Kolkata has welcomed the New Year with almost unbreathable air.
At midnight on Saturday, when hundreds of thousands of people were ringing in 2023, five out of seven automatic air pollution measuring stations in the city recorded ‘very poor’ air and one recorded ‘poor’ air. All seven are run by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The situation hardly improved through the first day of the year with most stations in Kolkata and its surroundings showing ‘red’ (very poor air quality) or ‘brown’ (poor air quality) at 6pm. Experts cited meteorological as well as anthropological factors for the toxic content of the air.
According to a Union government notification, ‘very poor’ air — with the air quality index ranging from 301 to 400 — can trigger respiratory illness on prolonged exposure. ‘Poor’ air — with the index value between 201 and 300 — is likely to cause “breathing discomfort to most people on prolonged exposure”.
CPCB data, accessed by The Telegraph, on Saturday midnight shows the worst air quality (index value 346) was recorded by the automatic measuring station on the Rabindra Bharati University campus on BT Road. It was followed by the measuring stations at the Victoria Memorial and in Bidhannagar and Ballygunge with index values 330, 326 and 310, respectively.
The data from automatic air pollution measuring stations of the West Bengal Pollution Control Board attested the trend.
Red circles (very poor air) dominated the city’s pollution picture both in the southern and northern parts of the city on Sunday evening.
“The surge in the ultrafine PM2.5, the most toxic air pollutant, was the main trigger for such high AQI. The PM10 level was quite high, too. The PM2.5 and PM10 levels were around three to five times higher than the permissible limits at the headquarters of the state pollution control board,” said an environment expert.
“The daytime temperature decreased by around 1.5 degrees on Sunday compared with Saturday and there were clouds. Moreover, in the absence of northwesterly winds, the wind movement was slow,” said G.K. Das, head of Indian Meteorological Department, Alipore. All these factors contributed to the surge in the pollution levels.
“Because of the New Year festivities, there was a sharp spike in the number of people and vehicles on the roads. Add to it the weather. Together, they have maximised the air pollution level,” said Abhijit Chatterjee, an air pollution scientist.