Sunil Kapoor, Director, Udgam Solutions Pvt Ltd has 30 Years of experience in cleaning, pollution control, waste management and water management, including working with Indian and multinational cleaning equipment manufacturing companies, Department of Urban Development, State Mission for Clean Ganga etc. In this interview, he lays out a multi-pronged roadmap for Clean Air.
What affects air quality and how is India preparing to safeguard it?
The main sectors affecting the Air Quality Index are power, industries, transport, residential, agriculture, burning fossil fuels and construction.
Over the years, the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme (NAMP) has revealed that particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) are the major challenge, found to be exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). PM10 is particulate matter which is 10 microns or less in diameter and PM2.5 is particulate matter which is 2.5 microns or less in diameter, generally described as fine particles. By way of comparison, a human hair is about 100 microns; roughly 40 fine particles could be placed on its width.
Dust that we see floating in the air and settling on surfaces contains quartz. This mineral has a hardness of 7 to 7.5 on the Mohs scale and is dangerous not only to surfaces but also to human health.
The Air Quality Index was launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister in April 2015 starting with 14 cities; this has now been extended to 71 cities in 17 states. The target is to achieve 20%-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration by 2024. Under the National Clean Air Program (NCAP), the government has short-term, mid-term and long-term plans where short term means immediate action, mid-term is over a five year period which began with 2019 as the base year, further extendable to 20-25 years in the long term after mid-term review of the outcomes.
What measures to tackle air pollution can be implemented immediately?
In order to minimise pollution, immediate actions which should be taken include plantation drives in pollution hotspots; grassing of open spaces with native grasses; and greening and landscaping of major arterial roads, industrial zones, dust-prone areas, community spaces, schools and housing societies. Constructing permeable pavers and footpaths is an on-going activity. Pollution abatement policies are getting implemented, covering fuel policy, fleet modernisation, electric vehicles and clean fuel. Enforcement of stringent industrial standards for clean technology, enhanced LPG penetration and burning control is important.
How can the problem of road dust be tackled?
Road dust is a major contributor to air pollution, specifically in the summer season, going upto 50% of PM10; Recommended actions for road dust control that are already getting practiced include wall-to-wall paving of roads, manual and mechanised sweeping of roads, watering of roads, control on Construction & Demolition (C&D) dust as per C&D Rules 2016 and Dust mitigation Notification 2018.
Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) are gearing up to utilise 10%-20% material from C&D waste in government and municipal contracts. With water saving in mind, it is recommended to use sewage treatment plant-treated water for water sprinkling along roads and at road junctions, before peak traffic hours.
What is the SCC approach to dust management?
Dust management can be encapsulated under the SCC approach, where the first action is to Suppress airborne dust particles. Dust in itself is not a big problem, but when dust becomes airborne, it becomes a problem. Actions like windbreaks, mitigating dust through spraying water, use of mist canons, fogging and reducing vehicle speed etc can suppress dust.
The second action is to Collect dust from roads; the best way is to regularly collect dust through sweeping action. Use of mechanical sweepers with an effective filtration system are the best means to collect dust. It is extremely important to dispose of the collected dust safely at dedicated spots and use dust covers, green covers or enclosures for temporary relief.
Collected dust needs the third action i.e. Contain. Dust once collected needs to be contained fully and used in landscaping, making construction material such as bricks etc. One ULB has come up with an idea of using silt/dust bags where dust is collected into bags and kept on the roadside for bag collection vehicles to collect these bags on a regular basis. Soil stabilisation does not allow the dust to recirculate into the atmosphere.
What other measures need to be implemented in the long term?
Dust which forms a bond with any surface is called dirt. Soon, this bonding breaks and the particles dislodge from the surface; it becomes dust again and gets airborne. It is equally important to clean dirt at the right time and contain it as soon as possible. High pressure washing of roads, dividers, pavements, central verges, signages, monuments etc should be aligned with the sweeping activity to ensure three-dimensional cleaning. Cutting and pruning of trees should happen as per guidelines.
Annually, approx. 62 MMT of municipal solid waste gets generated. Waste products such as plastic and rubber, when burnt, pollute the atmosphere with noxious fumes; their odour after decomposition pollutes the environment.
The centralised waste disposal infrastructure is being transformed into a sustainable decentralised system in 102 cities. Source segregation into dry and wet waste is being made mandatory, transitioning towards a zero-waste pathway through an integrated solid waste management strategy, construction of decentralised composting plants, biomethanation plants, C&D waste and Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plants.