A distinct layer of haze shrouded Delhi a day ahead of Diwali with nearly stagnant wind movement, even as the city stares at two consecutive days of ‘severe’ air pollution, where fireworks will act as the chief trigger. Pollution in the national capital, which was termed a “gas chamber” by the Delhi High court, skyrockets during Diwali as a hazardous mix of noxious gases and respirable pollutants hang very close to the surface.
The Delhi government released a NASA image dated October 26 showing a haze blanket across north India due to crop residue burning in Haryana and Punjab, saying it was having a major adverse effect on the city’s air quality. Centre’s agency System of Air Quality and weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) put the average volume (24-hour rolling) of PM 2.5 and PM 10 at 226 and 425 micrograms per cubic metre respectively in the afternoon.
These ultrafine particulate matters can cause respiratory diseases if one is subjected to its prolonged exposure over and above the safe limits of 60 and 100 micrograms per cubic metres respectively. According to SAFAR’s special Diwali forecast, pollution during this year’s Diwali is expected to be worse than those during 2014 and 2015 due to a combination of adverse meteorogical factors like slow wind speed and moisture in the air, a major hindrance in the dispersion of suspended pollutants.
The city’s pollution hotspot Anand Vihar continued to record PM 10 (coarser pollutants) levels nine times above the safe limit in real-time at 913 micrograms per cubic metre at 12 PM. PM 2.5, finer and deadlier, was the most prominent pollutant in monitoring stations of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) such as at Punjabi Bagh, RK Puram, Anand Vihar and Shadipur located across the city.
SAFAR advised people to avoid all outdoor physical activity. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low when air quality turns severe, it said. “Health Warning of emergency Conditions. Serious risk of respiratory effects in general public,” it said. People with existing heart or lung diseases such as asthma, congestive heart disease, or ischemic heart disease should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion when the air quality is very poor, the Pune-based agency said.
“Agricultural fires in the fields of neighbouring states particularly Punjab and Haryana are major contributor in the deterioration of ambient air quality, which will also suffer due to inversion and calm meteorological conditions currently prevailing,” the Delhi government said.
Earlier, it had written to the governments of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and also to the Centre to curb the practice. It has also been running a campaign against firecrackers. “The teams of Environment department have seized illegally imported crackers at Qutab Road area, Moti Nagar, Rajouri Garden and Patel Nagar. The drive against sale of imported illegal/Chinese crackers is working as a deterrent and has shown an impact on their sale,” it said in a statement.