Failed warnings: Most thermal power plants have ignored the stage-1 and stage-2 GRAP notifications both times. Photo: Ninara/Flicker

Delhi-NCR air quality worsens, coal-based thermal power plants flout GRAP norms?

Coal-based thermal power plants around Delhi-NCR, with massive emission loads, are violating GRAP norms. Citing official data of Commission for Air Quality Management, Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), posted a Twitter thread on rising air pollution levels, which are expected to worsen in Delhi-NCR. The central panel has rolled out stage-1 and stage-2 GRAP notifications over the past 10 days, which included implementing stricter emission norms for coal-based plants. However, most thermal power plants (TTPs) have ignored the directions both times. The PM2.5 levels now are ~2.5 times the NAAQS and 9-10 times the WHO daily guidelines

According to Dahiya, without efficient pollution control, coal-based TPPs are generating more electricity this year compared to past years, therefore creating more emission load in Delhi NCR air-shed. Dahiya cited last year’s Business Standard report that showed how shutting down 6 TPPs significantly improved NCR’s air quality. 

Only Mahatma Gandhi STPP and Dadri TPP have implemented FGD norms, and apart from that only two TPPs in Punjab are closed last week. All others in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh operate without strict emission controls, he concluded. 

An HT report revealed how solutions offered to farmers to stop burning stubble do not even match with the rapidly changing sowing cycle, and “officials do not care”.

Nearly 60% of state pollution control board members in north India linked to polluters

A study by think-tank Centre for Policy Research revealed that 57% of members of 10 state pollution control boards that regulate the Indo-Gangetic plain, a hotbed of air pollution, are linked to potential polluters (local authorities, industries and public sector corporations), reported TOI. Only 7% members are scientists, medical practitioners and academics, the study stated. Most of the state boards do not meet the requirement of having at least two members with knowledge of air quality management, the CPR study said. 

The state boards that were analysed included Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal. The CPR study also found that 40% of all posts have not been filled across nine states, nearly 84% of technical positions are vacant in Jharkhand, and 75% in Bihar and Haryana. The report concluded that although the Centre has made ambition targets under the National Clean Air Programme, achieving those targets will require “competent regulators and sufficient capacity”. 

Norms to promote use of paddy stubble to power thermal plants and industry released

The government released guidelines for one-time financial support to set up pelletisation and torrefaction plants to back use of paddy stubble in thermal power plants and industries. The Centre allocated ₹50 crore for the scheme, which is generated from the environment protection charge being collected by the Central Pollution Control Board following a 2016 SC order which directed that a charge of 1% of ex-showroom price be imposed on every diesel car with 2000 cc and above capacity in Delhi NCR, HT reported.

The one-time grant will cover 40% of capital costs of such plants, under which ₹14 lakh can be provided for non-torrefied plants and ₹28 lakh for torrefied plants, the report said, adding that the maximum support that CPCB will provide for such units under the scheme is ₹70 lakh for non-torrefied and ₹1.4 crore for torriefied plants.

Around 1.1 million MT paddy straw pellets can be produced per annum, if the corpus is completely utilised, according to CPCB’s estimates. State governments can also provide financial support to these plants if they want. According to the guidelines, the plants should be set up within 3 to 6 months of transfer of financial support under the scheme.

France fined again over air pollution in major cities

France’s highest administrative court slapped two new 10-million-euro ($9.75 million) fines on the country for failing to improve air quality in major cities. Last year, the same court imposed another 10 million euro fine for the same reason.

Five years ago, the Conseil d’Etat court ordered the French government to cut down nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels and fine particles in more than a dozen zones to comply with European standards.

“To this day, the measures undertaken by the state don’t guarantee that air quality improves enough to respect pollution thresholds as quickly as possible,” the Conseil d’Etat said in a statement. Reuters reported that the money would go to environmental groups that brought the case.

Fuel regulation reduced air pollution caused by shipping industry: NASA

Day-time satellite images of over 17 years have revealed that ship tracks, the polluted marine clouds that trail ocean-crossing vessels, have reduced in number. A global standard implemented in 2020 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—requiring an 86% reduction in fuel sulphur content—likely reduced ship track formation. COVID-19-related trade disruptions also played a small role in the reduction, reported NASA. 

Scientists computed and created the first global climatology (a history of measurements) of ship tracks. They used artificial intelligence to automatically identify ship tracks across 17 years of daytime images (2003-2020) captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. 

NASA report said that ship tracks were first observed as “anomalous cloud lines” in early weather satellite images acquired in the 1960s. They are formed by water vapour coalescing around small particles of pollution (aerosols) in ship exhaust. The highly concentrated droplets scatter more light and therefore appear brighter than non-polluted marine clouds, which are seeded by larger particles such as sea salt. 

Strict norms resulted in drop of SO2 emissions by coal plants and construction industry 

Strict implementation of environmental laws and the adoption of effective control technologies such as ‘scrubber’ and ‘flue gas desulphurisation’, resulted in the drop of emission and concentration of SO2 in India, according to the study conducted by a team of researchers from the Centre for Oceans, Rivers, Atmosphere and Land Sciences (CORAL) at the IIT Kharagpur. The Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) levels in India dropped in the last decade significantly as compared to the previous three decades.

CORAL spokesperson said the study represents temporal changes in SO2 concentrations across India in the last four decades (1980-2020). The study revealed that while thermal power plants contributed 51% to SO2 concentration, the construction sector’s share was 29%, as per the estimate during that period. The temporal analyses reveal that SO2 concentrations in India increased between 1980 and 2010 due to coal burning and the lack of novel technology to contain the emissions during that period, reported the HIndu.

Use of LPG by pregnant women to cook improved indoor air, but not birth weight

 A large global study found that the birth weight of infants did not differ significantly between those born to women who used Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cook stoves, and those born to women who used biomass cook stoves. The study titled the Household Air Pollution Intervention (HAPIN) trial assessed the impact of an 18-month LPG intervention on health in India, Guatemala, Peru, and Rwanda among 3,200 pregnant women and 200 older adult women.

The study stated that while PM 2.5 exposures were significantly lower among the intervention group, they were still more than seven-fold higher than the recently issued WHO guideline values. Findings suggest that even lower levels may be needed to achieve benefits on birth weight. More than a third of the global population—about 3 billion people—rely on solid biomass (wood, charcoal, dung and agricultural residue) for cooking, reported the Indian Express.