Reducing air pollution : Impact and prevention

-Debapriya Mukherjee
Contd from previous issue
The monetary quantification of the damages associated with pollution is a very controversial issue due to technical, political and ethical issues. Furthermore, the determination of environmental damages in monetary terms is very difficult to achieve due to the difficulty in measuring the damage generated by each source according to its spatial location, the difficulties to monitor and enforce the environmental policies, the uncertainty associated with the estimation of costs and benefits, the existence of previous distortions in the markets and also, the political, distributive and financial costs required to implement environmental regulations.
Sound environmental policy guided by science can only control air pollution and save lives, money, and ecosystems but at present, science faces skepticism because of paucity of facts and data that matter. The harmful emissions from various sources to be curtailed must be validated by monitoring and evaluation, pollution source apportionment and emission inventories, which are the most important requisites in evaluating the success or failure of environmental policies. It also contains comprehensive legal standards and strict environmental law enforcement. Air quality work must be supported by economic policies and coordination on air pollution prevention and control in the air pollution crisis region.
Monitoring program can keep a finger on the pulse of shifting environmental condition to track the effectiveness of pollution reduction policies. Thereby reliable ambient air quality data are urgently needed to recalibrate strategies if they are not working. At present hourly assessments of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide , sulphur dioxide, ozone, and particles measuring less than 2.5 µ (PM2.5) and less than 10 µ (PM 10) are being carried out by automatic analyzers installed at huge expenses since long but will not serve actual purpose because hourly data are not properly used to calculate monthly averages and determine overall concentration levels correlating meteorological influence that is most critical factor in clear statistical terms on regular basis. Thereby pollutant concentrations that has changed i.e. actual trend over the years with reference meteorological condition cannot be brought to the public domain. .Moreover adequacy and reliability of these real time analyzer data are questionable if we compare these data with manual data and thereby mere interpretation of data cannot help in augmenting the knowledge of environmental processes and lot of important dynamics of these pollutants in ambient air remains well hidden.
In addition to the government’s efforts to develop a legal system using technological tools or top-down approaches, public participation is also essential to achieve sustainable development. Also a lot needs to be done to increase awareness towards clean energy. A shift towards renewable energy must include in the plan to reduce dependency on fossil fuels as well as provide clean energy to households to tackle air pollution problem and climate change.
The improvement in air quality cannot be  happened in a day. It needs an enormous investment of time, resources, sound scientific evidences and overall political will, not political blame game.
The writer is Former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board, based in Kolkata and can be reached at 919432370163 & 916290099509 or at [email protected]