If you go out in the city wearing a white shirt, after a couple of hours you willwonder if the black shirt you are wearing is really yours," says S K Katiar, chiefphysician, M L Chest Hospital, Kanpur. For a while now, Kanpur's air quality has been quite bad, with the annual average spm level hovering over 400 g/cum and the maximum spm level clocking well over 1,000 g/cum. Air monitoring data for 1997 reveals a strange phenomenon: pollution levels are higher in residential areas as compared to industrial areas. This makes it clear that vehicular exhaust, particularly from Vikrams, contributes significantly to air pollution in this amazingly congested city. "Industrial pollution does not immediately affect the city of Kanpur as does vehicular pollution," says Dipankar Saha, a scientist at cpcb, Kanpur. Another important source of air pollution is domestic fuel consumption - the city's poor population burns a huge amount of coal and firewood.
The city of 2.5 million people has about 350,000 vehicles - 85 per cent of them two-wheelers. cpcb data shows vehicles release a colossal 3.55 tonnes of pollutants in Kanpur's air of every hour. V K Singh, regional transport officer, Kanpur, points out that traffic congestion, particularly at railway level crossings, is a significant cause of air pollution. The average speed of vehicles on Kanpur roads is only 19 km/hour.
Records at the transport department show that the city has more than 4,400 Vikrams. "Vikrams are indeed very polluting. We have not been registering Vikrams for the last two years," says V K Singh. But this does not matter. Satyam Audichya, a driver in Kanpur, says there are about 3,000 unregistered Vikrams in the city thanks to the bribes doled out to officials. He once used to drive an unregistered Vikram. "We need a good public transport system as well as promotion of clean fuels like cng and battery-operated vehicles backed by financial incentives for people to switch to cleaner modes of transport. Although we have sent several proposals to the government, we are yet to get a positive response," says a top government official, asking not to be named.
And then there is the city's domestic consumption of fuels, which accounts for about 5 tonnes of dangerous pollutants each day, Saha points out. The city burns an unbelievable 300 tonnes of coal, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas (lpg), wood and other fuels every day. The result is the daily emission of about 850 kg of particulate matter, one tonne of so2, 600 kg of nox and a whopping 3,500 kg of co. Industry is not to be left far behind. cpcb data shows 75 large- and medium-scale industrial units and 5,457 small-scale ones in Kanpur. Major polluters include the thermal power plant and fertiliser units in the Panki industrial area of Kanpur, according to Saha.
There has been a tremendous increase in the prevalence of bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer in Kanpur, says Katiar, emphasising that this is linked to air pollution. He adds that there are a large number of cases of tuberculosis, which are also related to air pollution. There has also been a steep rise in the incidence of interstitial fibrosis, a crippling disease of the lungs that leads to death, Katiar points out. If there is one city that seems to be headed towards a silent public health disaster, it is definitely Kanpur.
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