Satellite data ‘identify’ Gujarat’s Mundra among 6 of India’s top air pollution hotspots

Friday, July 05, 2019

By Rajiv Shah
A fresh study, which analyzes data between February 2018 and May 2019, obtained from Tropomi, a satellite instrument on board the Dutch Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite, has warned that coal-fired power plants and industrial clusters are India’s “worst nitrogen oxides (NOx) hotspots” contributing hugely to air pollution in Sonbhadra-Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Korba in Chhattisgarh, Talcher in Odisha, Chandrapur in Maharashtra, Mundra in Gujarat and Durgapur in West Bengal.
According to the study, these “hotspots” are in addition to the already identified hotspots, Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad, adding, the data show that power plants and industrial clusters have clearly turned into “the most polluting regions/hotspots” because of the high concentration of NOx.
Noting that Tropomi measurements have “a spatial resolution of about 7km”, which is “finer than the “7-km native satellite data”, the study says, “The power plant and industrial clusters e.g., Singrauli, Korba, Talcher, Chandrapur, Mundra, Mumbai, Durgapur” are “the most polluting regions/hotspots, along with cities like Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad etc.”
In fact, according to the study, the “contribution” of NOx from “the power plants and industries can be even more in geographies like Singrauli, Korba, Talcher, Chandrapur. Reason is, here the capacity of coal based power plants “is much more higher than Delhi-NCR.”
According to the study, “NOx emissions contribute to three types of toxic air pollution: PM2.5, NO2 and Ozone, each of which is responsible for thousands of premature deaths each year in India”, adding, “It is estimated that air pollution caused 3.4 million deaths worldwide in 2017 and over 1.2 million in India.”
“Out of the total deaths in India ambient particulate matter pollution alone results in 673,129 deaths”, the study states, adding, long-term exposure to tropospheric ozone (O3) – a secondary gaseous pollutant produced by photochemical oxidation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) in the presence of NOx – contributes to “the risk of premature mortality.”

It adds, “The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) in 2016 attributed 233,638 annual premature mortalities to ambient O3 exposure globally, with 39% of the disease burden in India.”
Released by Greenpeace India, part of one the world’s most powerful environmental NGOs, the study says, “Given the seriousness of the spread of NOx pollution, it is essential for the country’s decision-makers to ensure the power sector complies with the emission standards notified for coal based power plants in December 2015.”
Even as stating that the Government of India decision to “leapfrog” to BS VI emission norms for auto fuels by 2020 would “helpful towards reducing NOx pollution”, the study insists, “It is important to ensure that the power and industry sector also adheres to strict NOx standards.”
The study defines NOx as “dangerous air pollutants, causing respiratory symptoms and lung damage on acute exposure, increasing the risk of chronic diseases in long-term exposure”, adding, “Tropospheric ozone (O3) is a secondary gaseous pollutant produced by photochemical oxidation of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) in the presence of nitrogen oxides (NOx).”
The study says, “Population-weighted seasonal ambient O3 concentrations in India have increased by 27% from 62 parts per billion (ppb) in 1990 to 77 ppb in 2016”, adding, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur study of 2015 “confirms” the impact of NOx emission (especially from power plants) on air quality in the following words:
“…power plants contribute nearly 80% of sulfates and 50% nitrates to the receptor (Delhi-NCR) concentration… 90% reduction in NOx from power plants can reduce the nitrates by 45%. This will effectively reduce PM10 and PM2.5 concentration…”
Pointing towards the reason why it had to go in for satellite-based identification of hotspots of NOx pollution, the study says, the availability of reliable data in the public domain, “a key to cleaner skies”, is absent as of today, insisting, “The satellite-based data doesn’t allow the major polluters to hide.”

The study says, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has recognized “the significant contribution of coal based thermal power plants to the air pollution and NOx/SO2 emissions”, and even came up with “NOx and SO2 emission limits based on the age of the power plants through gazette notification dated December 7, 2015”.
However, information accessed through the Right to Information (RTI) of the discussions between the Ministry of Power, the Central Electricity Authority and MoEFCC suggests that “the power industry is advocating to dilute the stricter emissions standards for NOx to 450mg/m3 from the current value of 100-300mg/m3 sighting non-availability of technology.”
The study wants that “power utilities and the government need to take public health more seriously and do away with attitude of delaying actions to reduce emission s from power sector and industry, they need to have political will to act and it should come now”, adding, “Government should ensure that all the emission sources/sectors of NOx, i.e., transport, industries and power generation are tackled keeping in view the health emergency India faces today.”