Pollution levels spike across India on Diwali: Air quality in Delhi, Mumbai better than 2016 but is still 'poor'

Pollution levels spiked across the country as the festival of lights rolled around. The signs were already present as the Delhi government had issued warnings as early as 12 October when it said that the "unabated" burning of crop residue in the neighbouring states and fireworks during Diwali may severely affect Delhi's air quality, which had already entered the 'poor' zone.

Those fears were rendered true as online indicators of the pollution monitoring stations in Delhi glowed red, indicating 'very poor' air quality as the volume of ultra fine particulates PM2.5 and PM10, which enter the respiratory system and manage to reach the bloodstream, sharply rose from around 7 pm. Real-time pollution data appeared alarming. The pollutants had violated the corresponding 24-hour safe limits of 60 and 100 respectively by up to 10 times.
According to SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), the 24-hour rolling average of PM2.5 and PM10 were 154 and 256 micrograms per cubic metre respectively at around 11 pm. It has forecast that the pollution levels will peak between 11 pm and 3 am.

At the same time, the air quality in the national capital was better than 2016, according to a data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The Air Quality Index (AQI) value on Thursday was 319, putting it in "very poor" category, while the AQI last Diwali (30 October) had touched "severe" level after recording an index value of 431. As per the AQI released by the CPCB at 4 pm, particulate matters were the major contributors to "very poor" air quality on Thursday.
Mumbai also saw increased pollution levels as SAFAR data found the AQI to be 204 ('poor' category) due to emissions from firecrackers and changing weather patterns, according to Hindustan Times. SAFAR expected pollution levels to increase on Friday with air quality reaching the ‘very poor’ mark at a predicted AQI of 303. The AQI is expected to stay at 'poor' level till Sunday and improve thereafter.

The city did, however, record lesser levels of pollution than the last two years, said the report. In 2016, the AQI was 278 (poor) on Diwali and 315 (very poor) the day after. In 2015, it was 279 (poor) on Diwali and 313 (very poor) the next day.

Chennai too reported high levels of air pollution as it was smothered in a blanket of dense smog on Wednesday, reported The News Minute. According to the CPCB data, the monitoring station at IIT recorded hazardous levels of PM 2.5, hitting 936.69 μg/m3 between 11 and 11.59 pm on Wednesday. CPCB’s monitoring station at Alandur touched a high of 837.78 μg/m3 between 9 and 9.59 pm, while Manali in north Chennai, an industrial area, recorded a maximum PM 2.5 level of 999.99 μg/m3 for two hours between 12 am and 1.59 am on Thursday.

The New Indian Express reported that a thick blanket of smog had entered homes as pollution levels hit an all-time high posing serious health hazards. Data released by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) also showed that PM10 was eight times above prescribed levels.

According to The Times of India, the air quality in Kolkata had worsened even before the arrival of Kali Puja. Data collected from different sources on Tuesday and Wednesday midnight revealed a sharp spike in pollution. This was attributed to the bursting of crackers, which was probably triggered by the fear of impending rain. US consulate, which records PM2.5 count across the globe, found sudden spike in pollution after a long period of satisfactory ambient air quality. On Tuesday midnight, the PM2.5 count was recorded at 224g/m³ at its Park Street monitoring station

In Punjab, air quality was close to the 'very poor' mark as the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) measured the average AQI at 290 on Wednesday. The Hindustan Times report also quoted PPCB experts who warned, "The AQI on Diwali night is likely to reach the ‘severe’ level of 500, which has the potential to cause respiratory problems even among otherwise healthy people." Last Diwali, the AQI during peak hours of celebrations (8 pm to 2 am) had reached 497.

The news of increasing pollution comes in the backdrop of a study released by The Lancet medical journal on Friday which found that pollution is killing millions of people worldwide, mostly through the diseases it causes, including heart conditions, strokes and lung cancer. Almost all pollution-related deaths — around 92 percent — are in poor or middle-income countries, the research found. And in rapidly industrialising countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Madagascar, pollution is linked to as many as a quarter of all fatalities. The study found that pollution was linked to around nine million deaths in 2015.

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