Air Quality In New Delhi Now Worse Than Smoking 50 Cigarettes In One Day

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Like every autumn over the past few years, a thick fog has invaded the streets of the Indian capital of New Delhi. But this year, the 'airpocalypse' is so serious that the Indian Medical Association has declared a citywide public health emergency.

In fact, air quality in the city has plummeted to such low levels that it has been likened to smoking 50 cigarettes in a single day. Currently beating Beijing as the world's most polluted city, residents have been advised not to go outside and schools have been closed. 

New Delhi, 7 November. (Photo: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, November 8, at 1pm local time, ultra-fine airborne pollutants (PM2.5) – the ones small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs – were measured at between 400 and 700 per cubic meter. This is around eleven times the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.  

In some spots, there was an Air Quality Index maximum measure of 999 – meaning the levels of pollution had surpassed what the instruments could measure. 

Trains have been held up and Indira-Ghandi International Airport was closed due to poor visibility. The government was also forced to cancel the Delhi Half Marathon to avoid disastrous health consequences for the runners. 

Earlier this week, New Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal compared conditions in the city to a "gas chamber." According to the Guardian, those most seriously affected are those who work outdoors, like builders or rickshaw drivers. As one driver explained to the publication:

"My eyes get a burning sensation. I fell sick last year. I don’t know whether it was from the air but I felt breathless and my eyes were itching. Doctors told me not to work early morning during winters."

India is taking notice of its dangerous pollution levels with various policies being put in place to control the problem, such as closing certain coal mines and testing out an alternate-day traffic system.  

However, many are saying it's a case of too little, too late with around 2.5 million Indians dying prematurely each year due to pollution – the highest number in the world.  According to another study, half of Delhi's school children (around 2.2 million young people) have reduced lung capacity because of toxic pollution.