India’s capital city faces alarming level of smog

Updated 10 November 2017
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India’s capital city faces alarming level of smog

NEW DELHI: Thick toxic smog has engulfed India’s national capital for the last three days. As a result, the government has been forced to reintroduce the odd-even scheme in order to contain the escalating air pollution. Introduced from Monday for the next five days, the scheme requires vehicles with odd and even numbers to run on alternate days.
This step is one among a series of emergency measures that have been adopted by local government since Thursday.
Some 6,000 schools in Delhi have been asked to shut down for a week. The government has banned the entry of heavy vehicles into the city as well as stopping all construction activity in the capital.
The tiny particulate matter known as PM 2.5 showed a reading of 612 on Thursday afternoon, according to the Air Quality Index (AQI). PM 2.5 is a particulate matter which, if inhaled in large quantities, can cause heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer.
“The number of patients has increased alarmingly this year because of the high pollution level in the city,” Dr. Vivek Nangia, a well-known respiratory specialist at the Delhi-based Fortis Hospital, told Arab News.
“This is a health emergency and we need urgent measures to control the situation,” he said, and advised people “to avoid outdoor activities as much as possible.”
Delhi resident Rajeev Sharma, a 46-year old jogger and cyclist, complained of breathlessness. “I have been jogging and cycling regularly for the last 15 years but I have never felt this kind of uneasiness while doing morning exercise. Normally I run 6 to 7 km but now I cannot even run 2 km,” he told Arab News.
The pollution has affected his preparation for the Delhi Half Marathon which is due within a couple of weeks.
However, politicians are not willing to take responsibility for the crisis and point fingers in order to shift the blame.
On Wednesday, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called Delhi “a gas chamber” and blamed the deteriorating situation in the city of 20 million people on the failure of neighboring states to control the burning of waste paddy crops or crop stubble.
Talking to Arab News, Delhi Transport Minister K. Gahlot held the northern states of Haryana and Punjab responsible for the pollution in Delhi.
“We cannot be held solely responsible for this pollution; we are collectively responsible and we should all handle it together rather than playing the blame game,” said Gahlot.
Shambhavi Shukla of Center for Environment and Science (CES), a New Delhi-based think tank working in the area of environment and development studies, said: “This is not a city-specific problem but a regional problem and the neighboring local governments should work together to address the alarming situation.”
She is, however, critical of government in Delhi for failing to develop a public transport system in the national capital as an alternative to increased vehicles on the road.
“In the last three years, the number of buses has gone down from 6,000 to 4,000 and their ridership has also decreased by 9 percent,” said Shukla.
Talking to Arab News, she welcomed the introduction of the odd-even scheme in Delhi but feels that “this is a short term measure and can give relief only for a brief period. When all measures fail, the government resorts to the odd-even scheme in panic.”


China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

An aerial view shows a chemical plant after an explosion in Yancheng in China's eastern Jiangsu province early on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 11 min 27 sec ago
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China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

  • The blast occurred on Thursday at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province
  • The company produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, some of which are highly flammable

BEIJING: The death toll in a chemical plant explosion in China rose to 64 Saturday but rescuers found a survivor among more than two dozen still missing in the debris of one of the country’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.

Thursday’s explosion in the eastern city of Yancheng injured hundreds and flattened an industrial park.

The local fire brigade pulled a man in his 40s from the rubble of the destroyed chemical plant around dawn on Saturday, according to a statement on the city government’s official Weibo account.

He was taken to hospital for treatment, the statement said, without giving further detail of his status or injuries.

Rescuers are looking for 28 people who are still missing, Yancheng mayor Cao Lubao said in the statement.

“The identities of the dead and the missing are being confirmed through interviews with family members, home visits and DNA tests,” Cao said.

More than 600 people have received medical treatment following the blast, according to the city government.

Among them, 21 are critically injured and 73 are seriously injured, the statement said.

The explosion toppled several buildings in the industrial park and caused a huge fire that raged through the night, while rescuers scrambled to find survivors in the plant’s wreckage.

Hundreds of rescuers were dispatched to the scene, local authorities said, and some 4,000 people have been evacuated from the blast site.

The force of the explosion — which was so powerful that it apparently triggered a small earthquake — blew out windows and dented metal garage doors of buildings as far as four kilometers from the site.

Nearby residents — many of them elderly — were seen sweeping up glass, and in some cases appeared to have abandoned their homes entirely.

The city government said some 89 houses were damaged beyond repair and families were resettled after demolishing those structures.

The government said it was also repairing blown-in doors and windows in 10 school buildings near the site so that all schools in the area can resume classes Monday.

Local authorities investigating the cause of the accident said an unspecified number of people were taken into police custody on Friday.

The facility involved in the explosion belonged to Tianjiayi Chemical, a firm with 195 employees established in 2007 that mainly produces raw chemical materials including anisole, a highly flammable compound.

Tianjiayi Chemical has a history of violating environmental regulations, according to online records from Yancheng city’s environment and ecology bureau.

In 2015 and 2017, the firm was fined for violating rules on solid and water waste management.

Several residents told AFP they were concerned about pollution from the industrial accident.

“We don’t have drinkable water here,” one 60-year-old woman surnamed Xiang said. “Why hasn’t the government sent us some water?“

According to a report released Friday by Jiangsu province’s ecology and environment department, several rivers near the blast site are contaminated with chemicals, including chloroform and dichloromethane.

But the city government said Saturday that “continuous environmental monitoring data show that pollution indicators are within the normal range, and the drinking water... is not affected.”

Authorities said they had also dammed a tributary to the nearby Xinfeng River to prevent any “outflow of sewage from the chemical industrial park.”

An aerial view of the blast area showed a large swathe of destruction in the industrial park, where multiple fires had raged.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze Friday after battling raging flames through the night. Three chemical tanks and five other areas had been on fire.

Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In November, a gas leak at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killed 24 people and injured 21 others.

In 2015, China saw one of its worst industrial accidents when giant chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.