How the Air Pollution Crisis Hurts New Delhi
The thick layer of smog that obscured India’s capital this past week - prompting national health concerns and leading to a weeklong shutdown of schools - was composed of a fine particle that can lodge itself deep into the lungs.
It’s called PM 2.5. Those exposed to the particle can experience skin, eye, throat and nose irritation or have exacerbated lung and heart diseases, according to the New York Department of Health.
On Wednesday, New Delhi faced an exposure level of 833, while the World Health Organizations air quality guidelines for PM 2.5. suggests an exposure level of 10.
“Delhi has become a gas chamber,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, on Wednesday. “Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a soln [sic] to crop burning in adjoining states[.]”
The high levels of PM 2.5. in the winter may be related the increased burning of municipal solid waste during the season and the high levels of secondary particles and combustion related emission, a 2016 report released by the New Delhi government found. It also found that PM 2.5., amongst other noxious air pollutants, increase by about 25-30 percent during the winter.
“The entire city is enveloped by pollution layer all around with contribution from multiple sources within Delhi, nearby region and even from long distances,” the report said.
India has a notorious history with its air pollution. Being exposed to the air in the nation’s capital is equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes a day, a study released by Berkeley Earth found. In 2015, India ranked highest as the country with the largest increase in pollution related deaths, according to a study by The Lancet Commission released this past October. A study conducted by Green Peace also found that PM 2.5. levels increased by 13 percent this year, compared to a 17 percent decrease in China.
The carcinogens in the air affect children, seniors, and adults living in the region. While many residents buy air purifiers and masks when the air quality worsens during this season, many living in the area claim that such actions are not enough to keep the health effects at bay.
“Feeling sick to the core due to this smoke & smog though I was not out much,” tweeted Aman Sharma, a senior assistant editor at Economic Times.
“For those of us living here, the air pollution saps our strength. Many people feel nauseated all day, like from a never-ending case of car sickness,” wrote journalists living in India. “Even if you have air filters in your house, as some of us do, a faint lingering chemical smell always seems to find its way in, through air-conditioner vents, open windows and cracks in the doors.”