Pollution caused by ongoing development works results in health hazards

It is more than smoking a cigarette, says Pulmonologist M. Palaniappan


Construction of new bridges in the heritage city is welcome, but at the same time as pollution created by the ongoing development works has caused health hazards to road users, according to doctors at the Government Rajaji Hospital here.

The debris on the New Natham Road up to Oomachikulam police station is posing a major health hazard. Likewise, Kalavasal junction is another major point, where bridge work has resulted in chaos among vehicle users and is causing irritation to shopkeepers in the vicinity due to the continued debris and other heavy metals.

At the time of commencement of the mega work on New Natham Road, the NHAI officials promised to keep the stretches motorable and the contractor firm assured to sprinkle water now and then. They also gave an assurance to repair and black-top the surface where potholes had developed. However, in reality, the promises appear to have gone with the wind, road users fume.

The State government had announced construction of two bridges — one measuring about eight km at ₹ 700 crore along the New Natham Road and another at Kalavasal intersection at ₹ 40 crore, and the quantum of dust had crossed the permissible levels that many motorists have complained of respiratory problems.

According to doctors at the Government Rajaji Hospital, dust and fumes from building materials, which were lying at the sites here, would affect the lungs.

“It is more than smoking a cigarette,” said Pulmonologist M. Palaniappan and added that the atmospheric air pollution may be well above the 100 ppm mark in these pockets, while 50 ppm or below is considered to be quality air and worth inhaling.

According to Periyar University former Vice-Chancellor and MKU Professor K. Muthuchelian, the impact of particulate or dust pollution in the city may lead to non-fatal heart attack, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms.

Dust pollution is most visible in Kalavasal, Periyar bus stand, Goripalayam and Palanganatham according to a study made as a part of research activities. They are vulnerable and prone to particulate pollution.

It contained solid particles and the dust from a source of construction from unpaved roads or construction of bridges caused irritation to the lungs. The wind turbulence in these areas, mainly released from metal containing particles, was from frictional forces such as wear of tyres and application of brakes.

Prof. Muthuchelian said that scientific analysis revealed from the laboratory that pollution levels were as high as 100 microns particulate nature in cubic metre released in Goripalayam. These, he added, were due to release of silica, nitrate, sulphate and other heavy metals.

By planting saplings in these stretches, the pollution level can be reduced, Dr. Palaniappan suggested and a senior physician at the GRH said that special masks used by doctors handling critical patients alone has the capability to protect the nasal ways. Wearing full-mask helmets may help to an extent in protecting the hair from the dust and dirt, but inhaling the atmospheric air would cause throat irritation, he noted.

The residential welfare associations on New Natham Road have appealed to the Corporation of Madurai to inspect the construction site and advise the NHAI and the contract firm to do the needful.

According to K.S. Arjunan, of Sri Nagar, near Iyer Bungalow, though the TANGEDCO issued power shutdown details through the media to facilitate the construction of the bridge work, there was no other relief from the contract firm or the NHAI engineers to the consumers.

The absence of traffic police and lack of street lights at night have resulted in freak accidents. On many occasions, strangers travelling on the stretch had narrow escapes. Recently, on the eve of New Year celebrations, the Oomachikulam police had a tough time as many fell on the stretch as the surface was uneven. Many bikers fell and had to be assisted by the police.

Echoing similar views, KR. Gnanasambandan, a resident of Narayanapuram, said that there was no signboard or reflector stickers, which may otherwise guide road users at night. It was highly dangerous to use Natham Road as the contractors were least worried about public safety, he charged.

An engineer supervising at the bridge works, however, said that they were sprinkling water periodically and ensured that the dust was under control. There were signboards cautioning the road users at select points, he said.

During the transportation of construction materials to the site, their staff adequately took safety measures as per the standard operations and even blocked the vehicular movement for a short period, he added.

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