Bengaluru is in the grip of rising air pollution. Official ambient air quality monitoring has already shown 57% increase in particulate matter in just 4 years (2010-2014) and 23% in one year (2013-14- 2014-15). In more than 85% of monitoring locations the levels have exceeded standards.

CSE exposure monitoring has provided clinching evidence of alarming dose that an average Bangalorean breathes on a daily basis in different parts of the city – 3 to 12 times higher than the ambient level recorded by official monitors.

With growing vehicle numbers and resultant congestion and dieselisation, air pollution is a growing concern in the city. The city is losing its inherent advantage of dominant commuting practices – use of bus and walking at the cost of clean air and public health.

Bangalore needs stringent measures including leapfrogging emissions standards to Euro VI, curbing dieselisation, scaling up of integrated public transport, car restraints and walking for clean air.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released its results from its recent analysis of the official ambient air quality monitoring in Bengaluru as well as its own exposure monitoring in Bengaluru. This has exposed very high level of pollution within the breathing zone of people. This indicates serious public health risk.

The relatively lower ambient levels as compared to northern cities like Delhi should not breed complacency, as most of the health effects occur at a level much lower from the current standards. Moreover, direct exposure to toxic fumes is very high in the city. Improving urban air quality and protecting the sustainable urban commuting practices are some of the toughest challenges. “Bengaluru, while having made some significant strides in meeting air quality challenges, faces newer challenges. It needs technology leapfrog, scaling up of public transport, integrated multi-modal transport options, car restraints and walking for clean air,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, Executive Director, CSE.

This emerged out of the media workshop conducted in Bangalore by the New Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation, CSE. It was organised to share concerns and find solutions to the daunting air pollution and mobility challenges facing our cities. Half of the urban population breathes air laced with particulate pollution that has exceeded the standards. The dialogue unveiled the unique challenges and the emerging good practices to draw lessons for the roadmap for the country.

What has CSE done?

CSE has analysed the ambient air quality data from official monitoring stations of KSPCB, to understand the real time trend over time in Bengaluru.

In addition, using its realtime and portable monitor, CSE has also carried out a rapid diagnostic exposure monitoring in different locations of Bengaluru to understand what level of pollution people are exposed to on a daily basis.

What does official ambient monitoring show?

Among the key southern cities that are monitored by Central Pollution Control Board, Bangalore has recorded 57% increase in PM10 between 2010 and 2014, highest amongst southern cities just in four years. Only in one year – 2013-14 and 2014-15, the levels have increased by 23%. At the same time, NOx levels, though generally low, have also begun to increase.

Analysis of the air quality data between October 1 and later part of November, 2015 shows rapid build-up of pollution in the city. It increased several fold. “This demands immediate intervention to prevent further worsening and reversal of the trend to protect public health,” said Roy Chowdhury.

The CPCB data shows that in 85% of location the levels have begun to exceed the standards. The worst hit pollution hotspots include Graphite India Whitefield; AMCO battery Mysore Road; Silk Board Hosur; and Victoria hospital.

Results of CSE’s exposure monitoring: High exposure to toxic fumes

CSE has used a state of the art portable air quality monitoring equipment to track how much pollution an individual in Bengaluru is exposed to while travelling. Dustrak Aerosol monitor measures the mass and size fraction of the particulate matter. The monitoring was done in various land use areas including sensitive areas like hospitals (Fortis, Manipal Hospital), Schools (Bishop Cotton boys and girls), industrial area (Peenya), Electronic city, and residential areas. The monitoring was also done on different transport modes including walking, bus, car and auto. This exposure has also been compared with the background ambient levels monitored by the Central pollution control board for the city.

It may be noted that the official ambient air quality monitoring indicates the overall air quality of the city and change over time. This is different from exposure monitoring that captures the level of pollution that people are exposed to due to closeness to different pollution sources in their immediate surrounding. This has a direct influence on public health. This has thrown up stunning results.  A recent draft report of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on air pollution and health has emphasized on the importance of addressing direct exposure to air pollution in micro environment.

Very high personal exposures

CSE monitoring during second week of December 2015 has found extremely high levels of exposure even when overall ambient pollution in the background has been relatively low. On days when CPCB data shows an average ambient PM2.5 levels in the city in the range of 27 to 55 microgramme per cum – the actual exposure levels in the city were three to 12 times higher than the background ambient levels.

