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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Dust haze sees pollution levels INCREASE BY 500%

Suspended Particulate Matter Rises From 200 To 1,200 Units Per Cubic MetreHosps See Increase In Patients With Breathlessness

Mumbaikars woke up on Wednesday to a thick layer of dust that had enveloped the city reducing visibility levels to six times lower than normal and increasing pollution levels by nearly 500%. But the dusty haze, as the MET has called this phenomenon—it was more pronounced in north India—is not benign, and doctors spent the better part of the day fielding calls from citizens who complained of breathlessness. Because of the haze, suspended particulate matter (SPM) levels rose from 200 units per cubic meter to 1,200 units, reported the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). Dr Ajay Deshpande, joint director of MPCB, described the SPM levels as "a historic rise", never before witnessed in the city. 

    Though weather officials say the haze is a temporary 24-hour phenomenon, the particulate matter will take a longer time to dissipate, and doctors have advised patients susceptible to respiratory ailments to take extra precautions (See box). 
    "The sun was pale. The journey from home to office felt like I was travelling through a large construction site. By the time I reached office, I could feel the dirt on me," said Amey Bashisht, who resides in Dahisar and works at Churchgate. Commuters said they could barely see the train approaching the platform. 
    MET officials in Mumbai blamed the haze on a sandstorm in Rajasthan. "There was a sandstorm in Rajasthan as the temperatures rose very high. The dry winds displaced the sand particles there. Northerly winds carried forward the storm southward towards Mumbai," said V K Rajeev, director of weather forecast at Indian Meteorological Department, Mumbai. 
    But many meteorologists are attributing the haze across the country to the dust storms in the Middle East. Agencies like NASA released satellite images of a giant dust plume across the Arabian Sea from the Middle East to India on Tuesday, March 20, which affected many parts 
of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, UP and Rajasthan. "A dust haze was brought to the northern parts of India from Saudi Arabia by south westerly winds. It's a global phenomenon and India is also being affected. In Punjab and Rajasthan, visibility was 1km," said Ajit Tyagi, former director general of IMD. 
    Senior weather officials said the haze was due to a dust plume and was not a dust 
storm. Tyagi said: "A dust storm is a local phenomenon caused by winds blowing near the ground. What we are witnessing is a haze, which has been carried over miles across countries." 
    The high pollution levels spelt trouble for those who already suffer from asthma, sinusitis or rhinitis. Anjali Pujari (32) was one of 
many Mumbaikars who had problems breathing. Pujari, who already suffers from asthma, found her symptoms aggravated by noon. "When I went to the doctor's clinic, it was full of people with chest problems," she said. Doctors reported a sharp rise in the number of patients complaining of respiratory problems. Dr Ashok Mahasur, chest physician at Hinduja Hospital said: "Most were senior citizens who complained of breathlessness. There were also a few students, who were brought in after their exam or had to leave their paper mid-way because of bouts of coughing." A senior KEM doctor said: "It is a temporary problem. Patients need not fear." 
    Inputs from Chittaranjan Tembhekar 
COAST UNCLEAR 
HEALTH ALERT 
People suffering from chronic respiratory ailments like asthma, sinusitis, rhinitis, bronchitis, etc are more susceptible to the sudden rise in suspended particulate matter 
SYMPTOMS 
    
Wheezing 
    Breathlessness 
    Long bouts of coughing 

ADVISORY 
Stay indoors early morning when there is more pollen in the air Keep your doors and windows shut if your house is near a construction site Close your window and use air-conditioners to prevent dust from entering your home Travel by train to avoid pollution from vehicles Wear a mask and use gloves while cleaning Consult your doctor if wheezing and breathlessness persist 
WHAT'S CAUSING THE DUSTY HAZE IN MUMBAI? 

South-westerly air currents, on Tuesday, carried the dust from Saudi Arabia to many parts of northern India 
By Wednesday morning, dust/haze was carried to Mumbai by northerly winds 
MET department says a sandstorm in 
Rajasthan is responsible for the haze 
SUSPENDED PARTICULATE MATTER RISES 
Pollution levels increased six-fold from 200 units of suspended particulate matter to 1,200 units per cubic meter 
Visibility was reduced to 1,200 km. Normal visibility is 6,000 km 
Visibility was as low 1km in parts of Punjab and Rajasthan 

FORECAST 
MET officials say the haze will dissipate by today


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