, measured in microns (a micron is one-millionth of a metre). ARB regulates two size classes of particles - particles up to 10 microns (PM10) and particles up to 2.5 microns in size (PM2.5). PM2.5 particles are a subset of PM10

PPCB in denial mode

  • In May 2016, the PPCB had trashed as ‘dubious’ the WHO report showing four Punjab cities — Ludhiana, Khanna, Amritsar and Mandi Gobindgarh — among the world’s 25 most-polluted cities in terms of fine particulate matter-2.5 level in the air.
  • Again in May 2018, the PPCB had termed the figures quoted in a WHO report on 20 most-polluted cities as “fudged and unscientific”. Patiala had figured at 13th spot on the list.

Source: September 11, 2018, The Tribune