Poison in air: Kids in sick bay miss school, exams

Kolkata: 14 Dec, 2018 (Times of India)

Kolkata: What started after Diwali has reached its peak now. Some city schools have reported that more than 10 kids per section have been staying home because of severe cold and cough or respiratory distress. Almost every school has complained that this has become a routine at the start of winter every year and their day infirmaries are always full with kids suffering from asthma attacks and fever.

This being the time for examinations, class teachers have been flooded with requests from parents requesting a rescheduling. Missing an examination gets the student a zero, negatively affecting his or her average since most schools follow a continuous and comprehensive testing pattern where the child’s progress is not based only on terminal exams. This forces parents to send indisposed kids to school, who report sick after some time and land up in the infirmary. Bringing inhalers to school to relieve breathing stress has also become routine.

TOI spoke to representatives from schools like the La Martinieres, St James’ School, St Xavier’s Collegiate School and St Thomas’ School, Kidderpore, and found a large number of children, especially in the junior classes, have been suffering from pollution-related ailments. Many parents now send their kids to school wearing pollution masks. Both parents and teachers complain that while it is easier to make children in primary school wear masks, the older students do not comply because these aren’t ‘fashionable’.

“Even 10 years ago, the expression “air pollution” did not mean this. Today it is difficult to find a section where no child is suffering from pollution-induced illnesses. Just making kids wear pollution masks will not be of help. We need to generate awareness at another level,” said Rupkatha Sarkar, principal of La Martiniere for Girls. The school is also trying to encourage kids to get parents to arrange for carpools to come to school and to ensure that the cars they use at home do not add to the city’s pollution level.

“That the kids are falling ill in large numbers at the start of winter should be a trigger for all of us to sit up and think of how the problem can be addressed,” said John Rafi of La Martiniere for Boys.

St James School principal T H Ireland has been swamped with letters from parents of indisposed kids requesting him to excuse them from classes or exams. “I have issued advisories on wearing masks on the way to and from school and wearing extra woollens over and above the winter uniform,” he said.

In some schools, efforts have been made to correct dietary imbalances in kids to improve the immunity.

“You cannot do much about the pollution immediately, but you can help the kids by making them eat fresh fruits and leafy vegetables and keeping them away from junk food,” said Meena Kak, principal of Lakshmipat Singhania Academy.

“Children going to school early should wear proper woollens. It is advisable to use masks. Pollution has been aggravating respiratory disorders like asthma and respiratory tract infections, and the ordinary coughand-cold, too, has been severe this season,” said paediatrician Santanu Ray.


Call to replicate Delhi plan to curb pollution

Kolkata: 12 Dec, 2018(Times of India)

Kolkata: Environment action groups have urged the government to put in place a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), similar to that in Delhi, which will kick off automatically when air pollution crosses certain levels. This year, air pollution in Kolkata has been the worst in recent years, often overtaking the Delhi levels.

“The PM 2.5 readings emerging from Kolkata are of extreme concern. The city had been identified as non-compliant at least a couple of years ago when Delhi’s pollution levels was under the Supreme Court scrutiny. A GRAP and a Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) were prepared for Delhi. The SC had then mentioned the need for similar plans for other cities. The drafting had begun in Kolkata and it needs to be finalised and implemented at the earliest,” said Centre for Science & Environment research & advocacy director Anumita Roy Chowdhury.

GRAP defines measures to be taken depending on the PM 2.5 and PM10 levels in the atmosphere. Based on the air quality, the grades have been classified as “Emergency”, “Severe”, “Very Poor” and “Moderate Poor”. While it is enforced by the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) in Delhi, the state pollution control board can do so in Kolkata.

The GRAP notified for NCR kicks off automatically if the PM 2.5 level breaches 300 µgm/ m3 and PM10 500 µgm/m3 for two consecutive days. The plan recommends measures, like odd-even car rationing scheme and ban on construction activities to combat air pollution.

During “Very Poor” air quality, it recommends banning diesel generators and increasing of parking fee by three to four times to discourage people from using personal transport. It also lists closing of brick kilns, stone crushers, hot-mix plants and increasing the frequency of mechanised cleaning and sprinkling of water on roads as other measures.

Kolkata’s air quality has reached dangerous level. In November, 21of the 30 days would have fallen either in the “Severe” or “Very poor” category had a GRAP been present here. To tackle the high pollution levels, the entry of trucks would have been stopped and construction activities suspended to bring down the PM 2.5 count.

Kankana Das, deputy director of Legal Initiative for Forest & Environment, said it was important that the environment department, along with KMC, transport department and other agencies, sit down to formulate the action plans — both emergency and comprehensive — to check the runaway pollution. “Despite such high pollution that affects all sections of society, it is not a priority with the government. The government needs to acknowledge the big problem at hand and start taking measures to address it,” she said.

On Sunday, citizen groups congregated at Safari Park, Rabindra Sarovar, demanding their right to breathe even as the AQI peaked at 428. Organised by Kolkata Clean Air, doctors, lawyers, students, NGO heads and others joined the campaign to demand urgent action. Emission expert S M Ghosh called for bold policies, “There has to be longterm measures.”