Cracker Ban Puts Lid on Toxic Brew, a Step in Right Di­rec­tion

The Economic Times - - Saturday Feature -

The ban on Diwali crack­ers does not ruin the fes­ti­val of lights. Ex­perts say that on the con­trary, the ban will ac­tu­ally spare ci­ti­zens from lethal doses of toxic sub­stances that are not­mea­sured­in­rou­tinepol­lu­tioncheckssuch as mer­cury, lead, and alu­minium.

As for those who value clean air—the apex court or­der is just a good first step. It is an in­ter­ven­tion­that­makesmuch­more­sensethan stepssuchas­thetem­po­rary­banon­newdiesel ve­hi­cles, the odd-even scheme, en­vi­ron­ment spe­cial­ists say.

“Thiswillplay­acru­cial­rolein­reg­u­latin­gair pol­lu­tion in the re­gion and re­duce the im­pact on­hu­man­health,”saidA­jayMathur,Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of New Delhi-based think tank, The En­ergy and Re­sources In­sti­tute, or TERI.

The or­der, re­stores the pris­tine glory of Diwali, when peo­ple cel­e­brated the fes­ti­val with earthen lamps and a few sparklers; but in­re­cent­decades,the­fes­ti­val­has­been­marred byos­ten­ta­tioususe­of­fire­crack­er­sthat­con­tain lethal­dos­esof­chem­i­cals,an­drelease poi­sonous­gases,putting­peo­pleto risk of cancer, skin dis­or­der.

Burst­ing crack­ers was a ma­jor­con­trib­u­tor­tothedark 10-day haze that en­veloped Delhi last year, with poi­sonous sub­stances at alarm­ing lev­els,hesaid.“The­ban­bythe Supreme Court would en­sure that un­like pre­vi­ous years, Delhi does not gasp for clean air af­ter Diwali, and those suf­fer­ing from res­pi­ra­tory dis­eases do not have to con­sider leav­ing the city dur­ing this time,” Mathur said.

Data recorded by mon­i­tor­ing sta­tions shows that the lev­els of tox­in­sthat­canac­cu­mu­latein­hu­mans,an­i­mals and plants, jumps three to four times the av­er­age lev­els of Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber.

Un­like other ex­perts, Mathur, who has beena­partofin­ter­na­tion­al­groupof­sci­en­tists work­ing with the In­ter­gov­er­men­tal Panel on Cli­mateChange,stress­es­the­banon­fire­crack­ers is just a first step. “With me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion­snot­be­ing­favourable­fordis­pers­ing du­s­tand­par­tic­u­latem­at­teri­nashort­in­ter­val, the­ban­isas­tepintheright­di­rec­tion,”hesaid.

Thosear­gu­ingth­atthe­ban­willdi­min­ish­fes­tive­fer­vour­would­ben­e­fit­fro­maquick­glance atthetox­i­cbrewthat­goesin­toaseem­ing­lyin­nocu­ous fire­cracker. Ev­ery fire­cracker from the sim­ple phuljhari to the more elab­o­rate rocket re­quires ox­i­dis­ing agents to pro­duce theoxy­gen­re­quired­to­burn­themix­ture,are­ducin­ga­gent­to­burn­theoxy­gen,areg­u­la­torto de­ter­minethes­peed­ofthere­ac­tio­nand­colour­ing,and­binder­sto­holdthemix­ture­to­gether. Ma­te­ri­als used in­clude ni­trates, sul­phur, char­coal,alu­minium,ti­ta­nium,cop­per,stron­tium, bar­ium, dex­trin and paron. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery or­gan in the body is at risk es­pe­cially given the huge quan­ti­ties of fire­crack­ers that Sr Ca El­e­ments Ba Na Cu mg

Me­tal com­pounds which pro­duce on in­tense colour when burned. Some are listed above Usu­ally ni­trates, chlo­rates or per­chlo­rates; re­quired to pro­vide oxy­gen for the com­bus­tion of fuel Us­age Al­lows fire­work to burn; gun­pow­der, (potas­sium ni­trate, sul­fur & char­coal), is often used Hold the mix­ture to­gether; the most com­monly used is a starch dex­trin, damp­ened with wa­ter

