Air pollution levels in the Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh saw a dip during Diwali compared to the festive season last year. Thanks to the interventions of courts, the governments in these states had ordered only green crackers be used during the festival.
The Telangana State Pollution Control Board (TSPCB) said that Ambient Air Quality (AAQ) monitoring is being carried out between November 7 and 21, coinciding with the Diwali festivities.
Compared to the normal levels of 51 micrograms per cubic metre of air (concentration of pollutants) of PM 2.5 (particulate matter or tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in width) during the year, the Diwali eve saw the levels increase to 64 micrograms per cubic metre of air in Hyderabad.
However, this was still a significant drop from 72 micrograms per cubic metre of air on the same day last year in the city.
The permissible level for PM 2.5 is between 0 and 60 micrograms per cubic metre of air, while anything above 250 micrograms per cubic metre of air is categorised as “severe”, as per India’s Air Quality Index.
As far as PM10 levels (particulate matter that are 10 microns or less in width) are concerned, the festival days saw the levels rise to 128 micrograms per cubic metre from the normal level of 119 micrograms per cubic metre, but again, it was a decrease from 163.4 micrograms per cubic metre recorded during Diwali last year. The normal level for PM 10 in India is 100 micrograms per cubic metre.
“The concentrations have increased marginally with respect to PM 2.5 and PM 10 when compared to normal day (seven-day average before Diwali). The wind speed is higher than last year providing for better dispersion,” the pollution board said in a statement.
Compared to last year, noise levels too came down in Hyderabad and the rest of Telangana. “There is a decrease in the noise levels in the day time and may be attributed to decreased activity in the day owing to Sunday and holiday (on Diwali eve), while at night, there is marginal increase in the noise levels when compared to normal day,” the pollution board said.
BV Prasad, junior scientific officer, Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (APPCB), said that the Air Quality Index (AQI) levels on Diwali day in the state was much better compared to the previous years.)
The APPCB has real-time air quality monitoring systems set up in four locations across the state — Visakhapatnam, Rajahmundry, Amaravati, and Tirumala. AQI levels measured on November 14 were compared with the measurements on November 9 to understand the surge in pollution caused by fireworks.
In Visakhapatnam, which is the most populated city among the four locations, the average AQI for the 24-hour period on Diwali was 117micrograms per cubic metre (moderate), compared to the average value of 127 micrograms per cubic metre on November 9, indicating that the air quality on an average was marginally better. However, the peak AQI recorded at 8 pm was 425 micrograms per cubic metre (severe). On November 9, the peak AQI was 290 micrograms per cubic metre.
“Since the crackers are mainly burst between 6 pm and 10 pm, the peak AQI values were recorded in this period. But even these peak values were much lower compared to previous years, when the levels would often cross 800 micrograms per cubic metre and sometimes go beyond the range of the measuring instrument,” Prasad said.
In Rajahmundry, the average AQI on Diwali was 113 micrograms per cubic metre, similar to the average AQI on a regular day (115 micrograms per cubic metre on November 9). However, the peak level on Diwali was recorded at 503 micrograms per cubic metre.
In Amaravati, the monitoring system is stationed at the Secretariat in Velagapudi, in a rural area. While the 24-hour average AQI on November 9 was 103 micrograms per cubic metre, on Diwali it fell to 74 micrograms per cubic metre, which falls under the satisfactory range. The peak value recorded on Diwali, however, was 378 micrograms per cubic metre.
Environmental activists say that the COVID-19 had also contributed to the reduced pollution levels.
“Due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, there is economic distress and also lesser human activity, which has lowered carbon footprint. Many people, especially those with co-morbidities like asthama, opted out of bursting crackers this year for their own safety. A sustained campaign against firecrackers had a desired impact,” said K Purushotham Reddy, a noted Hyderabad-based environmentalist.
Initially, the Telangana High Court had ordered a complete ban on the sale of firecrackers, citing the pandemic. However, on November 13, the Supreme Court modified the order and allowed bursting of crackers between 8 PM and 10 PM on Diwali.
Andhra Pradesh too allowed bursting of green crackers for two hours, in compliance with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) orders.
Developed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), green crackers emit 30% less pollutants than conventional ones. Green crackers are made using less polluting raw materials. Their chemical formulation ensures reduced particle emission into the atmosphere by suppressing the dust produced
While regular crackers emit about 160 decibels of sound, green crackers’ emission rate is limited to 110-125 decibels. Private manufacturers need to sign a deal with the CSIR in order to make fireworks using the green cracker formulation.