For Delhiites who think the reducing smog levels means less pollution, it is time to lose that thought. Delhi's air remains as unbreathable as ever, and if that wasn't bad enough, a report suggests that benzene levels in the national capital has seen a spike as the cold increases, and it is likely to get worse.
The Indian Express reported that benzene, a carcinogen, touched 43.7 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3), almost nine times the prescribed standard of 5 µg/m3, at Anand Vihar and 37 µg/m3 at RK Puram on Tuesday.
A colourless, flammable liquid that evaporates quickly when exposed to air, it is highly dangerous even at low concentrations and causes leukemia in the long run.
According the report in The Indian Express, Delhi Pollution Control Committee have said they are aware of the alarmingly high levels of benzene in Delhi's air and have been asking oil companies to install vapour recovery systems at petrol pumps to reduce pollution.
Long-term exposure to benzene, according to cancer.org, harms the bone marrow that can lead to anemia, "a low white blood cell count, which can lower the body's ability to fight infections and might even be life-threatening" and "low blood platelet count, which can lead to excess bruising and bleeding".
Director of Environment Department Anil Kumar told The Indian Express, "We have again raised the issue in recent meetings with officials of the Environment Department. The levels are very high and benzene has a tendency to settle in colder areas. The coming days could see higher concentrations. Vapour recovery systems are crucial at this stage and we are insisting on them."
Scared? Of course, especially if you thought swift action is going to be taken because of the intensity of the situation. Don't expect any action soon. This happens every year. And nothing is likely to be done, like every year.
Last year The Times of India reported that a 68-day study of monitoring stations in the NCR by the Central Pollution Control Board had found it to be three times higher at 14 micrograms. This was submitted to the National Green Tribunal.
And that wasn't the first time either. Down To Earth reported in 2012 that the Tata Energy Research Institute had surveyed 40 petrol stations in Delhi between 2009 and 2010 and found that the toxic group of compounds of benzene, xylene and toluene were at 6,406, 5,890, and 9,512 microgrammes respectively.
According to the report, this was observed in "fuel stations of Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum located in South Extension, Lodhi Road, Defence Colony, Vikas Marg, Connaught Place and Chanakyapuri".
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