Source: Com­pound in­ter­est 2015­pound­ are burst dur­ing Diwali. Jus­ticesMadanBLoku­rand Deepak Gupta, who gave the fire­cracker ban judg­ment, ob­served in the five days that Di­wali­is­cel­e­brated,roughly10 lakhk­gof­fire­crack­er­sare­burst each day. Init­saf­fi­davit­totheSupreme Court, Cen­tral Board of Pol­lu­tion C o nt r o l , the coun­try’s apex pol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tor, an­a­lysed the four com­monlysol­dtype­sof­fire­crack­ers—atom bombs, Chi­nese crack­ers, ma­roons, and gar­land­crack­ers.It­foundthatthe fourkey­in­gre­di­entsused­were alu­mini­umpow­der,which­gives fire­crack­er­sits­bril­liant­flames and white sparks, sul­phur, potas­sium ni­trate, and bar­ium ni­trate. These in­gre­di­ents, ac­cord­ing to the sci­en­tists at CPCB,area­ma­jor­con­stituentof thes­mogth­at­form­son­burst­ing of fire­crack­ers and hangs over the city like an im­pen­e­tra­ble cloak­for­daysafterDi­wali.This smog has high lev­els of sul­phur ox­idesand­ni­trogenox­ides,and par­tic­u­late mat­ter con­tain­ing heavy met­als such as lead, mer­cury, stron­tium, lithium, and alu­minium. The CPCB says that a “ma­jor con­cern be­ing the in­ap­pro­pri­ate sto­i­chio­met­ric amounts of the in­gre­di­ents in mak­ing com­mon fire­crack­ers.”What­wor­ri­es­thereg­u­la­torsinthe quan­ti­ties in which the in­gre­di­ents are used sodium ni­trate sodium chlo­rate cry­o­lite Ef­fect tomake­fire­crack­er­slouder,brighterand even­longer­last­ing.Theen­dresul­tisthat ev­ery­fire­cracker­burstaddstotheal­ready heavy pol­lu­tion load. TERI’s point per­son on­air­pol­lu­tion,Su­mitSharma,says“The ban will cer­tainly lead to lesser pol­lu­tion lev­els, es­pe­cially dur­ing the days af­ter Diwali.”

Sci­en­tists have known for long about the con­tri­bu­tionof­fire­crack­er­stom­ak­ingth­eair dirty and the harm­ful health im­pacts of the par­tic­u­lar­bre­wof­pol­lu­tants.In2003,Khai­wal Ravin­dra and his two col­leagues at de­part­mentofen­vi­ron­men­talscience­sandengi­neer­ing at Guru Jambesh­war Uni­ver­sity stud­ied the ef­fect of fire crack­ers on the air qual­ity of Hisar City in Haryana dur­ing Diwali. They found a clear link—the lev­els of sul­phur diox­ides in­creased ten­fold while that of ni­tro­gen ox­ides and par­tic­u­late mat­ter in­creased two to three folds. Sim­i­lar stud­ies have been un­der­tak­en­by­sci­en­tists­fromtheMegh­nadSaha In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Howrah, All In­dia In­sti­tute of Hy­giene and Pub­lic San­i­ta­tion, Kolkata, and Ja­davpur Uni­ver­sity. They too recorded an ex­po­nen­tial spike in pol­lu­tion. Their 2007 study, which was re­stricted to the Howraharea,re­vealedan­in­crea­seinthein­ci­dence­of­car­dio­vas­cu­lar­mor­tal­ityand­mor­bid­ity of 125% and 175%, re­spec­tively.

The Supreme Court’s judg­ment comes as a val­i­da­tion to these re­searchers. Bhar­gav Kr­ishna, co-founder of Care for Air, and re­searcher with the Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Health at the Pub­lic Health Foun­da­tion of In­dia, says this is an im­por­tant judg­ment as “it places pub­lic health front and cen­tre, ahead of eco­nomic in­ter­ests of any­par­tic­u­largroupandtheim­por­tance­ofth­is­frame­can­notbe overem­pha­sised.”

But not ev­ery­one be­lieves that the state gov­ern­ments have treated the is­sue with the se­ri­ous­ness it re­quires. Atul Goyal, pres­i­dent of the United Res­i­dents Joint Ac­tion of Delhi (URJA) ar­gues that Delhi gov­ern­ment needs to step up its pub­lic en­gage­ment on the is­sue. “The gov­ern­ment needs to put the in­for­ma­tion on the harm caused by the fire­crack­ers much more ag­gres­sively. For the most part peo­ple are ig­no­rant of what goes into the fire­crack­ers and how it hurts them. The in­for­ma­tion needs to be ham­mered into them to change peo­ple’s mind­set.”

TheSupre­meCourt­judg­ment, Kr­ishna ex­plains “is a first and im­por­tant step in a broad swathe of ac­tions re­quired to ad­dress the air pol­lu­tion is­sue in Delhi and the re­gion.” To ef­fec­tively con­trol of air pol­lu­tion in the city, strin­gent mea­sures are re­quired­forother­ma­jor­sources,whichemit toxic pol­lu­tants all-round the year.

strotium ni­trate stron­tium car­bon­ate stron­tium sul­fate Bar­ium ni­trate Bar­ium car­bon­ate Bar­ium chlo­ride Bar­ium chlo­rate Cal­cium car­bon­ate cal­cium chlo­ride cal­cium sul­fate Cop­per (I) chlo­ride Cop­per car­bon­ate Cop­per ox­ide Mag­ne­sium Alu­minium

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