According to Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) data, most parts of the city have recorded lower levels of the harmful Nitrogen Dioxide (PM 2.5), which is released by vehicles and power plants. The pollution level of PM 2.5 in Perungudi was 18 microgram/m3, Koyambedu 23 microgram/m3 and Gumidipoondi 36 microgram/m3. This is much below the permissible level of 60 microgram/ m3.
Royapuram, with 40 positive COVID cases, is the worst affected area in the city. But the pollution level continues to be higher than the permissible limits as the PM 2.5 in the area is 67 microgram/m3, which is more than the permissible limit. This is being attributed to the continuous movement of vehicles. However, Manali recorded the highest of 92 microgram/ m3.
TNPCB officials are enthused over the improvement in the air quality since the lockdown began.
“The air quality level in the city is within the permissible limits and has been rated from moderate to good,” said a senior official of TNPCB.
However, Shweta Narayan, an activist, pointed out, “In industrial areas like Manali, refineries and power plants are still operating and hence there has been no dip in the pollution levels there.”
Even water bodies in the city seem to be clean without the effluents from industries.
“Usually, rivers recover fast once the polluted discharges are stopped. But this is only temporary. If the city gets rain during the lockdown, the water quality in the rivers could get a lot better,” said Darwin Annadurai, an activist.
A Public Works Department (PWD) official said that they have cleared garbage and debris dumped near Cooum and Buckingham Canal.
“The river restoration work was expected to be completed within three months and setting up the sewage treatment plant (STP) was the final stage,” said S Kavitha, Assistant Executive Engineer, PWD.
Pollution drop alone won’t help asthma patients
Asthma and other respiratory illness have been reducing among the people due to the nationwide lockdown. Experts feel that outdoor pollution, one of the main triggers of asthmKa, has been reduced as automobiles are off the road. But there are still some worrying factors.
Respiratory and pulmonology experts in the city said that dogs, cats, plants and scents, too, can trigger asthma,” said Dr A Mahilmaran, Director, Institute of Thoracic Medicine, Chennai.
Stating that asthma patients are not more prone to COVID-19, the director said, “Anyone can be affected by the virus. But patients with asthma, hypertension, diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will have a difficult time recovering from the virus, if infected, as their immunity is low.”
Dr Anantha Subramanian, a leading pulmonologist at Kauvery Hospital, said, “Lockdown has reduced the pollution level and we are witnessing a lesser number of patients. This does not mean that pollution is the only trigger for asthma.”
Dusting turns easier, say homemakers
Decrease of vehicular traffic on the road is not only a blessing for the local flora and fauna but also for homemakers and residents, who say that the reduced air pollution and dust have led to less need for dusting in and around homes.
“Usually, I dust the house thrice a week. However, now, with reduced traffic, I only need to dust the house maybe once or twice a week,” said Lalitha, a homemaker in Mylapore.
However, this does not offer them much respite as many homemakers, dependent on house help to keep their homes clean, are now forced to take up these tasks as well. According to Vinay, who stays in a rented apartment in Nungambakkam, these additional burdens can be difficult to navigate while working from home.
Yet residents are averse to letting their guard down. “I sweep and mop up the house daily, as opposed to cleaning on alternate days. While no one comes home, I am stepping out for groceries, and so there is always a risk. If we are expected to wash our hands regularly and wear masks, then we should also make sure our surroundings are clean to ensure there is no chance for an outbreak,” said Vinay.