In Delhi where the air is laced with pollutants and breathing is an effort every day, Diwali takes matters to a level hard to explain in dull statistics.
But the pollution numbers are alarming and their effect on people is no boring data. An analysis with last year’s pollution data reveals a sharp rise in levels of the toxins released when crackers are burnt.
Particulate matter levels remain seriously dangerous. But the real Diwali story is of sulphur dioxide. It peaked at 80 µg/m3 on Diwali evening in 2013 and was at 99 µg/m3 a day later at Mandir Marg. This year, the pollutant levels peaked at 307 µg/m3 and 328 µg/m3 on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, even before cracker enthusiasts unleash their arsenal.
As per a study done by the Chest Research Foundation last year, the gas can worsen pre-existing conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia and cause breathlessness, irritation of the throat and coughing in the healthy.
An analysis with last year’s pollution levels during Diwali reveals that the day before the festival on November 2, maximum PM 2.5 (particulate matter smaller than 2.5 millimetre) levels of 330 µg/m3 at Mandir Marg were recorded at 8.30pm. On Wednesday, PM 2.5 levels reached a similar number of 322 µg/m3. The prescribed standard for PM 2.5 is 60 µg/m3 and these have serious health implications as these tend to get lodged in the lung and can even enter the bloodstream.
Nitrogen dioxide level, which peaks in the days preceding Diwali, were much higher this year than the peak during the festival last year. The pollutant peaked at 272 µg/m3 and 174.8 µg/m3 on Tuesday and Wednesday, compared to the peak of 80 µg/m3 recorded during Diwali last year.
The System for Air Quality Forecasting in Pune has also predicted very poor to severe air quality on Diwali days — October 23 and 24 in New Delhi.