India smog equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes a day

2017-11-12 06:13
Drivers battle thick smog and concomitant poor visibility in Delhi, India, this week. Picture: Reuters / Cathal McNaughton

Drivers battle thick smog and concomitant poor visibility in Delhi, India, this week. Picture: Reuters / Cathal McNaughton

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It was early on Tuesday morning when residents in Delhi, the capital of India, first began to notice the thick white haze that had descended across the city.

Initially viewed as a mild irritant, by midweek its debilitating effects were evident to all, as the city struggled to adapt to the new eerie, Martian-like conditions brought about by the pollution.

With visibility severely reduced, trains have been cancelled, planes delayed and cars have piled atop one another, with multiple traffic accidents reported across the city.

The sense that this is now a city under siege has been enhanced by the unusually far-reaching actions of the Delhi government.

It suspended all civic construction projects as part of several emergency measures intended to help tackle the pollution crisis.

City chiefs closed all public and private schools, requesting instead that the city’s tens of thousands of school-aged children remain indoors.

On Wednesday, they banned incoming trucks and halted civil construction projects.

On Thursday, they announced new plans to begin implementing a partial ban on private car use from this week.

But as the city woke up on Friday to a fourth consecutive day of heavy pollution, practical considerations were being overtaken by more serious concerns, with journalists and doctors warning residents of the long-term health implications.

Air quality readings in the Indian capital have reached frightening levels in recent days, at one point topping the 1 000 mark on the US embassy air quality index.

The World Health Organisation considers anything above 25 to be unsafe.

That measure is based on the concentration of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, per cubic metre.

The microscopic particles, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are considered particularly harmful because they are small enough to lodge deep into the lungs and pass into other organs, causing serious health risks.

Across the capital, doctors reported a surge in patients complaining of chest pain, breathlessness and burning eyes.

“The number of patients had increased, obviously,” said Deepak Rosha, a pulmonologist at Apollo Hospital, one of the largest private hospitals in Delhi.

“I don’t think it has ever been so bad in Delhi. I am very angry that we have had to come to this.”

Breathing in air with a PM2.5 content of between 950 to 1 000 is considered roughly equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes a day, according to the independent Berkeley Earth science research group, based in California in the US.

A report, carried out in 2014 by the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, found that vehicle emissions accounted for 20% of Delhi’s annual PM2.5 levels.

Unsurprisingly, stores selling masks and air purifiers have reported a jump in sales as many of the city’s wealthier residents look to mitigate the smog’s more harmful effects.

But outside on the city’s streets, most people – unable to afford expensive preventive measures – are forced to endure the conditions as best they can. – CNN

Read more on:    who  |  india  |  pollution

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