Column: Even Parks Are Not Immune To Pollution

By Ashutosh Mishra

London: For such a modern city London is remarkably green with lots of open spaces and parks. But this verdure can be deceptive with even parks facing the threat of pollution. A respected newspaper has run a report based on a study that says that more than air quality in a quarter of city’s parks and playgrounds would not pass the pollution safety limit test.

It names Victoria Embankment Gardens and Parliament Square as the worst culprits but says that Green Park, Hyde Park and Regent’s Park also have dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The newspaper quoted parents as saying that they were “horrified” to know that areas believed to be the capital’s “green lungs” were being poisoned by pollution, predominantly from vehicle exhausts.

The city-wide study of 4,470 parks, gardens and open spaces by Imperial College London and the University of Leicester, found that breach of EU and World Health Organisation NO2 limits was putting thousands of children and vulnerable people at risk. It said that prolonged exposure to high levels of NO2 can damage lungs and is linked to childhood asthma and reduced lung growth besides reduced brain function.

The paper quoted Dr Daniela Fecht, from Imperial’s school of public health as saying: “We know already that hundreds of primary schools and nurseries are located within, or very close to, areas that exceed legal safety limits for NO2, potentially putting children’s long-term health at risk, but we may think our green spaces are clean. Our research shows this is often not the case, with a large number of public and private parks in the capital exceeding legal limits for harmful air pollutants.”

According to the report five London boroughs — the City of London, Westminster, Camden, Kensington and Chelsea and Islington — breached safe levels. It quoted the founder of a parent body campaigning for clean atmosphere as saying that she was horrified by the results of the study. She urged politicians to act urgently to ensure that children did not breathe toxic air while playing outside.

Air pollution is a much bigger menace in my own city, Bhubaneswar which also boasts of a lot of greenery but has failed to check the rising air toxicity caused by vehicles fumes. The capital city of Odisha, too, has a number of parks and open spaces where children play and people of different age groups walk and job during morning and evening hours.

But we are yet to conduct an authentic study of air pollution levels in these parks which are supposed to act as the green lung of Bhubaneswar. Our capital city has the added advantage of having a buffer forest in the shape of Chandaka sanctuary in its backyard.

Unfortunately, large parts of this forest has been converted into scrubland because of increasing human interference. Instead of preserving what is supposed to be Nature’s most precious gift to the state capital we have been steadily destroying it. No wonder pollution levels are rising. Let’s do our best not to let the situation deteriorate any further.

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