India’s capital city of New Delhi is a tourist attraction with its historic sites, a rich and vibrant culture, and flavorful food.
But lately, it has been going through some tough times. Any other month, the air would be filled with the smells of spices and foods. But, unfortunately, smog has pushed its way into Delhi and into people’s lungs.
City officials closed over 4,000 schools temporarily to protect children from the harmful effects. United Airlines shut down flights for a short time. Also, volunteers are handing out green surgical masks for protection against the smog. People have been advised to stay indoors and keep off streets because of dangerous air quality.
What Is Smog?
Smog stands for “smoke and fog” and looks like low hanging clouds. The smog in Delhi has reached an alarming PM 2.5 on the air quality scale, which can be dangerous and hazardous to health. It is now 75 times the level of pollution considered safe by the World Health Organization.
PM stands for particulate matter, which is a “mixture of solids and liquid droplets floating in the air”. The 2.5 refers to the size of the particles: 2.5 microns, which is very small when you compare with the size of human hair which is 50-70 microns! These very tiny particles that can only be seen only with an electron microscope, can get deep into the lung tissue or the bloodstream.
Recently, the smog in Delhi has gotten worse because of crops being burned in neighboring states to prepare the ground for planting wheat. Other factors include the lack of ground-level winds to carry the pollutants away, vehicle emissions, pollution from factories, and overpopulation in the city.
Consequences of Smog
Some health problems that come with smog are chest irritation, coughing, breathing difficulty, and long-term lung problems. It can also worsen asthma and trigger attacks.
Along with the health hazards, smog reduces visibility and can pose a danger to car drivers, especially on crowded city streets. Officials have been advising people to take public transport. Last year, the city issued an odd-even rule, where private vehicles were allowed on Delhi roads on alternate days - depending on their license plate number. Odd-numbered plates were allowed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while even-numbered plates were allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
However, the biggest source of smog is the burning of crops by farmers. The city is reluctant to impose a ban on farmers because politicians count on their votes for elections. For now, it is best for people to be careful of the air they breathe and wear masks in smoggy areas.
Source: Guardian, The Hindu, AirNow