Air quality in Delhi reaches extremely dangerous levels



Seasonal fires and high levels of air pollutants blanket the skies across northern India, marking New Delhi’s air quality as “very unhealthy” and prompting school closures. The advisory advises residents to avoid spending time outdoors in the city, where toxic smog has been occurring since early November.

“The smoke spread across the Bay of Bengal,” said Hiren Jesva, an aerosol scientist at Morgan State University and NASA. So far, fire activity has been slower than usual, but “even this many fires is enough to cause air quality problems near the areas where the fires are occurring,” he said. Stated.

New Delhi’s air quality index PM2.5 (a particularly harmful pollutant known as particulate matter 2.5) reached 285, or “very unhealthy”, on Thursday, the second-most severe level, according to US Embassy data. It became. These tiny pollutants, which measure one-thirtieth the width of a human hair, can enter the lungs and bloodstream and cause heart disease and lung cancer.

This drop in air quality occurs in the months before winter each year, especially around New Delhi. Every November, farmers in northwestern India burn off excess paddy straw after harvesting to clear the land for the next crop. This is an act known as stump burning. Smoke spread across the region, including New Delhi, the country’s largest city with about 35 million people.

Jetba said the level of smoke pollution was due to “farm fires in the north-west, especially in two states, Punjab and Haryana”, but said fire activity in Haryana has been low this year. . “It happens every year.”

Crop fires add to other sources of dangerous pollution in the region, including fires for vehicles, industrial activity, and heating and cooking. Dust coming from the Thar desert in the west can also pollute the sky.

Given the pollution levels, people with heart or lung diseases, the elderly and children should avoid outdoor activities. Air quality has worsened since early November.

Hazardous air quality has forced school closures in the region and in Pakistan, where air pollution is severe. Local governments have closed schools and extended the upcoming winter break, while others have opted for virtual learning.

The peak of the burning season appears to be later this year, Jesva said. Stump burning typically occurs during the last week of October and first week of November, but fire activity was unusually quiet in late October, according to NASA satellite data. One reason could be that the monsoon rains arrived late, causing farmers to postpone rice harvest and the subsequent rice-harvesting period.

Jetba expects the burning season to last about another week, but the postponement could cause further problems as Diwali, a Hindu festival celebrated with fireworks, approaches. Air pollution from crop fires and celebratory fireworks is likely to continue or worsen air quality. Jesva said 2016 was lined up with the burning season and Diwali, which now ranks as the worst burning season in satellite data over the past 20 years.

“If we haven’t seen the peak of biomass burning yet, we will probably see it within the next couple of days,” Jesuba said. “If it coincides with the Diwali fireworks, it will be a big problem facing big cities.”

Authorities in New Delhi are looking for ways to alleviate poor air quality. After Diwali, local authorities plan to introduce an “odd-even” vehicle rule, allowing only certain vehicles to ply on roads on certain days, to reduce tailpipe pollution.

Scientists will also try to wash away some of the pollution in the city by making it rain, Reuters reported. Around November 20, scientists leading the experiment at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur will spray salt into clouds overhead to induce heavy rain. Although cloud seeding has been met with skepticism and criticism, the technology is being used around the world, from the western United States to the Beijing Olympics.

“We have to see what happens in the next few weeks. [smoke] It stays at the peak and then goes down. Eventually it will happen,” Jesva said.

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