The pollution hotspots inside the cities paint the crisis: The annual average and city average trends do not adequately capture the pollution hotspots inside the city and are not a good proxy for how much we are exposed to on a daily basis. Several localities inside the cities show hot spot trends. The worst area was the Peenya industrial area with highest peak followed by K R Road and Manipal hospital. The CPCB value for Peenya during the same duration was 75 microgram/cubic metre while the real time exposure for that 1 hour was 400 microgram/cubic metre. This also shows air pollution is high across all neighbourhoods exposing both poor and the rich to toxic effects.

Walkers and public transport users are inhaling very high pollution in Bengaluru. AC car users are also not safe: There is a strong variation in exposure depending on the mode of transport. The open modes like walking, open buses and autos show very high level of exposure than ambient levels. The actual exposure is in the range between 139-260 microgramme per cubic metre. It is also the dominant approach. Even AC cars with windows rolled up have as high as 125 microgramme per cum. Commuters on sustainable modes are more at risk. This wars against WHO’s advice on active transportation of walking and cycling needed for both clean air and health security.

Particulate levels in southern cities are generally lower than other regions. But a cause of concern

Though the overall particulate levels are comparatively lower than the other regions in the country, the levels are much above the WHO guidelines. Also the global assessments that are now available from the Global Burden of Disease estimates show that the most of the health effects occur at lower levels. Also the cities have several local pollution hotspots, and road side exposures are also high.

Annual averages do not help to address the risks. Air quality monitoring would need to address these challenges and issue health advisory to people. There is absolutely no reason to think that the risk in southern cities is lower than other cities. In fact, health study released by the Health Effect Institute in Chennai and Delhi in 2011 demonstrates this. In Chennai 0.4% increase in risk per 10-µg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration. But in Delhi it is 0.15% increase in risk per 10-µg/m3 increase in PM10 concentration.

Health concerns

It may be noted that over the last two decade efforts have been made at local levels to assess the health impacts of air pollution. There is enough evidence to act urgently to reduce the public health risks to children, elderly, poor and all. India will have to take action now to reverse the trend of short-term effects as well as the long-term toxic effects. For toxic effects to surface there is a long latency period therefore exposure will have to be reduced today.  Addressing air pollution and health risk has assumed greater importance after the release of the global burden of disease that has ranked air pollution as the fifth largest killer in India.

Studies in Bengaluru show health impacts of air pollution, especially on children. Stunning evidences are available on health impacts on traffic policemen who are directly exposed to traffic pollution in these cities.

What is the problem?

Cities have many sources of outdoor air pollution and all require mitigation action. But vehicles pose a special challenge. In the future cities will witness rapid increase in vehicular traffic. Cities are not expected to locate new industry or power plants inside the city. This means in terms actual exposure people will be more vulnerable to vehicular fume while Pollution concentration in our breath is 3-4 times higher than the ambient air concentration. In densely-populated cities more than 50 – 60% of the population lives or works near roadside where levels are much higher.

Vehicles contribute hugely to air pollution in Bengaluru: Vehicles contribute 42% of the particulate and 67% of nitrogen oxides, according to the National assessment of air pollution put out by Ministry of Environment and Forests based on six city source apportionment study in 2010.

Concern over dieselisation: India has experienced rapid dieselisation of the car segment and significant increase in road based freight share. There are special concerns about growing use of poor quality diesel fuel and technology. The WHO has classified diesel exhaust class I carcinogen for strong link with lung cancer. Diesel exhaust includes a large number of toxic compounds that cause cancer, reproductive abnormalities and other toxic impacts. Current emissions standards allow diesel cars to emit three times more NOx and seven times more particulate than petrol cars.

The Supreme Court of India has recently cracked down on diesel emissions. Pre-Bharat Stage III trucks are barred in Delhi. Environment Compensation charge on trucks has been doubled. All taxis in entire National Capital Region are to move to CNG. Registration of luxury sedan and SUVs on diesel has been banned in the entire NCR. Bengaluru would need similar measures to reduce diesel emissions and quickly leapfrog to Euro VI norms when the gap between diesel and petrol emissions begin to close.  Bengaluru will also need a toxic risk reduction programme for diesel transport. The new access to CNG in Bengaluru opens up new opportunities to side step toxic diesel and move to cleaner fuel. CNG programme has shown substantial decline from bus and auto fleet after they moved to CNG.

