- Associated Press
- The Presidential Palace enveloped in a blanket of smog, New Delhi, Nov. 3.
For a few days now, New Delhi has been enveloped in a thick blanket of smog – a mix of fog, car exhaust and manufacturing soot. Add a fair amount of dust and smoke to that.
Air pollution skyrocketed to alarming levels in the city on Wednesday, with the air quality index for PM 10 measuring 1000 in some areas.
That’s bad – even for a city known for its poor air quality.
By U.S. standards, PM 10 measuring more than 201 is classified as “very unhealthy,” and levels higher than 301 are considered “hazardous” to health. Pollution levels exceeding this, “would trigger health warnings of emergency conditions” according to a U.S. government body, which warned that “everyone should avoid any outdoor exertion.”
PM 10 levels measure pollutants with a diameter of 10 microns or less. Air pollution can also be measured in PM 2.5, pollutants with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less.
Over the past week, the air quality index for PM 10 in Delhi ranged from 600 to 800, according to data collected by state-run Delhi Pollution Control Board.
New Delhi’s current pollution levels are higher than those recorded before 2001, when, in a bid to improve air quality, the local government made it mandatory for buses and auto rickshaws to run on compressed natural gas.
In 2000, when the World Health Organization said the Indian capital was world’s fourth most polluted city, its average air quality index for PM 10 was 191.
In 2010, it was 249, according to data from India’s environment ministry. This makes Delhi India’s most polluted city. In comparison, PM 10 in Ludhiana and Allahabad, estimated to be the second and third most polluted cities in India, were 229 and 218, respectively. That year, major cities like Mumbai and Kolkata had PM 10 averages of 94 and 98, respectively.
Experts note that pollutant levels tend to peak in winter, because it’s drier and less windy than in the summer. But levels touching 1,000 are “shocking,” says Vivek Chattopadhyay, an air pollution analyst at the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment. Mr. Chattopadhyay says PM 10 levels touched 500 in New Delhi last year, but escalating as high as 1,000 “is unheard of,” even by experts, he notes.
How did this happen?
“So far, there is no scientific consensus on the matter,” says Mr. Chattopadhyay. He believes that the mounting vehicle population of the capital is largely to blame.
The are an estimated 7.2 million vehicles in New Delhi – reportedly more than the total number of vehicles in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata combined.
Reports suggest mass-burning of agricultural waste in the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana have also contributed to rising pollution levels in the capital.
New Delhi’s poor air quality is already taking a toll on the city’s estimated 12 million people, particularly those susceptive to respiratory disorders. Major hospitals have reportedly recorded a substantial increase in number of patients reporting chronic bronchitis and asthma, among other respiratory ailments.
A state-appointed environment body is scheduled to chalk out measures to curb high rates of pollution in the capital on Saturday.
“There is no cause for alarm. We are looking into the matter,” said an official from India’s environment ministry, declining to comment further.
By Thursday evening, though the dense layer of smog had cleared in most parts of central Delhi, zones across north and east Delhi still recorded alarming levels of PM 10. At 5 p.m., PM 10 recorded near University of Delhi was 910, while the overall level in the capital was still deemed “very unhealthy” by the earth sciences ministry.
- Ministry of Earth Sciences
- Air quality as recorded near University of Delhi at 5.18 PM, Thursday.