New Delhi: Wednesday saw the highest level of air pollution in Delhi this year, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), which operates under the ministry of earth sciences.

On Wednesday, PM 2.5 levels in Delhi were at 295 microgram/m3 and PM10 levels were at 470 microgram/m3.

“This means that the Air Quality Index is 430-435, which is considered severe. People in Delhi should avoid outdoor exposure as much as possible and should not try to exert too much," said Gufran Beig, project director, SAFAR.

This would mean an emergency health warning, according to the pollution monitoring agency. The poor air quality in Delhi is due to particulate pollutants and black carbon. Particulate matter settles deep inside the lungs, making people vulnerable to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

SAFAR is puzzled over the jump in air pollution seen from 21 to 23 December and said it is unusual and cannot be explained by meteorology. “Transport and windblown dust cannot increase overnight so quickly, so probably not a reason for jump," said Beig.

The scientists are not sure why air pollution rose so sharply. Medium range transport of pollutants from the Indo-Gangetic plains (IGP), which includes Kanpur, Varanasi, Lucknow and Patna, is highest at this time of the year in the upper part of boundary layer which brings pollution-laden air.

After reaching Delhi, they move downward and pollute the surface.

“The IGP region has shown a huge increase in PM. If there is a huge open biomass burning in the IGP region, the transported air will be even dirtier and make Delhi more polluted," said Beig.

Air pollution is much higher than at the same time last year, but air conditions might improve by Christmas, according to Beig.

A SAFAR study earlier this year showed that the rise in the number of vehicles has led to emissions from the transport sector growing by more than 30% between 2010 and 2014, accompanied by a marginal increase of around 5% due to rise in traffic density in terms of dust.

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