22 Jan 2014

Breath-Taking (!) Festival of Lights – Diwali

Diwali is the festival of lights, but we end up adding waste and pollution to our environs. Other than lighting of lamps, drawing rangolis and feasting on sweetmeats, festivities involve bursting of crackers and playing with sparklers during the entire span of 3-5 days, usually between mid-October and mid-November.

Wide range of chemicals right from cellulose nitrate, charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate present as ingredients in the fire-crackers and sparklers, give off a range of pollutants when they are burnt. Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM), Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM), Oxides of Nitrogen and Sulphur Dioxide levels in the atmosphere which indicate air quality almost double and sometimes treble during Diwali.Added to this, falling temperature and wind velocity during these days slows down pollutant dispersal and further ups the levels of pollutants. 

This in turn is enough to cause respiratory distress to even otherwise healthy individuals, forget the asthmatics who usually suffer the most when air pollution increases. Heavy smog hangs low in the air on Diwali night and a few days after that.

In the long run, air pollution can lead to lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and allergies in adults. It can also cause acute respiratory infections in children.
·         Suspended particulate matter can cause asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory disease.

·         Sulfur dioxide can damage lungs and lead to lung disorders like wheezing and shortness of breath.

·         Oxides of Nitrogen can cause skin problems, eye irritation, and cause respiratory problems in children.

·         Chemicals used in crackers like lead, magnesium, cadmium, nitrate, sodium, and others can have various harmful effects.

·         Heavy metals remain in the atmosphere for long and then get oxidised before entering the food chain through vegetables

It’s not just atmospheric pollutants, but the noise levels of the bursting crackers also deserve special mention. Human ears can only tolerate sounds upto 85 decibels but the sounds of crackers exceed 140 decibels.  The number of noisy crackers is usually more inDiwali which causes a lot of discomfort to heart patients and the elderly. Noise pollution can cause hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleep disturbances. Hence, Crackers should not be burst outside hospitals, old age homes and residences of heart patients. 
The Union Environment and Forest Ministry had issued notification on October 5, 1999, besides; the Supreme Court had also issued instructions for the prevention of pollution from loudspeakers and other instruments making high sound and firecrackers. In these instructions, it is stipulated to ban firecrackers having more than 145 decibel sound.
The amount of garbage released on the day after Diwali is phenomenal. Approximately 4,000-8000 additional metric tonnes of garbage are released in each metropolis during Diwali celebrations. And this garbage is extremely hazardous for the environment as it comprises of chemicals like phosphorous, sulphur and potassium chlorate, and tonnes of burnt paper.  Many people get injured in fire accidents caused by the crackers every year. Most of the victims are children in the age group of 8-16.  
However, Diwali can be made safer and happier if certain precautions are taken during celebrations. To mention few, crackers producing noise should not be burst between 10 PM. and 6 A.M; crackers which bear the Supreme Court instructions and noise pollution levels alone should be purchased; prohibit use of crackers in areas within 100 meters of hospitals, educational institutions, courts and religious places);spread awareness about the noise and air pollution that they cause; protect your children by avoiding loud noise. Minor damage at a young age can lead to major hearing loss and refrain from buying fire crackers which exceed prescribed noise limit.
Crackers cause tremendous air and noise pollution, trouble animals and infants, old and cause fatal accidents. There are other ways like lighting Diyas, distributing sweets, gifts, through which we can celebrate our festivals. Diwali is a festival to enjoy and celebrate, but we should not celebrate it at the cost of someone else’s ill-health and discomfort. 

No doubt, these days awareness with regards to pollution is on the rise and cracker sales are coming down,  but let’s pledge “cracker-free Diwali” and motivate friends and relatives to promote ‘No Crackers’ campaign. This will help save environment and also make this literally a festival of lights than a festival of noisy fire-crackers!

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