Delhi Air Quality Drops To ‘Emergency’ Category For First Time Since January

If Delhi’s air quality persists in the “emergency” category for over 48 hours, measures such as odd-even scheme have to be taken.

The Delhi Metro running amid dense haze and low visibility in Ghaziabad, Delhi NCR, India. (Photo: PTI)
The Delhi Metro running amid dense haze and low visibility in Ghaziabad, Delhi NCR, India. (Photo: PTI)

The blanker of haze over Delhi thickened on Friday morning with the national capital's pollution levels increasing overnight by around 50 points, taking the overall air quality index to 459.

A Central Pollution Control Board official said Delhi’s AQI entered the "severe plus" or "emergency" category late Thursday night, the first time since January this year.

According to official data, the overall AQI was 582 at 12.30 am.

If Delhi’s air quality persists in the "severe plus" category for over 48 hours, emergency measures such as odd-even scheme, banning entry of trucks, construction activities and shutting down schools are taken under the Graded Response Action Plan.

The hazardous pollution levels forced a number of people to miss morning walks and other activities.

Shubhomoy Sikdar, a Delhi-based journalist, said the pollution levels gave him a throat infection and he had to skip his daily sports session. Amanpreet Singh, a resident of Jangpura, said he has been avoiding morning and evening walks and preferring to stay indoors.

The number of masked faces continued to grow as the city remained shrouded in pungent haze for the fourth consecutive day.

At 8.30 am, the Delhi's overall AQI stood at 459. It was 410 at 8 pm on Thursday.

All the 37 air quality monitoring stations across Delhi recorded the air quality in the severe category on Friday morning. Bawana was the most-polluted area with an AQI of 497, followed by Delhi Technological University (487), Wazirpur (485), Anand Vihar (484) and Vivek Vihar (482).

Neighbouring Ghaziabad was the most-polluted city in the country, with the levels of PM2.5—tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 microns that can enter deep into the lungs—reaching as high as 493. Greater Noida (480), Noida (477), and Faridabad (432) also breathed extremely polluted air.

An AQI between 0-50 is considered "good", 51-100 "satisfactory", 101-200 "moderate", 201-300 "poor", 301-400 "very poor", and 401-500 "severe". Above 500 is "severe-plus or emergency" category.

Delhi is impatiently hoping for favourable meteorological conditions to blow away the toxic air, as health experts said the hazardous air pollution has become a serious health concern for about two crore residents.

"Intake of every 22 mg per cubic metre of polluted air is equivalent to smoking a cigarette. So whether the PM2.5 level is 700 or 300 units, the impact is still as bad. People need to take precautions, especially those suffering from asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory illness," said Dr. Arvind Kumar, lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi.

Weather experts said increased wind speed due to a fresh western disturbance approaching the northern region would help disperse pollutants faster from Saturday.

Parents are a worried lot as health experts say children breathe faster, taking in more pollutants. Many took to Twitter to demand that schools be shut till the situation ameliorates. "We, as parents, request Delhi government to keep all schools (private and government) shut for the time being," Anil Atri posted on the microblogging site.

"Whole Delhi air at hazardous levels now. Pollution at its peak. Activate all emergency measures. Close down schools @msisodia (sic)," another resident tweeted.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia had on Wednesday said the decision to shut schools would be taken "when the need arises". In November 2017, the government had shut schools for a few days due to the deteriorating air quality.

The government, however, started distributing 50 lakh N95 masks, considered one of the good quality masks for tackling smog, among school students in Delhi on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said it would carry on with the India vs Bangladesh T20 match at the Arun Jaitley cricket stadium (Feroz Shah Kotla) Sunday, disregarding concerns raised by environmentalists about the health of players and thousands of spectators.

The AQI takes into account five chief pollutants—particulate matter with a diameter less than 10 micrometres (PM10), PM2.5, ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO).

The higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and health concerns.