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Cough, sputter! Delhi chokes on Diwali smog

Aesha Datta New Delhi | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on October 31, 2016

Diwali saw New Delhi enveloped in a thick blanket of toxic smog on Monday, reducing visibility to near zero.   -  RV Moorthy

A thick smog covers Rajpath in New Delhi on Monday, a day after Diwali.   -  PTI

Anti-pollution noise falls on deaf ears; PM 2.5 at 14 times the safe limit

Awareness campaigns against bursting crackers on Diwali appear not to have dented the festive enthusiasm of citizens of the National Capital, with pollution levels rising dramatically on Sunday night.

While high smoke and pollution levels have an immediate impact on some — who face breathing troubles — other, more sinister dangers lurk in the hazy aftermath.

PM 2.5 levels in the city averaged around 180-440µg/m3 on Sunday. The prescribed safe standards, according to the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, is just 60µg/m3. Around 2.30 am, the levels at the Anand Vihar monitoring station stood at 883µg/m3, which is over 14 times the safe limit.

Fiat to neighbours

The high pollution levels prompted the Ministry of Environment on Monday to ask Delhi’s neighbours such as Punjab, Haryana and other NCR States, to enforce a ban on stubble burning on agriculture fields, which had contributed to the high average pollution before Diwali. Further, municipal bodies have been asked to check open burning of solid wastes within the city.

Shyam Aggarwal, Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, said, “The big problem is the PM 2.5 levels, which relate to particles that are associated with cancer.” While incidence of cancer is not easily correlated to any one event in the year, exposure to such high concentrations of pollution is a “predisposing factor”, Aggarwal said.

Toxic across the spectrum

Anumita Roychowdhury. Executive Director - Research and Advocacy and head of the air pollution, Centre for Science and Environment, said the higher minimum levels of pollution as compared to previous years — across categories such as PM 2.5, PM 10, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and sulphur oxides — are particularly troubling.

“Even at the lower end of the band, the levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and others are higher than last year,” she said. This shows that the air we breathe is even more toxic, she added.

Pollution levels were already higher in October this year — even before Diwali; but the crackers have compounded the problem. “Crackers have all kinds of toxic chemicals and are linked to a range of diseases, including lung cancer, muscular weakness and hormonal imbalances,” Roychowdhury said.

Sumit Sharma, Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, stressed that Diwali festivities typically add to the already high level of pollution.

“Levels were higher than last year as the background concentrations were already high due to outside contributions from agricultural burning. Lower wind speeds and shallow inversion layer can lead to extremely high pollutant concentrations in winters,” he said.

Published on October 31, 2016

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