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The carcinogenic breath
Millions breathe cancer causing air in India: report

Financial Express
Sunday, June 04, 2006

Millions in India breathe air loaded with cancer-causing chemicals and toxic gases present at levels that are thousands of times higher than permissible limits, an independent report said on Saturday.

India, one of the most polluted countries in the world, does not even have a standard for many harmful chemicals and gases, and thus no monitoring nor regulation for them, the report said.

The study by the Community Environmental Monitors (CEM), an independent environmental and health agency, is India’s first comprehensive national survey of ambient air that based its findings on a two-year survey carried out in 13 locations.

"As India is poised to nearly double its industrial capacity in the coming years, our nation is pathetically behind in terms of its infrastructure to safeguard its environment or the health of people from air pollution," said CEM’s Shweta Narayan.

The study found that millions of Indians in cities and villages were exposed to at least 45 dangerous chemicals, including 13 carcinogens, some of which were present at levels 32,000 times higher than globally accepted standard.

Last month, the World Bank said pollution was growing rapidly in India and China because of inefficient investment in energy.

India is mainly dependent on coal for its energy, but has about 15 nuclear power plants and is under pressure to increase energy production to meet a furious pace of industrialisation.

"Air pollution monitoring and regulation is primitive, and the world’s fourth-largest economy has no standards for some of the most toxic and commonly found air pollutants," said Narayan.

The samples were taken from residential areas and public thoroughfares in or near industrial areas, effluent discharge channels, smouldering garbage dumps and toxic waste facilities.

The chemicals found targeted virtually every system in the human body — eyes, central nervous system, skin and respiratory system, liver, kidneys, blood, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, the report said.

To reduce air pollution, the Indian government is actively encouraging the use of compressed natural gas by vehicles—a move that has resulted in a few cleaner cities — and piped natural gas by households.

But the country has re-fused cuts to greenhouse gases imposed by the Kyoto Protocol, saying such a cap would hamper its furious pace of industrialisation.

India is exempt from the mandatory cuts because, like China, it is considered a developing nation.

—Reuters / Krittivas Mukherjee

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