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Saturday, September 8, 2012

As vehicle population soars & auto fuels burn, citizens’ health suffers

Mumbai: A new study projects drastic rise in air pollutants in the city. Carbon dioxide levels, for instance, will soar due to repeated "clutch-break action" of cars in jams, which have already slowed down traffic at places here to an average speed of 10 kmph during peak hours. 

    For the study, NEERI analyzed traffic congestion along main routes between areas such as CST, Haji Ali, Parel, Worli, Bandra and Chembur. It documented travel time, fuel consumption as well as emissions during off-peak and peak hours. As expected, the travel time on the routes during peak hours was found higher. A drive from CST to Parel, for instance, took nearly 22 minutes more during peak hours than during other times of the day. This translates into consumption of nearly two more litres of fuel. 
    The study shows the pollutant load is highest in Mumbai, followed by Thane and then Navi Mumbai. 
    "The main reason for the traffic congestion is the high vehicle density per unit length of roads, and an incredible increase in the number of two- and four-wheelers due to the growth in population and urbanization," said Rakesh Kumar who heads NEERI. "The congestion results in delays and fuel wastage, leading to increase in air pollution, travel time, noise pollution and stress." Kumar underlines the imperativeness of reducing the city's vehicular congestion by either increasing road capacity or by trimming down traffic. 

    Signs of the unsustainable situation in Mumbai were on show in the recently released Census 2011 too. According to its statistics, 12% households in the island city and the suburbs owned cars in 2011. In contrast, a decade ago, the figure in the suburbs was 9% and in the island city 7%. 
    Such a rise, doctors point out, is detrimental to the health of Mumbaikars. Chest medicine physician Rohini Chowghule, who practises at Kasturba and Bombay hospitals, explains that the increasing levels of particulate matter are a particular concern since it causes respiratory problems such as allergic rhinitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "The rise in levels will mean that those with asthma-like conditions will see an exacerbation while children will witness recurrent infections," she said. 

    The NEERI study cites data from KEM Hospital, which calculated that "the total monetary burden of these impacts" of illnesses was approximately Rs 4,523 million for a 50-µg/m3 increase in PM10 and Rs 8,724 million for a similar increase in NO2. "The city needs many measures but most importantly an efficient, reliable, cost-effective, accessible and seamlessly-integrated public transport system," said Kumar.


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