We are dependent on air for our respiratory needs. Air pollutants cause injury to all living organisms. They reduce growth and yield of crops and cause premature death of plants. Air pollutants also deleteriously affect the respiratory system of humans and of animals. Harmful effects depend on the concentration of pollutants, duration of exposure and the organism.
Smokestacks of thermal power plants, smelters and other industries release particulate and gaseous air pollutants together with harmless gases, such as nitrogen, oxygen, etc. These pollutants must be separated/ filtered out before releasing the harmless gases into the atmosphere.
There are several ways of removing particulate matter; the most widely used of which is the electrostatic precipitator (Figure 1), which can remove over 99 per cent particulate matter present in the exhaust from a thermal power plant. It has electrode wires that are maintained at several thousand volts, which produce a corona that releases electrons. These electrons attach to dust particles giving them a net negative charge. The collecting plates are grounded and attract the charged dust particles. The velocity of air between the plates must be low enough to allow the dust to fall. A scrubber (Figure 1) can remove gases like sulphur dioxide. In a scrubber, the exhaust is passed through a spray of water or lime. Recently we have realised the dangers of particulate matter that are very very small and are not removed by these precipitators. According to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), particulate size 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter (PM 2.5) are responsible for causing the greatest harm to human health. These fine particulates can be inhaled deep into the lungs and can cause breathing and respiratory symptoms, irritation, inflammations and damage to the lungs and premature deaths.
Automobiles are a major cause for atmospheric pollution atleast in the metro cities. As the number of vehicles increase on the streets, this problem is now shifting to the other cities too. Proper maintenance of automobiles along with use of lead-free petrol or diesel can reduce the pollutants they emit. Catalytic converters, having expensive metals namely platinum-palladium and rhodium as the catalysts, are fitted into automobiles for reducing emission of poisonous gases. As the exhaust passes through the catalytic converter, unburnt hydrocarbons are converted into carbon dioxide and water, and carbon monoxide and nitric oxide are changed to carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas, respectively. Motor vehicles equipped with catalytic converter should use unleaded petrol because lead in the petrol inactivates the catalyst.
Controlling Vehicular Air Pollution: A Case Study of Delhi
With its very large population of vehicular traffic, Delhi leads the country in its levels of air-pollution – it has more cars than the states of Gujarat and West Bengal put together. In the 1990s, Delhi ranked fourth among the 41 most polluted cities of the world. Air pollution problems in Delhi became so serious that a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court of India. After being censured very strongly by the Supreme Court, under its directives, the government was asked to take, within a specified time period, appropriate measures, including switching over the entire fleet of public transport, i.e., buses, from diesel to compressed natural gas (CNG). All the buses of Delhi were converted to run on CNG by the end of 2002. You may ask the question as to why CNG is better than diesel. The answer is that CNG burns most efficiently, unlike petrol or diesel, in the automobiles and very little of it is left unburnt. Moreover, CNG is cheaper than petrol or diesel, cannot be siphoned off by thieves and adulterated like petrol or diesel. The main problem with switching over to CNG is the difficulty of laying down pipelines to deliver CNG through distribution points/pumps and ensuring uninterrupted supply. Simultaneously parallel steps taken in Delhi for reducing vehicular pollution include phasing out of old vehicles, use of unleaded petrol, use of low-sulphur petrol and diesel, use of catalytic converters in vehicles, application of stringent pollutionlevel norms for vehicles, etc.
The Government of India through a new auto fuel policy has laid out a roadmap to cut down vehicular pollution in Indian cities. More stringent norms for fuels means steadily reducing the sulphur and aromatics content in petrol and diesel fuels. Euro II norms, for example, stipulates that sulphur be controlled at 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in diesel and 150 ppm in petrol. Aromatic hydrocarbons are to be contained at 42 per cent of the concerned fuel. The goal, according to the roadmap, is to reduce sulphur to 50 ppm in petrol and diesel and bring down the level to 35 per cent. Corresponding to the fuel, vehicle engines will also need to be upgraded. The Bharat Stage II (equivalent to Euro-II norms), which is currently in place in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Surat, Kanpur and Agra, will be applicable to all automobiles throughout the country from April 1, 2005. All automobiles and fuel-petrol and diesel – were to have met the Euro III emission specifications in these 11 cities from April 1, 2005 and have to meet the Euro-IV norms by April 1, 2010. The rest of the country will have Euro-III emission norm compliant automobiles and fuels by 2010.
Thanks to the efforts made, the air quality of Delhi has significantly improved. According to an estimate, a substantial fall in CO2 and SO2 level has been found in Delhi between 1997 and 2005.
In India, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act came into force in 1981, but was amended in 1987 to include noise as an air pollutant. Noise is undesired high level of sound. We have got used to associating loud sounds with pleasure and entertainment not realising that noise causes psychological and physiological disorders in humans. The bigger the city, the bigger the function, the greater the noise!! A brief exposure to extremely high sound level, 150 dB or more generated by take off of a jet plane or rocket, may damage ear drums thus permanently impairing hearing ability. Even chronic exposure to a relatively lower noise level of cities may permanently damage hearing abilities of humans. Noise also causes sleeplessness, increased heart beating, altered breathing pattern, thus considerably stressing humans.
Considering the many dangerous effects of noise pollution can you identify the unnecessary sources of noise pollution around you which can be reduced immediately without any financial loss to anybody? Reduction of noise in our industries can be affected by use of soundabsorbent materials or by muffling noise. Stringent following of laws laid down in relation to noise like delimitation of horn-free zones around hospitals and schools, permissible sound-levels of crackers and of loudspeakers, timings after which loudspeakers cannot be played, etc., need to be enforced to protect ourselves from noise pollution.