What’s PM 2.5 and why is the New Delhi smog so bad?

Enveloped by a thick, choking shroud of toxic smog, New Delhi has declared a public health emergency.

Schools closed on Wednesday, the second day of the fog crisis, and will remain shut until Sunday.

Pollution trackers suggest the fog has reached the worst level so far this year, and is so high that breathing in air has been compared with being worse than smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

In neighbouring Pakistan, too, flights were cancelled in Lahore, school times were delayed and hospitals overflowed.

In New Delhi, smog levels of PM 2.5, the particles most damaging to health, have reached 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit.


Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, was quick to comment on the worsening pollution situation in the capital.

“Every year this happens during this part of year. We have to find a solution to crop burning in adjoining states,” he said, referring to smoke caused by the burning of crops in the northern Indian states near Delhi.

An estimated 35 million tonnes are set afire in Punjab and Haryana every year, which contributes to the haze and smog in New Delhi.

What is happening?

We are approaching what is known as the “fog season”. This occurs as the northeasterly monsoon draws in cool, dry air from the Himalayas.

Why?

Because the air is cool. It is also denser than warm air and as such is stable.

That stability means that the air pressure will tend to rise over the northern plains of India. High pressure acts like a lid on the atmosphere and traps any pollution in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, not only have we just had the fireworks from the recent Diwali festival, we also have a huge amount of stubble [crop] burning at this time of year.

How long will it go on?

Occasional bouts of rainfall will offer some relief.

However, the season goes on throughout the winter, right into February or sometimes later when the lengthening days and warmer sunshine finally start to have an affect on the local climatic conditions.

What are the effects?

The World Health Organization (WHO) says on its website, on a page regarding India: “Air pollution is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases including emphysema) and lung cancer, and increases the risks for acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma.”

At least 1.5 million people died from the effects of air pollution in India in 2012, according to WHO data.

According to the Lancet medical journal, burning solid fuel for cooking released the PM 2.5 pollutant and killed 500,000 people in 2015.

The fog has also already started to cause road accidents, social media footage showed. —Al Jazeera

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Al Jazeera
Official Al Jazeera Mubahser News account آخر وأهم الأخبار تتابعونها عبر هذا الحساب.. كما يمكنكم متابعة حساب الجزيرة مباشر @ajmubasher Al Jazeera has over 663268 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

Eskom’s emissions are not compatible with the South African constitution

The government must not cave to Eskom’s demand that it be exempt from air pollution rules. Furthermore, the power utility needs to stay true to the principles of its own just transition strategy

Carer swims for Bob the Green Turtle

After being discovered with a belly full of plastic waste, Bob has become an ocean ambassador

Conflict in Cameroon: The schools caught in crossfire

A slew of recent attacks in the country means sending your child to school can be a life or death decision

Tendele’s mine pollutes their air and water, residents claim

The mining company says it complies with both the Air Quality Control Act and the Health and Safety Act, as well as conducting extensive research before starting operations

Muddying the waters in the Musina Makhado economic zone

The public participation process on the environmental impact assessment for the area’s special economic zone has been shambolic

Load-shedding’s silver lining: Lower levels of sulphur dioxide air pollution

Analysis of Nasa data shows that although SO₂ emissions around the world have fallen by about 6%, the levels are high enough to harm the health of billions of people.
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

Between dark and light was Maradona

The life of Diego Armando Maradona, who died this week, will always remind us that the smell of shit is as important as the perfume of flowers, writes Niren Tolsi

Public protector’s ‘mistakes’ were made to nail the president, court...

Busisiwe Mkhwebane discarded facts that were inconvenient to her when she investigated the CR17 campaign, Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers argued

Student funding scheme gets new chief executive and board

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme has been under administration for two years after its board was dissolved and its boss resigned not even halfway through his term

General Council of the Bar slams Zuma Foundation

Another summons has been served on Jacob Zuma at his Nkandla residence, requiring the former president to appear before the Zondo Commission next year
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…