The researchers from IIT Kharagpur have discovered a rise in atmospheric pollution in rural areas of India.

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The scientists at IIT Kharagpur discovered that the concentration of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) in the atmosphere was rising in rural areas of India, based on data collected by satellites. This finding points to the fact that air pollution is not only a problem in urban areas but also has an impact on rural regions.

The institute conducted a study of the air quality in rural areas to determine the level of air pollution by measuring NO2 levels via satellite imaging. The research revealed a growing pattern (0.05–0.44×1015molec./cm2/yr) of NO2 in the rural areas of India, as stated in a press release on Wednesday.

A report from Prof Jayanarayanan Kuttippurath and Research Scholar Mansi Pathak of Centre for Ocean, River, Atmosphere and Land Sciences (CORAL) of IIT Kharagpur showed the great effect that urban contamination has on the air quality of rural India. The team categorized the pollution into two areas – rural and urban – and gauged the level of air pollution in rural India.

The researchers have named their project “Air Quality Trends in Rural India: Analysis of NO2 Pollution using Satellite Measurements”. Results from this study show that air quality in rural India has decreased in terms of levels of NO2, although it is still below the accepted threshold, except in areas like Delhi and its surroundings and in eastern India.

Prof Jayanarayanan Kuttippurath of CORAL, IIT Kharagpur expressed that due to the increasing NO2 concentration, urbanization, population growth, and development endeavors, other areas of India are likely to surpass the pollution level to endanger the health of their inhabitants, which includes a substantial rural population. Consequently, the time is ripe to take action to reduce the air pollution in rural India.

Mansi Pathak, a Research Scholar from IIT Kharagpur and the lead author of the paper, noted that the air quality standards in rural areas are usually overlooked, as people tend to view atmospheric pollution as an issue that only exists in cities. She asserted that it is essential to direct attention to rural regions and investigate the extent of their pollution levels, as well as their health effects on the people of rural India.

It is essential for India, which has a rural population of 67 percent (947 million) as of 2020, to prioritize public health, she stated. Nitrous Oxide (NO) levels in the atmosphere can influence ozone formation, create nitrate aerosol particles and cause acid precipitation, which all have a net cooling effect on the climate, the scientists noted.

Rural regions in India account for 41% of the total NO2 pollution, with the transportation and power sectors being the main contributors (45% and 40%, respectively). As NO2 emissions are linked to economic progress, the analysis of rural areas reveals distinct seasonal variations, with the highest concentration (2.0 x 1015 molecules per cm2) observed in winter and the lowest in monsoon (1.5 x 1015 molecules per cm2), according to the report.

The statement highlighted the dangerous health consequences of NO2, which is 19 times more harmful than Particulate Matter and 25 times more hazardous than SO2 (sulphur dioxide). People living in places with high NO2 levels, such as near power plants, factories, cities and areas beyond the permissible limit, may be more likely to suffer from asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and cardiovascular diseases.

Kuttippurath warned that if no action is taken, the levels of NO2 in other rural areas of India will surpass the permitted limits of the CPCB. He suggested that similar to the Bharat Stage regulations that limit vehicular emissions, thermal power plants and industrial sites in both rural and urban areas should be regulated in order to reduce the overall NO pollution in rural India.

The researchers noted that the addition of natural gas-powered plants or the implementation of SCR in existing plants could help to decrease emissions and NO2 pollution in rural India. The study covered the Indo-Gangetic plain, central India, north-west India, peninsular India, hilly region and north-east India, according to Pathak. She further explained that this study focused on analyzing atmospheric NO2 concentrations in India from 1997 to 2019.

Mayank Tewari


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