Crackers, firecrackers: India
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Accidents in Indian firecracker factories, 2018-21
Lithium, antimony , mercury , arsenic, lead
The Supreme Court has banned fireworks manufacturers from using five substances that stoke air and noise pollution, an order that is likely to mean firecrackers with subdued sound and light effects this Diwali. The substances barred are lithium, antimony , mercury , arsenic and lead.
Lithium is a metal used to impart red colour to fireworks, while antimony is used to create glitter effects.Lead oxide provides a special crackling effect which, if inhaled, in high concentration could cause damage to the nervous system.
A bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta on Monday banned the use of the substances in the manufacture of firecrackers after senior officers of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Petroleum and Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) briefed the court about their impact.
The court also directed CPCB and PESO to lay down standards with regard to the chemical composition of firecrackers.
“It appears that no standards have been laid down by the CPCB with regard to air pollution by firecrack ers. Dr A B Akolkar, member secretary of CPCB, says it will take some time to arrive at the standards and it will be done by September 15, at the latest. In the meanwhile, we direct that no firecrackers manufactured by the respondents (companies) shall contain antimony , lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead in any form whatsoever. It is the responsibility of the PESO to ensure compliance,“ the bench said.
The role of Diwali fireworks in stoking pollution is a hotly debated issue. It has been pointed out that Diwali is a one-day affair celebrated once every year and questions are raised on whether such restrictions can have lasting effects on curbing pollution. On the other hand, fireworks are also a frequent part of weddings and, sometimes, even birthday celebrations.
Ban on sales
2015-17: SC's ‘approach on the issue has varied’
The petition seeking a ban on firecrackers in NCR has been pending in the Supreme Court since 2015 but the court's approach on the issue has varied as its first order banned sale following which the order was modified to allow limited sale and finally a ban re-imposed just ahead of Diwali.
The twists and turns on the part of the apex court were mainly because there is no credible and reliable study by any Indian agency on the extent bursting of firecrackers affects the environment and private agencies have reported contradictory findings. The court, which had in 2015 turned down a plea to ban firecrackers during Diwali, intervened in the light of pollution levels after Diwali in 2016 and suspended all licences of sellers of firecrackers.
The data remain inconclusive with a study by IIT, Kanpur, finding that levels of pollution can be higher than on Diwaliboth before and after the festival is celebrated.
“The capital was smogged into an environmental emergency of unseen proportions,“ the court had said while justifying its interim order to ban firecrackers. It had also directed Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to file a report within three months on the harmful effects of materials used in fireworks. The court had said that it would review its interim order after going through the report.
But CPCB failed to comply with the order and told the court that firecrackers did not come in its jurisdiction and the task be entrusted to another government agencyPetroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO). As the government agencies did not produce any credible and empirical study on the issue, the court was virtually forced to modify its ban order and allow sale of firecrackers on September 12.
“What is necessary now is to correlate air pollution with the sale and bursting of fireworks in Delhi and NCR.There is no doubt that the air we breathe gets polluted with the bursting of fireworks. The extent of air pollution caused by bursting of fireworks is not clear in the absence of empirical data it could be severe or it could be marginal, but it is there,“ the bench had said.
“It is astonishing that CPCB has not conducted the study and prepared a report as directed. Apart from the fact that the CPCB has not conducted any study , even otherwise, no standards have been laid down by CPCB which could give any indication of the acceptable and permissible limit of constituent metals or chemicals used in fireworks and released in the air, beyond which their presence would be harmful or dangerous,“ the court had noted.
It had appointed a high level committee consisting of representatives from CPCB, National Physical Laboratory, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, IIT Kanpur, Fire Development and Research Centre, National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and scientists from the state pollution control boards to conduct a study on adverse health impact on people due to bursting of fireworks during Dussehra and Diwali.
2016, ’17: SC bans sale in NCR in October
Attempt To Curb Diwali Pollution In Delhi-NCR
The Supreme Court reimposed on Monday a ban on sale of firecrackers in the national capital region ahead of Diwali, set to be celebrated on October 19, in view of concerns over pollution caused by smoke and chemicals released into the air.
The order, however, does not prohibit bursting of crackers -which means that people with last year's stock can use firecrackers. But the ban on sale is clearly intended to drastically reduce the use of firecrackers in Delhi and surrounding areas. The ban will be in force till October 31.
