Pretty & toxic: Delhi has more to worry about on Diwali with the toxic concoction of heavy metals the firecrackers release | Image credit: NewsIndiaTimes

Alarming Levels of Heavy Metals found in NCR Air Samples

Alarming levels of toxic heavy metals found in Delhi-NCR’s air; Diwali samples reveal excess of barium, commonly used in fireworks

17 January 2019, New Delhi: Samples of air taken from Delhi and Gurugram in November and December 2018 reveal presence of alarming levels of toxic heavy metals such as manganese, nickel and lead in addition to the excess PM2.5. A report titled “Death in Every Breath” released by Lung Care Foundation, analysed results of 7 samples taken from New Delhi and Gurugram. The results revealed that:

– PM2.5 levels in all the 7 samples were above statutory limits. PM2.5 levels ranged from 90.3 ug/m3 to 563.5 ug/m3 and were between 1.5 and 9.4 times higher than standards prescribed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

– Levels of manganese in five of the seven samples exceed the U.S. EPA Reference Concentration for exposure to manganese (0.05 ug/m3) and the WHO annual health-based guidelines value of 0.15 ug/m3. There are no standards in India for Manganese in ambient air.

– Levels of lead in six of the seven samples exceed the U.S. EPA 3 –month average for exposure to lead (0.15 ug/m3) and in two samples exceeds the Indian NAAQS Annual and WHO annual health-based guidelines value of 0.05 ug/m3.

– Nickel levels in all samples exceed the WHO annual health-based guidelines value of 0.0025 ug/m3, which is based on the risk of cancer associated with long-term exposure to nickel.

“Manganese, lead and nickel are neurotoxins that damage the brain. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead. Exposures to even low levels of lead early in life have been linked to effects on IQ, learning, memory and behavior. It’s a matter of very serious concern that such high levels of these toxic metals are found in the air that our children breathe”, said Dr. Arvind Kumar of Lung Care Foundation. “There is an urgent need for the policy makers to bring the focus back on the people and the health problems they are reporting to understand the impact of air pollution and its severity. People are the best monitors and they have been reporting severe health impacts already”, added Dr. Kumar.

“As parents we watch with horror as more and more evidence gathers of the damage that is being done to our children. It is quite clear that our children’s health has been sold to a handful of polluters. When compared, the causes of pollution are so cheap to fix, as opposed to the scale of the damage that it is causing, which is immense and irreversible. As a parent and as a taxpayer, I cannot fathom why we wouldn’t fix it right now. The findings of presence of toxic heavy metals along with PM2.5 should be a tipping point, and we simply must bite the bullet and act now. Many of the wasteful expenditures must be put on hold. Cleaning the air pollution has to top all political and bureaucratic agendas this coming few years”, said Sherebanu Frosh, a parent from Gurgaon.

High levels of Barium from Diwali fireworks:

The Barium level in the sample a day before Diwali is 21.5 μg/m3, on the day of Diwali the sample has Barium level of 5.8 μg/m3, and a day after Diwali, the Barium level in the sample is 2.4 μg/m3.

According to Dr. Mark Chernaik, Staff Scientist at Environment Law Alliance Worlwide (ELAW), US, “These levels are extremely high and unheard of. Typically, Barium levels are <0.05 μg/m3.” Based on limited human and animal data, the respiratory tract is the most sensitive target following inhalation exposure. According to research, “Barium, typically as barium nitrate imparts a yellow or “apple” green color to fireworks; for brilliant green barium mono chloride is used.”

“Given that Barium was found in samples around Diwali it is quite likely that the fireworks caused this and Barium along with other chemicals contributed to high levels of PM2.5 on those days”, added Dr. Chernaik.

Impacts of Construction Activities and Coal Ash

Levels of silicon were seen elevated in all the samples. According to experts, in most environments, the predominant form or silicon in ambient air is crystalline silica. Construction sand and coal ash have high levels of crystalline silica and could be prominent contributors. Hence locations that are near areas where sand is being processed such as a construction sites or coal ash piles might contribute to the elevated levels of crystalline silica in ambient air that can cause respiratory health effects if exposures are prolonged.

All samples were taken from open balconies of residential homes. 24-hour samples were taken using filters fitted to a low volume air sampler and analysed for PM2.5 (Particulate Matter or dust less than 2.5 micrometres in size) and heavy metals in Chester LabNet at Oregon, USA.

Lung Care Foundation has demanded that:

1. CPCB initiates continuous monitoring heavy metals in dust and publish results periodically along with health advisories.

2. Agencies use the pollution data to apprehend polluters and take corrective action to bring levels of dust and heavy metals in dust to below detection limits in residential areas.

3. Agencies provide for long-term health monitoring by initiating health studies among the residents of Delhi and NCR.

4. Government sets up specialized health care infrastructure operated by the State health departments at polluters’ cost to cater to residents in the region of Delhi and NCR

For more details contact:

Dr Arvind Kumar: +91 98107 65405;

Gunjan Jain – +91 98117 77387

Download the full report: Delhi NCR Air Quality report 2019 FINAL

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