Need stringent technology roadmap: It is extremely worrying that even after the implementation of the Auto Fuel Policy in 2010 which introduced Bharat Stage III in the country and Bharat Stage IV in few cities, the government of India has not set the next target for moving quickly to Euro VI emissions standards. New automobile production and investments in the country are not even linked to any further commitment to improving vehicle technology and fuel quality. This will significantly delay adoption of clean diesel technology in the country and add to the toxic risk. Cities need early timeline for introduction of Euro VI emissions standards. It is important to note that only at Euro VI level diesel and petrol emissions begin to close gaps. Introduce Bharat Stage IV nationwide immediately so that all trucks can move to Bharat Stage IV and leapfrog quickly to Euro VI emission standards.

Avert mobility crisis and pollution: Cities are paying a very high price for congestion. Traffic jams lead to fuel wastage, more pollution and serious economic losses. Usual commuting time has increased significantly during peak hours. On many arterial roads the traffic volume has exceeded the designed capacity and the service level of the road. A quick glance at the city development plans and other sources bring out the nature of mobility crisis in Bengaluru.

As of now, there are approximately 58 lakh vehicles in Bangalore, this is 2nd highest after Delhi. For every 2 people, there is 1 vehicle (1:2 ratio). There are almost 1,25,000 trips everyday of which 45% are using public transport. 50 lakhs people travel using BMTC while 7-8 lakhs travel using auto. More than 1300 vehicles are registered every day, two-wheelers and cars are 90% of the total registered vehicles. Travel speed has dropped to 15 kmph during the peak hours, there is no parking spaces left for vehicles and public transport vehicles vying for road space. An average citizen of Bengaluru spends more than 240 hours stuck in traffic each year resulting in loss of productivity, reduced air quality, reduced quality of life, and increased costs of goods and services. About 120 lakh person trips by mechanical modes are estimated to be generated in 2025 in Bengaluru. Present modal split of 54% in favor of public transport is estimated to fall to 49% by 2025, says CSE analysis.

Not only the vehicles taking over road but also the urban space to meet the insatiable demand for parking. In Bengaluru the numbers of car and two-wheelers have already crossed the numbers of walk and cycle trips. In Bengaluru the average distance is 10 km. This emerges from the analysis of the data from the study on ‘traffic and transportation policies and strategies in urban areas’, a study conducted by Wilbur Smith Associates for Ministry of Urban Development. Car centric infrastructure – signal free and one-way corridors are facilitating more car movement and locking in enormous pollution.

Learn from Delhi

Even after putting 23 per cent of its geographical area under road network and building more than 70 flyovers Delhi is the most polluted and gridlocked city today. Delhi is now forced to take pollution action measures like odd and even formula for personal vehicles so that at a time at least 50 per cent of the vehicles can be taken off the road. More steps are on cards – parking policy as a car restraint measures, fiscal disincentives, scaled up public transport system, walking and cycling infrastructure among others. These are the signs on the wall for other cities to know and understand.

Clean air is non-negotiable

Our cities still have the chance to plan its future growth differently and avoid the path of pollution, congestion and energy guzzling. More road space is not the answer. Cities need to make maximum investment in redesigning their existing road space and travel pattern and achieve compact urban form to provide the majority of the people affordable and efficient mode of public transport that can be an alternative to personal vehicles, says CSE analysis.

If cities do not want to wheeze, choke and sneeze then they have to act now. It is time to set new terms of action. Soft options have all been exhausted. Reducing personal vehicle usage, upgrading public transport, walking and cycling, and leapfrogging vehicle technology and fuel quality to Euro VI, curbing dieselization are the key options left for us.  Plan cities for people not vehicles. Design roads for public transport, cycling and walking. Not cars. This will have to be supported by action in sectors of pollution including industry, power plants, trash burning and dust sources. “These are the options for the city to cut killer pollution, crippling congestion, expensive oil guzzling and global warming impacts of vehicles,” said Roy Chowdhury.

This is a press release by Centre for Science and Environment, published with minimal edits.