Delhi breathes toxic air as pollution level ‘sever’ after Diwali night

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New Delhi: Indian capital New Delhi’s pollution levels hit “severe” heights on Thursday after hundreds of revellers in the city let off fireworks long into the night to mark the major Hindu festival of Diwali.

The overall Air Quality Index (AQI) was recorded at 302 at 11 pm, which fell in the very poor category, according to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

Air Quality Index (AQI) in Anand Vihar was 999, the area around the US embassy in Chanakyapuri 459 and that around the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium was 999, all of which falls under the hazardous category.

It said particulate matter — PM2.5 and PM10 — were at 500 or severe level in Lodhi Road area citing data from AQI.

A level of 50 or less is considered healthy.

Two of the federal government’s indices showed pollution levels at “very poor” and “severe”, indicating that prolonged exposure could lead to respiratory illnesses. These indices measure the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter.

A high level of tiny particulate matter can lodge deep into the lungs and cause major health problems. In recent weeks Delhi doctors have reported an increase in the number of patients with respiratory problems due to a rise in pollution levels from burning crop residue, vehicle exhausts and industrial gases.

The overall air quality index (AQI) was recorded at 296 at 10pm after the Indian top court’s deadline to burst crackers came to an end. Data from the CPCB data show the AQI at 7pm was 281 which rose to 291 at 8pm and escalated further to 294 at 9pm.

The online indicators of the city’s pollution monitoring stations indicated ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’ air quality as the volume of ultrafine particulate materials PM2.5 and PM10 in the air, which enter the respiratory system and manage to reach the bloodstream, sharply rose after around 8pm.

The pollutants had breached the corresponding 24-hour safe limits of 60 and 100 respectively by up to three times.

According to the CPCB data, the 24-hour rolling average of PM2.5 and PM10 were 146 and 275 micrograms per cubic metre respectively.

Each year, smoke from festival firecrackers significantly adds to pollution levels in Delhi and its satellite cities, resulting a haze that can linger for days as wind speeds drop in the cooler weather.

For a second successive year, New Delhi’s chief minister has likened the city to a “gas chamber”. Around this time last year, he declared a public health crisis, shutting down schools for a week and told residents to remain indoors.

Last month, the country’s Supreme Court allowed the use of “green” firecrackers for Diwali but only if they were let off between 8-10 pm. However, there were no “green” fireworks available for sale and many fireworks were let off before and after the designated two-hour period.

Authorities have been reluctant to enforce an outright ban on the use of fireworks to avoid offending millions of Hindus across the country, for whom Diwali is one of the biggest festivals.

A senior government official revealed the city was heading into a “deadly cocktail” of pollution due to fireworks around Diwali and crop residue burning by farmers.

Many residents of the city do not wear face masks when they go outside in heavy smog, in contrast to what happens in Beijing and other Chinese cities with a pollution problem.