Air Pollution Increases the Risk of Mortality From COVID-19, NGT Informed

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Air pollution is an important cofactor increasing the risk of mortality from COVID-19 as per the latest research, the National Green Tribunal was informed on Thursday.

Senior advocate Raj Panjawani and advocate Shibhani Ghosh, who have been appointed by the tribunal as amicus curiae in a case related to ban on fire crackers, told a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel that particulate air pollution contributed 15 per cent to COVID-19 mortality worldwide.

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The latest research on exposure to air pollution and risk of death from COVID-19 infection suggests that ‘air pollution is an important cofactor increasing the risk of mortality from COVID- 19’,” they said.

The study also states that this finding should provide ‘extra motivation for combining ambitious policies to reduce air pollution with measures to control the transmission of COVID- 19’. The study estimates that particulate air pollution contributed 15 per cent to COVID-19 mortality worldwide, they added.

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The amicus curiae referred to a study by Andrea Pozzer and others — ‘Regional and global contributions of air pollution to risk of death from COVID-19’ — and sought suspension of all licences issued by any authority for sale of all kinds of firecrackers.

Senior advocate Mahesh Jethmalani, appearing for Indian Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association, opposed the submission of blanket ban on fire crackers and said there is no definite finding and the apex court is already seized of the matter.

Advocate Balendu Shekhar, appearing for the Environment Ministry, told the NGT that there is no conclusive finding on relation of air pollution with COVID mortality. They have written to the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Earth Sciences seeking their opinion on the issue .

The NGT reserved the order and said it will be uploaded on its website by November 9.

The amicus referred to ‘State of Global Air 2020’ report released by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Project, which estimates that India witnessed 980,000 deaths attributable to PM2.5.

The report also states that the long-term exposure to air pollution can cause many of the health conditions associated with increased vulnerability to COVID-19, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive lung disease, they said.

The amicus told the tribunal that green crackers per se generate less pollution, nevertheless they are a major contributor towards pollution as reflected in the CPCB report.

Consequently, the only alternative left under the circumstances is to take stern and surgical step to check the proliferation of all kinds of crackers in the interest of general public health and life particularly during this phase of severe COVID-19 pandemic, they said.

The amicus sought suspension of all licences issued by any authority for sale of all kinds of firecrackers. If any person is found selling any kind of firecrackers would impliedly be an abettor to environmental pollution liable for environmental damage of Rs 1 lakh.

In case of individuals found using or allowing the use of any kind of firecracker, the Hon’ble Tribunal may consider imposing a fine of not less than Rs 10,000, the amicus suggested.

The NGT had on November 2 issued notice to Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and four State governments on whether use of fire crackers be banned from November 7 to 30 in the interest of public health and environment.

The tribunal was hearing a plea by Indian Social Responsibility Network, filed through Santosh Gupta, seeking action against pollution by use of fire crackers in NCR during the time air quality is unsatisfactory with potential of severity of COVID-19 pandemic.

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