Alarming air pollution in Delhi

A thick blanket of pollutants engulfed the national capital region on Tuesday, triggering a public health emergency as hundreds of people inhaling the toxic air reported irritation and itching of the eyes as well as breathing troubles.

The build-up began a day before with a dip in the temperature. Delhites woke up to a heavy smog that hung on the city for the entire day turning the air quality "severe" in an air quality index, prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board.

According to the CPCB scale, the air quality index of Delhi (448 out of 500) and three of its satellite towns Noida (468), Ghaziabad (475) and Faridabad (409) fall in the severe category whereas Gurgaon (368) is in very poor category.

This is second time in the year when Delhi air quality entered the severe category. The same happened last month when Diwali fireworks shot up the pollution level on October 20. Between May 2015 and October 2017, there were only two good air days in Delhi both were in July 2017 when the city was washed by the rains.

The pollution level (measured by PM-2.5 or particulate matter of 2.5 micron size, which are fine dust particles that goes inside the body with every breath) recorded in some of the 15 air quality monitoring stations is nearly 30 times that of the World Health Organisation's recommended value.

For instance in Anand Vihar in east Delhi, PM-2.5 (at 7 PM) level was 732 microgram per cubic metre whereas the WHO standard was 25.

The CPCB standard of PM-2.5 for a good air day is 60 micrograms.

In Punjabi Bag of west Delhi, the level was 519 whereas in Mandir Marg in central Delhi, it was 357. The level of another pollutant PM-10 too was very high across the NCR region.

Indian Medical Association president K K Agarwal said Delhi was witnessing a "public health emergency" and appealed to the government to stop outdoor sports and other such activities in schools to protect the health of children.

Dense smog affected the operations at the Delhi airport with several flights getting delayed by up to two hours. Only one runway could be used as the visibility was very poor. The runway visibility range was less than 200 metres between 7-8 am. It improved only from around 11am.

Delhites are unlikely to receive any reprieve in a day or two as the weather conditions are likely to remain unfavourable.

"Currently, Delhi and its neighbouring region are seeing almost still conditions at the ground level, but in the upper atmosphere there are two wind masses one from Punjab, which is bringing pollutants from crop burning and the other from eastern UP, which is bringing moisture. These are colliding at the higher altitude, leading to conditions where there is both moisture and pollution as well as no wind at the ground level," said A Sudhakar, member secretary, CPCB.

Sudhakar said he expected air quality to remain poor over the next two days as per the forecast made available by India Meteorological Department.

Both Delhi High Court and National Green tribunal took the governments of Delhi and adjoining states to task for doing little to improve the air quality in the national capital.

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