New Delhi: Air pollution across Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) on Thursday morning, a day after Diwali, was categorized as “severe", with nearly six times the average levels of deadly PM 2.5 (particulate matter up to 2.5 microns in size), which lodges itself in the lungs and increases risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and even lung cancers.
Pollution levels on Diwali day this year were higher than last year, a government report said. The report predicted “very poor to poor" air quality in the city on Friday.
“As predicted, Diwali 2015 period came out to be more polluted than last year. Overall, Delhi pollution index was transformed from very poor category to severe category since evening of 11 November and reached its peak around 2am on 12 November" said Gufran Beig, chief project scientist at the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Union ministry of earth sciences. “Analysis indicates that although air quality deteriorated, the magnitude was relatively less by 18-20% than expected which may be attributed to source means reduction by same magnitude in the emissions from firecrackers, which is a satisfactory sign."
People with existing heart or lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, should “avoid" prolonged or heavy exertion and everyone else should “reduce" prolonged or heavy exertion, according to SAFAR’s health advisory. It also said that children, the elderly and people with existing lung diseases may feel discomfort to breathe as deeply or vigorously as they normally would.
According to the figures (as of 7pm on Thursday) in the National Air Quality Index prepared by pollution-monitoring stations across Delhi, Anand Vihar had the highest level of PM 2.5 concentration at 428µg per cubic metre. This is over seven times the safe limit of 60µg/m3.
When air quality levels are “severe", even healthy people are affected and those already afflicted with diseases are seriously impacted, according to the Central Pollution Control Board.
Anand Vihar was followed by Punjabi Bagh with PM 2.5 concentration of 411µg/m3, RK Puram (405µg/m3) and Mandir Marg (389 µg/m3). The average level of PM 2.5 across seven pollution-monitoring stations of Delhi was 364, which is over six times the prescribed safe limit.
In the NCR, levels of PM 2.5 in Faridabad, a city on the outskirts of Delhi, were recorded at 378µg/m3.
The results are in line with predictions by India’s meteorological department, which had predicted that air pollution is likely to worsen after Diwali.
The air pollution forecast issued by SAFAR had on Monday warned of serious risk of respiratory problems to people after prolonged exposure. On Thursday, SAFAR predicted that the PM 2.5 level will increase from the average of the last 10 days by 148%. It had predicted that PM 2.5 would be near 430µg/m3.
Particulate matter is found to be more harmful than other pollutants. They are of different sizes, but among the most health-damaging ones are those that have a diameter of 10 microns or less (≤ PM 10) as they penetrate and get lodged deep inside the lungs. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns are the most deadly.
Once they enter the lungs, they restrict the availability of oxygen to lung muscles, affecting the cardiac rhythm, and could trigger heart attacks. They also cause inflammation of the lungs and increase the risk of blood clot formation and strokes. This could ultimately result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancers.
Government leaders, including President Pranab Mukherjee, urged people to celebrate a pollution-free Diwali. Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal made similar appeals.
Besides public appeals by leaders, students and schools across the city also urged people to stop using crackers on Diwali. For instance, some student groups distributed handwritten pamphlets requesting people to reject crackers and celebrate Diwali with lights.
Delhi has earned the dubious tag of being the most polluted city in the world in the past few years. In 2014, a World Health Organization study found the air in New Delhi to be the most polluted in the world.