Cough is in the air

Colombo’s air quality turns unhealthy; air streams from Indian Subcontinent suspected

7 November 2019 01:59 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In Colombo, what you see is certainly not what you get, when it comes to air quality. Despite clear skies and a temporary pause in thundershowers, air quality in the city has taken a turn for the worse.  

The US Embassy’s Air Quality Monitor in Colombo indicated unhealthy levels of air quality with a value of 167 recorded in the Air Quality Index (AQI) by 10 p.m. on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning the AQI figure continued to rise to 173 by 8 a.m., before declining to 165 by 10 a.m.  

Despite the fluctuations, readings continued to indicate an unhealthy level of air quality for the residents of Colombo.  

The air quality records of both the NBRO and the US Embassy have run parallel and have indicated a significant change since Tuesday night

Coordinator of Air Quality Studies Unit of the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) H.D.S Premasiri speaking to the Daily Mirror said that a significant change in the air quality has been observed in Colombo.

“The air quality records of both the NBRO and the US Embassy have run parallel and have indicated a significant change since yesterday (Tuesday) night,” he said.  

“Even though the situation seems to improve, air quality modelling has indicated that the air quality levels have worsened in Colombo, several areas in the north of Sri Lanka including Jaffna and Vavuniya and also in Puttalam,” Premasiri noted.  

The current levels of air pollution in Colombo are particularly unhealthy because of the presence of tiny particulate matter referred to as PM 2.5. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) particulate matter consists of a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. 

While particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, (≤ PM10) can penetrate and lodge deep inside the lungs, the even more health-damaging particles are those with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, (≤ PM 2.5). PM 2.5 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the blood system.  

Chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as lung cancer. 

AQI, or Air Quality Index, is a system for recording pollutant concentration measurements, into a scale to representing the health risk posed by ambient air pollution. The index formula usually considers up to 6 main pollutants, namely PM2.5, PM10, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and ground-level ozone.  

The US Embassy’s Air Quality Monitor in Colombo indicated unhealthy levels of air quality with a value of 167 recorded in the Air Quality Index (AQI) by 10 p.m. on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning the AQI figure continued to rise to 173 by 8 a.m., before declining to 165 by 10 a.m

These pollutant measurements are calculated to indicate the respective health risk (or AQI number) for each figure at any given time. The overall AQI number at a given moment is dictated by the “riskiest” pollutant, with the highest AQI number.  

The index ranges from 0 to 500, where high index values indicate higher levels of air pollution. Any value larger than 300, for example, is considered to be hazardous, while an AQI value of 0-50, on the other hand, represents good air quality. According to the NBRO official, the standard level of air quality is measured at around 50 whereas yesterday’s readings almost doubled the normal figure, reaching 115 in the AQI.  

He added that strong winds experienced in the island from the direction of India was believed to be a cause for the sudden spike in unhealthy air quality readings.  

“The change in the air quality in Colombo is considerable. We will continue to monitor the situation. Since we have observed some improvement in air quality, we hope the situation will improve over the course of the day. However it is subject to meteorological conditions in the country, and in the region,” he said.  

Meanwhile, Pradeep Kodippili of the Disaster Management Centre speaking to Daily Mirror said that the matter has been brought to the attention of relevant authorities including the Ministry of Mahaweli Development & Environment as well as NBRO. “All the relevant authorities are currently observing the situation,” he said. However the air quality improved over the course of the day with the quality of air only affecting sensitive groups. 

According to a study by Berkeley Earth, air pollution kills more people worldwide each year than does AIDS, malaria, diabetes or tuberculosis

In neighbouring India, residents across its capital Delhi are grappling toxic haze, as air pollution levels soared to hazardous levels.  

Delhi which was already considered to be one of the world’s most polluted cities, saw airport operations disrupted, while schools were shut down, with the government declaring a public health emergency.  

According to a study by Berkeley Earth, air pollution kills more people worldwide each year than does AIDS, malaria, diabetes or tuberculosis. 

The index ranges from 0 to 500, where high index values indicate higher levels of air pollution. Any value larger than 300, for example, is considered to be hazardous, while an AQI value of 0-50, on the other hand, represents good air quality. According to the NBRO official, the standard level of air quality is measured at around 50 whereas yesterday’s readings almost doubled the normal figure, reaching 115 in the AQI 

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