Siruguppa taluk chokes on polluted air from rice mills

Environment Health Rural Karnataka

Siruguppa has an air quality index of 122 —8.8 times higher than the WHO’s annual air quality guidelines.

By Vindhya Pabolu

Air pollution caused by rice mills has lead toan increase in asthma and tuberculosis (TB) cases in Siruguppa taluk, Ballari.Siruguppa has 74 rice mills located in the heart of the taluk. These rice mills emit gases such as methane and other organic gases that are harmful to the environment and human health.

Out of the ten afflicted people, seven said they were facing problems but they aren’t aware of the cause.

Balaraja, a resident of Siruguppa, said most of his friends, and neighbours had developed breathing problems but even they didn’t know the reason. Although he said that the presence of factories in the region could be one reason. “There are a lot of rice mills in Siruguppa and one can see the amount of gases from these mills emit in the area,” he added.

At present, Siruguppa has an air quality index of 122 —8.8 times higher than the WHO’s annual air quality guidelines. The pollutants present in the air are PM2.5 with a concentration of 44.2 cubic metres.

Rice makes up for 12 percent of global methane emissions. According to United Nations Environment Program, exposure to methane a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas, cause one million premature deaths every year.  People who live near the mills informed The Observer it has been really difficult for them for the past five years. Gradually, they developed breathing problems but they weren’t aware of the cause. People said that by now they had become used to the polluted air.

Raghavendra Chagi, secretary and cashier of the Siruguppa Rice Millers’ Association, said, “We visit the mills daily but we are fine. I think the reason might be different.”

Anusha, a receptionist at Vyshnavi Grand Hotel said: “Just go to the road where all rice mills are located and observe. It makes us hard to breath. The gases released are not bearable after some point. I used to take that route but I won’t choose it now. The roads are terrible and in addition to that pollution makes it worse.  This is nothing new to us. We have got habituated to this.” She said she often rubbed her eyes while walking on the road because of the presence of excessive dust particles.  

Chagi said the association equipped the workers with masks and gloves for their safety but the workers never bothered to use them. He said, “They say the masks make them feel suffocated and it gets difficult for them to work. So, they wear masks just in front of us.”

Dr Earnan, chief medical officer, Siruguppa taluk, said although, there had been a lot of TB cases, but the number of people getting treatment for it had also increased. “We did our best in creating awareness among people. But when it comes to asthma, it’s different. Every week, we see five to ten people coming to the hospital with breathing problems. People are unaware of their disease. They don’t take medications properly and it slowly develops into asthma and tuberculosis…. It has become a common problem over the years. We have now stopped studying data.”

According to data provided by Dr Earnan, the number of cases registered in the taluk continued to increase till 2019 (544). There has been a decrease in the number of cases. The present count is 441.

According to the Indoor Air Hygiene Institute, PM 2.5 at or below 12 cubic metres is considered healthy with next to no risk from exposure. If the level rises to or above 35 cubic metres during a 24-hour period, the air is considered unhealthy and can cause issues for people with existing breathing issues such as asthma.


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