Following Deonar fire, air pollution level triples in Mumbai

The smog from Thursday’s fire at the Deonar dumping ground is finally settling, but the BMC is yet to clear the air over allegations that its negligence led to the disaster, with officials from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), as well as BJP MP Kirit Somaiya, holding the civic body responsible.

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While experts said the air quality would improve in the coming days, few parts of the city — particularly, Deonar — still witnessed smog yesterday
While experts said the air quality would improve in the coming days, few parts of the city — particularly, Deonar — still witnessed smog yesterday

The fire broke out on Thursday at the city’s biggest dumping yard in Deonar, enveloping Mumbai and Navi Mumbai in smoke for days and raising air pollution to nearly triple the normal level (see ‘Air Quality Index’). It is yet to be determined how the fire broke out, but the BMC has drawn considerable flak for its own negligence — whether it be in poor security and safety measures, or the lack of roadways or working CCTV cameras in the dump yard.

Alarming pollution
After the fire, Mumbai registered an Air Quality Index (AQI — the measure for air pollution) of 345, which is rated as very poor and can result in respiratory illness on prolonged exposure. In Mumbai, 100-200 is considered the normal range of air pollution. Yesterday, the city witnessed an AQI of 307. However, the AQI is slowly expected to fall in the coming days, with an AQI of 167 expected today.

Future measures
MPCB officials said that while the air quality was improving, they are closely monitoring the situation and have asked the BMC to take steps to ensure such a crisis is not repeated. “We have already told the BMC officials to take all necessary measures to ensure that the incident does not happen again as it has already lead to a huge amount of pollution. If proper measures are not taken to tackle the issue, then action will be taken against those responsible,” said an official.

Read Story: Ragpickers' livelihood takes a hit after Deonar dump yard is shut

When mid-day asked MPCB spokesperson Sanjay Bhuskute about the BMC’s role, he said, “Our investigations are going on so I cannot comment.”

However, another official said, “We will send a show cause notice to the BMC for the fire that broke out at the Deonar dumping ground and resulting pollution.”

Deonar fire ariel viewAriel view of Deonar dumping ground. Pic/Sameer Markande

The pollution levels were so alarming that CM Devendra Fadnavis had earlier said that if the situation went unchecked, the city could become like the gas chambers from Hitler’s era. The issue has drawn the attention of the Central Pollution Control Board, which will send a team to inspect the dump yard.

Also Read: Citizens raise a stink about Mumbai's waste problem

On Monday, BMC Commissioner Ajoy Mehta also visited the Deonar ground along with officials from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and found the yard sorely lacking roads, which had severely hindered the firefighting operation as well. “The fire brigade took longer to reach the dumping yard due to the bad condition of internal roads. The commissioner instructed us to use construction debris to fill out the roads properly,” said Kiran Digaonkar, M-East ward officer. In addition, the officials were also asked to keep nearby water sources open and accessible for future emergencies, he added.

Stray dog menace
BMC chief Ajoy Mehta also asked the authorities to curb the rising stray dog population at the yard, as they had also hampered the firefighting process. “The large number of dogs had caused a problem for the fire brigade, so the dogs will be sterilised and then released.”

MP speak
BJP MP Kirit Somaiya also visited the Deonar dumping ground and wrote to the Shivaji Nagar police, demanding that an FIR be registered against the BMC officials and the contractor responsible for the yard’s sorry state. “On Monday morning, I met the MPCB Chairman at Mantralaya and BMC officials and Urban Development secretaries were also present. This fire took place because of the negligence of the contractor and BMC officials. I demanded that action be taken against them,” he said.

Science to the rescue
NEERI director Rakesh Kumar had also visited the spot and suggested that magnesium chloride be sprinkled over the garbage to prevent it from catching fire. “We have asked the fire brigade to give us 100 kg of magnesium chloride to sprinkle over the garbage,” said ward officer Kiran Digaonkar.

Air Quality Index
Jan 29: 345
Jan 30: 318
Jan 31: 333
Feb 1: 307
Guide: Good (0-50): Minimal Impact 
Satisfactory (51-100): Minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people
Moderate (101-200): Breathing discomfort to the people with lung, heart disease, children and older adults
Poor (201-300): Breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure
Very poor (301-400): Respiratory illness to the people on prolonged exposure
Severe (>401): Respiratory effects even on healthy people

Source: System for Air Quality Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR)

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