Connecting dots: Research found that places with higher levels of air pollution had more lung cancers not caused by smoking.

Study redefines air pollution’s link to cancer

How does air pollution lead to cancer? According to new research, rather than causing damage, air pollution wakes up old damaged cells. The findings mark a “new era” for scientists as it will allow them to develop drugs that stop cancers from forming, reported the BBC. The research found that cancer-causing substances do not damage the DNA as earlier believed, but they trigger cancerous mutations in the DNA that are already damaged from ageing. Scientists discovered this while exploring why non-smokers get lung cancer.

Studying the impact of particulate matter PM2.5, they found that places with higher levels of air pollution had more lung cancers not caused by smoking. Breathing in PM2.5 leads to the release of a chemical alarm—interleukin-1-beta—in the lungs, which inflames and activates cells in the lungs to help repair any damage. 

But around one in every 600,000 cells in the lungs of a 50-year-old already contains potentially cancerous mutations, which are caused due to ageing, but they appear completely healthy until they are activated by the chemical alarm and become cancerous, the report said.

Centre extends deadline for coal plants to fix SO2 emissions to 2027

Yet again, the government extended the deadline for thermal power plants to meet SO2 norms to December 31, 2027, for units which are scheduled to retire, and December 31, 2026, for plants that will continue operations beyond that period. The rules to control particulate matter, SO2, nitrogen oxides and mercury from coal-fired power plants were notified in December 2015, which had a deadline of December 2017.

Now, coal power plants have additional two years to install equipment to minimise the emissions of sulphur dioxide, a greenhouse gas, after they failed to meet the deadline to comply yet again. Experts pointed out that since 2021, only about 68.7 GW of the total installed capacity of 169.7 GW had been awarded bids for installing flue gas desulphurization (FGD), the process of removing sulphur compounds from the exhaust emissions of fossil-fueled power stations. Experts said instead of shutting down the plants that are flouting norms, the government is rewarding them with extensions.

Air in 95 of 131 National Clean Air Programme cities improves: Centre 

Over the past five years, the air quality of 95 out of 131 cities covered under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) improved with Varanasi recording the highest—53%—decline in PM 10 concentrations in 2021-22 compared to the baseline of 2017, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’s assessments. 

Five years ago, Varanasi’s annual PM 10 concentration was 244 micrograms per cubic metres, now at 114 micrograms per cubic metres in 2021-22. Delhi’s air improved by 18% as in 2017. Its PM 10 annual average concentration was 241 micrograms per cubic metres, which fell to 196 micrograms per cubic metres in 2021-22.

Analysts are relieved to see improvement in air quality of the Indo-Gangetic Plains cities, which had very high concentrations of air pollution. Twenty-seven cities, including Chennai, are meeting the annual PM 10 air quality standard of 60 micrograms per cubic metres, according to the data.

Climate change-induced heatwaves, wildfires to worsen air pollution: WMO

According to the latest report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), frequent and intense heatwaves and wildfires driven by climate change are expected to worsen the air quality. Because of large wildfires in 2021, particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations in eastern Siberia reached “levels not observed before”. Lead scientists of the report said a further increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves could lead to a phenomenon known as the ‘climate penalty’ (climate impact on ground-level ozone production, which negatively impacts the air people breathe).

Vedanta flouts pollution laws in Goa, still manages Centre’s clearance?

Vedanta’s iron industry in Goa got clearance to expand despite being caught emitting dangerous substances for over a decade, reported the Wire, adding that the company went to great lengths to dodge environmental laws and avoid paying for pollution mitigation efforts.

The company’s pig iron factory, with a monthly capacity of 80,000 tonnes, is scaling up. In Amona and Navelim in Goa, Vedanta has set up three blast furnaces that it says are two separate units—to cut costs and evade stricter pollution limits. In 2022, it got the Centre’s clearance to ramp up these plants despite an adverse environmental audit.

The Centre also said that Vedanta should treat the two units as one large unit and thus submit to a tougher EIA. Earlier in 2021, after the ministry pulled up Vedanta for allotting only Rs35 crore for environmental protection, the number shot up to Rs90.68 crore.

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