A bench of Justices A K Sikri, A M Sapre and Ashok Bhushan restored SC's Novem ber 2016 order banning sale of crackers in NCR and put this September's order -which allowed limited sale but banned imports from other states -in abeyance till October-end.
The SC had passed last ye ar's order after Diwali in view of the high level of pollution, saying the city was “smogged“ into an environmental emergency of unseen proportions. The ban continued till September 12 when the court modified its order and allowed limited sale of firecrackers but banned import from other states.
While the court had in its September order said there was a need for a balanced and graded approach to controlling pollution rather than radical steps, the proceedings took a different turn on Monday . The bench noted there were several factors contributing to a pollution crisis in the city and the extent of the adverse impact of bursting of firecrackers needs to be ascertained.
“We are of the view that the order suspending the licences should be given one chance to test itself in order to find out as to whether there would be positive effect of this suspension, particularly during the Diwali period. Insofar as adverse effects of burning of crackers during Diwali are concerned, those have been witnessed year after year. The air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes. It leads to closing the schools and the authorities are compelled to take various measures on emergent basis, when faced with health emergency situation,“ the bench said.
“This very situation had occurred on the very next morning after Diwali in the year 2016. It resulted in passing the order dated November 11, 2016.This order prevailed during the year but the impact and effect of this order remains to be tested on Diwali days. Going by these considerations, we are of the opinion that the judgement dated September 12, 2017 passed by this court should be made effective only from November 1,“ it said.
Holding that there is “virtually a consensus“ in society that crackers should not be burnt in Diwali with govern ments, NGOs and others carrying a campaign against them, the court said, “Irony is that when causes are brought in the court, there is resistance from certain quarters.“
Delhi police spokesperson, Dependra Pathak, meanwhile, appealed to people to adhere to the rules. “We will start prosecuting violators as soon as possible,“ said Pathak.
The court had previously held that there was no conclusive proof that extremely poor quality of air in Delhi last winter, which pushed SC to pass a ban order, was the result only of bursting of fireworks around Diwali.
The ban hit the livelihood of 8 lakh persons
About 840 firework factories in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu have shut due to the uncertainty created by the ban on crackers, DMK member Tiruchi Siva said in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday. Raising the issue during the zero hour, the lawmakers said this was affecting the livelihood of eight lakh people as he argued that fireworks were the not the only reason for pollution.
Lower than vehicle horns
Honking of vehicles is a bigger noise polluter than firecrackers with decibel levels going up to 100. In comparison, crackers emit up to 90 decibels noise.
This was revealed by a study conducted in February and March for around 30 days by Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Delhi. It was found that honking noise, especially from two-wheelers, is far more problematic as it continuously occurs for hours daily.
The researchers measured noise pollution on eight prominent roads and 12 intersections of the city. They found that roads with a metro line or station are far noisier as concrete reflects sound.
Pravesh Biyani, assistant professor with Electronic and Communication (ECE) department of IIIT, which conducted the study, said that they used a customised instrument to measure the noise for 60 continuous hours over several days.
“We removed the honking noise from other noises that you generally hear on the roads. Since I work on speech source separation field, we used that to identify honking from a mixture of sounds. It was found that on a given day, the decibel levels of honking reached up to 100 decibels. Twowheelers are the biggest culprits for noise pollution because their numbers are higher than cars,” Biyani said.
The research stated that if honking is reduced in vehicles, it could help reduce noise pollution by a huge amount. “However, we need to take other steps, especially on roads that have an overhead metro station or line. At Govindpuri station, we found the decibel level reaching 100,” said Biyani.
“There is a need to put noise absorbers on metro pillars and stations as well as road dividers. We found that concrete is not a good noise absorber and, in fact, reflects sound. Because of this, the decibel levels were a little higher on roads with a metro station,” Biyani said, adding that IIIT will release their research data with decibel data sets and videos of roads soon. “We want to put our results in public to assist other researchers,” he said.
Continuous noise can be damaging to the ear. “Hair cells in the ear get damaged severely if one is exposed to loud noises for a long period,” said Dr Ravi Meher, professor at Maulana Azad Medical College. “The damage depends on the intensity of the sound. If the noise is in the range of 80-90 decibels, then it can damage ears within eight hours. If the sound increases to 100 decibels, then one can get affected in less than six hours,” he added.
A team of student researchers at IIT-Delhi had showcased a study done by them during Industry Day on September 21. “Natural products like jute, husk and cotton can be effective noise absorbers,” said a research poster on display.