A major reason for high levels of pollution across India may well be what it is importing from the United States - poison. Reports have emerged that several US refineries are exporting vast quantities of petroleum coke to the country - adding to the toxic air here.
According to an Associated Press report, petroleum coke - a leftover from refining Canadian tar sands crude and other heavy oils - is being sent to countries which are in energy deficit. The reason? There are not many takers for it in developed nations due to the detrimental impact on the human body.
Petroleum coke contains more carbon than other - and more conventional - products. It also has a huge amount of sulphur which damages heart and lungs. The poisnous impact may be being sidelined because petroleum coke is not just cheaper but burns hotter than coal, says the report.
As a result, many US refineries are shipping petroleum coke - also called petcoke - to countries like India where it is burned in factories - resulting in further deterioration of air quality. India already has a large number of cities in the United Nations list for world's most polluted. Delhi has been battling toxic air in recent years and toxicity reached alarming levels last month. While a number of reasons like burning of paddy in neighbouring states and vehicular traffic have been blamed, petroleum coke too is playing a part in pushing the level of pollutants skywards.
According to media reports, laboratory tests have confirmed imported petroleum coke used near Delhi found has 17 times more sulphur than the limit set for coal. It also has a shocking 1,380 times more sulphur than in diesel. So while the US has largely shut the doors on it, India continues to blaze away petroleum coke - throwing caution, and pollution, to the wind.