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Air Quality in New Delhi Hits New Lows

Smog envelopes the skyline in New Delhi, India, Nov. 4, 2020.

The poor air quality in New Delhi hit new lows Thursday when its residents woke up to an air quality index rating of 452, marking the most toxic day of the year, according to data from the Central Pollution Control Board.

Medical professionals warn that the health hazard posed by the smog could result in a rapid increase in respiratory illnesses among its 20 million residents.

India’s capital city, considered to be the most polluted in the world, has more than 400,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

New Delhi is reporting a concentration of poisonous PM2.5 particles in the air at a rate 14 times higher than the World Health Organization’s safe limit. The unseen but deadly particles can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the human bloodstream, which has the potential to cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

It is not unusual for New Delhi's air pollution to spike in October and November. Experts blame local farm fires for 42% of the city’s poor air and say that calm winds and low temperatures in the fall usher in thick blankets of smoke over the city.

Authorities say if the air quality remains in the severe zone for more than 48 hours, construction may be halted, and vehicles could be barred from entering and driving within the city to curb carbon emissions.

According to a 2019 report by Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit organization focused on data analysis for climate science, breathing in Delhi’s air for one day has the health impact of smoking at least 25 cigarettes.

Kuldeep Srivastava, head of the India Meteorological Department’s Regional Forecasting Center, said Thursday that experts expect winds in the area to maintain low speeds for the next several days. That does not bode well for air quality conditions in New Delhi for the foreseeable future.