Mumbai’s Alarming Air Pollution Visible from Sea: MMR AQI Crisis Extends Beyond 10KM Offshore

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Concerns about the quality of the air in Mumbai and MMR have grown, as seen by a snapshot taken on January 14, 2024, by Shaunak Modi, which remarkably depicts the level of air pollution at a distance of 5 km. The picture, which stretches more than 10 km into the sea and depicts a thick layer of smoke and dust, provides a striking visual depiction of Mumbai and neighbouring areas like Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vasai-Virar and Kalyan-Dombivli and their problems with air pollution.

A study carried out by NEERI and IIT-Bombay has identified multiple primary causes for the decline in air quality in Mumbai. It was discovered that dust from roads and building sites contributes significantly—more than 71%, to the particulate matter load in Mumbai’s air. This demonstrates how continuous urban development affects the quality of the city’s air.

The most recent data provides more information on the sources of air pollution in Mumbai. 35.82% of the city’s total emissions have been attributed to emissions from companies and power plants. This demonstrates how much industrial activity affects the environment. Furthermore, about 27% of the city’s air pollution is caused by home pollutants, especially in slums where fuels like coal, wood and kerosene are frequently utilised. This graph highlights the difficulties in places with few options for cleaner fuel.

Additionally, a noticeable rise in vehicle pollution has been seen. Vehicle emissions increased from 16% of Mumbai’s pollution in 2017 to 30.5% in 2020. The city’s distinct geographic structure, which is defined as linear and island-like, makes frequent traffic congestion a contributing factor to the pollution problem. The air quality is further deteriorated by the abnormally high emissions from idling motors during traffic congestion.

Other areas in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) like Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vasai- Virar and Dombivli-Kalyan also face similar trends. Construction of large infrastructure projects like the interconnecting Metro Lines, the recently inaugurated Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, Navi Mumbai Airport, the Coastal Road Project, an array of flyovers and bridges, and numerous real estate development projects by private players continue to add to the current air pollution problem.

Many Mumbai and MMR residents are suffering from persistent coughs as a result of being exposed to poor air quality. Experts in respiratory medicine are concerned about the growth of respiratory illnesses, even in healthy individuals. Doctors advise using high-quality masks and staying away from crowded areas when the air quality is low. On the other hand, BMC and neighbouring MCs have failed to extend public warnings despite AQI crossing toxic levels on numerous occasions. In comparison, London authorities issued a public warning when the city’s AQI had crossed just 58. In the case of Mumbai and MMR, an AQI of 58 will be a blessing for the respiratory health of many citizens. The AQI in Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vasai-Virar and Kalyan-Dombivli has rarely fallen below 58 since the beginning of the Diwali festival in 2023.

The issue extends beyond only emissions. The sea wind, Mumbai’s natural air-cleaning system, is waning. The sea breeze, which is essential for spreading contaminants, hasn’t been as strong lately. This shift is explained by a milder winter in Mumbai, which lessens the force of the sea breeze, as well as potential effects of climate change on sea surface temperatures.

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The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has recovered an amount of Rs 24.15 lakh as a penalty for violating Mumbai’s air quality standards. A number of people who disregarded the dust mitigation guidelines that the city’s authorities had published in order to preserve the purity of the air have been punished. The information, which spans from November 4 to 28, 2023, shows that construction sites in 24 municipal wards were penalised for a total of Rs 12.61 lakh. In addition, cars found to be illegally dumping construction and demolition rubbish in various parts of the city were fined Rs 9.22 lakh. Additionally, fines for trucks observed hauling construction material without covering their containers were Rs 2.06 lakh. Apparently, such measures aren’t heard of in Thane, Navi Mumbai, Vasai-Virar and Kalyan-Dombivli. 

Shaunak Modi is a nature lover and conservationist who co-founded the Coastal Conservation Foundation (CCF) in Mumbai. His areas of interest are citizen science and finding evidence-based solutions for wildlife conservation. Shaunak works at CCF as the chief investigator of the Coastal Cetaceans of the MMR project in addition to managing the Marine Life of Mumbai and Marine Life of Goa projects. Shaunak created his own business, Naturenama, in the wilderness travel sector prior to his employment at CCF. He is also a member of the core crew of Marine Life of Mumbai and a wildlife photographer. Shaunak’s areas of interest are citizen science and intertidal ecology. He has spent several years documenting the biodiversity and risks to the coastlines of South Mumbai, an area he knows. Shaunak is spearheading the Marine Life of Mumbai programme, which aims to educate Mumbai’s citizens and policymakers about these little-known facts in the long run.

Rahul Somvanshi

Rahul, possessing a profound background in the creative industry, illuminates the unspoken, often confronting revelations and unpleasant subjects, navigating their complexities with a discerning eye. He perpetually questions, explores, and unveils the multifaceted impacts of change and transformation in our global landscape. As an experienced filmmaker and writer, he intricately delves into the realms of sustainability, design, flora and fauna, health, science and technology, mobility, and space, ceaselessly investigating the practical applications and transformative potentials of burgeoning developments.

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