‘Local emissions, incomplete combustion of various fuels increase air pollution in North India’

NEW DELHI: Local emissions and inefficient combustion of various fuels play a significant role in the poor air quality and associated health risks in North India, a new research has shown.
The research from Prof Sachchida Nand Tripathi of the Department of Civil Engineering and the Department of Sustainable Energy Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT Kanpur) has identified the major sources of harmful air pollutants along with their impact on human health in the region.
The study, published in the prestigious journal “Nature Communications”, reveals that local emissions, particularly from incomplete combustion of various fuels, play a significant role in the poor air quality and associated health risks in the region.
While previous studies have highlighted the severity of air pollution in India, identifying the exact sources and their relative contributions has remained a challenge.
Prof Tripathi’s team, in collaboration with national and international researchers, analysed air quality data from five locations across the Indo-Gangetic Plain, including sites in and around Delhi, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the issue.
Prof Tripathi, Department of Civil Engineering and the Department of Sustainable Energy Engineering, said here on Monday that, “The crucial insights from our study into the sources of air pollution and their impact on health in Northern India will help us to develop more effective strategies to improve air quality and protect public health. The study has led to a greater understanding of the dominant role played by local emissions and inefficient combustion. It is a matter of great pride that the study has been published in Nature Communications, one of the leading peer-reviewed, open-access journals covering all natural sciences.”
The study found that local sources and processes are the main factors contributing to the widespread air pollution across the region.
Inside Delhi, ammonium chloride and organic aerosols from traffic, residential heating, and industrial activities are key contributors. Outside Delhi, emissions from agricultural burning and secondary organic aerosols formed from these emissions are more prevalent. Contributing to the problem is the incomplete burning of fuels like wood, dung, coal, and petrol. This creates harmful particles that can damage our lungs and cause various health problems.
Regardless of location, the study identified organic aerosols from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels as the major factor driving air pollution’s oxidative potential – a key indicator of its ability to cause adverse health effects.
Prof. Tripathi explained further, “The oxidative potential refers to the free radicals that are generated when pollutants interact with certain substances in the environment or our bodies. These free radicals can cause damage by reacting with cells, proteins, and DNA. Oxidative potential measures how likely air pollution is to cause this reaction, which in turn can lead to health problems like respiratory diseases, heart disease, and accelerated ageing. There is an urgent need to address this issue and reduce emissions through targeted interventions to improve combustion efficiency in various sectors.”
Prof Manindra Agrawal, Director, IIT Kanpur, lauded the research, “This study exemplifies IIT Kanpur’s commitment to finding solutions for the critical challenges that India is facing. Professor Tripathi’s research provides valuable insights and knowledge that can guide policymakers and stakeholders in their efforts to mitigate air pollution and its detrimental effects on our health. I congratulate Prof. Tripathi and his team who have been doing outstanding research to address the serious problems caused by air pollution.”
The research underscores the need for comprehensive strategies that address local emission sources and promote cleaner technologies, particularly in the transportation, residential, and industrial sectors. Implementing stricter emission standards, promoting renewable energy sources, and raising public awareness about the health impacts of air pollution will help achieve cleaner air and a healthier future for not just the north but the rest of the country.

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