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Green Games: Delhi has lots of cleaning to do
Pollution levels rising, could hit athletes’ performance, warn experts
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 10
Reduce, measure and monitor air and noise pollution levels, says the ecological code for the Commonwealth Games 2010. However, the levels of tiny particles in the air are very high and climbing, said the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), an NGO, today. It warned that air pollution in the Capital could affect the performance of athletes and asked the Delhi government to be ready with a “contingent plan” to meet clean air targets during the Games.

CSE found that Particulate Matter (PM) 10 levels in Delhi are back to pre-2000 days. The gains of CNG are lost. Airborne particulate matter consists of many different substances suspended in air in the form of particles (solids or liquid droplets) that vary widely in size between 2.5 and 10 micrometer in diameter.

The Nitrogen Oxide levels are rising in almost all locations in Delhi and adding to the CWG woes is the fact that Ozone levels in October 2009 exceeded the eight-hourly standard on 29 per cent days at Siri Fort. Ozone is particularly harmful for athletes, with immediate health impacts even in case of a short-duration exposure.

According to the CSE, since 2006, on an average PM (Particulate Matter) 2.5 and NO2 standards were met only on 30 per cent of days. 2009 fared better when PM 2.5 standards were met on 40 per cent of days. But in 2010, until April, the PM 2.5 levels exceeded standards on 92 per cent of days monitored.

“What if Delhi is asked to increase the number of clean air days, that is the days on which air quality standards are met,” questions Anumita Roychowdhury, head of CSE’s air pollution control programme. “Even after seven years of consistent and aggressive efforts, Beijing still found it difficult to ensure clean air during the 2008 Olympics and had to be ready with a contingency plan. Beijing actually removed three million cars from roads during the Games. Delhi must also be ready with an emergency plan for the Games and test it out before the event,” she asserts.

Experts feel Delhi may have done its bit but is suffering due to its polluting neighbours —- Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida and Gaziabad. Says Roychowdhury: “Checks on air pollution in Delhi’s neighbourhood and number of vehicles coming to the Capital from outside is important.”

The month of October, when the Games are slated, is the transition period. It is the time when winds are very calm and cannot be depended to disperse pollutants out of the city.

There is a proportionate increase in the quantity of pollutants inhaled with increases in ventilation during exercise. So the air pollution puts athletes at greater risk,” points out the 1992 Asian Marathon Champion, Sunita Godara. Speaking at the CSE consultation on “Clean air before the Games” today, she said: “A larger fraction of air is inhaled through the mouth during the exercise, effectively bypassing the normal nasal filtration mechanisms. The increased air flow velocity carries pollutants deeper into the respiratory tract.” With every breath, athletes typically take in 10 to 20 times as much air and thus pollutants.

Meanwhile, a report of the Commonwealth Games Evaluation Commission has already stated that “mobilty within Delhi is difficult and congested” and therefore a “risk area”.

The controversy regarding the air quality could harm the Games’ prospects. Green Games will demand nearly day-to- day and hour-to-hour pollution management. For the first time, regulators will be forecasting air pollution levels during the Games,” says Roychowdhury.

The experts were of the opinion that Delhi needs a combination of long-lasting reforms as well as a contingent plan to clean up its air before the Games. They suggested a number of steps which included asking people to switch over to public transport modes, traffic reduction measures by car pooling, staggered office timings and parking controls.

Alarm Bells

n Particulate Matter (PM) 10 levels in Delhi are back to pre-2000 days. The gains of CNG days are lost. The PM 2.5 level is also climbing.

n Nitrogen Oxide levels are rising in almost all locations in the Capital. Adding to the CWG woes is the exceeding Ozone levels.

n With every breath athletes typically take 10 to 20 times as much air and thus more pollutants in comparison to people who are sedentary.

What must Delhi do?

n Restrict private vehicles near Games venue.

n Test restraint measures before Games on pilot basis

n Use intelligent transport systems.

n Physically remove smoking vehicles. Ban their entry in Capital

n Cordinate with neighbouring states to regulate traffic from outside.

n Use hybrid buses, electric shuttles at venue

n Complete all construction activities before Games 





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