Air Clean Up
Is Diwali Causing Dangerous Pollution?
Nov 05 2016
Health experts in India have warned that the country’s already critically contaminated air quality has been exacerbated by the Hindu festival of Diwali last week. The event, which is a religious celebration of lights and is also known by the name Deepavali, marks the Hindu New Year and was observed across the country.
However, the widespread use of fireworks and firecrackers is believed to have worsened India’s air pollution problems, especially in the capital city of New Delhi.
A long-standing problem
India’s struggles with air quality are extensive and well-documented. Back in 2012, India was revealed to have the worst air pollution of any country in the world, replacing long-standing offenders China in last position. The judgement was made at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, which looked at data compiled on the levels of particulate matter 2.5 and carbon in the Indian air, as well as incorporating assessments of nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution over its capital.
At the time, the Indian authorities did not seem hugely concerned, with a prominent environmental scientist in the country warning against comparing Indian air quality to other countries, since India “has a different terrain”.
However, the increasingly alarming levels of pollution in New Delhi and elsewhere around the nation have seen the government sit up and take more notice of the issue. Last Sunday’s Divali festival highlighted even further just how bad the problem has become.
Divali blamed for PM2.5 pollution
In the wake of the celebration, the country’s Central Pollution Control Board released data which showed a huge spike in PM2.5 levels during the holy event. In some parts of the city, levels of the contaminant reached staggering highs of 1,238 on Sunday. For comparison, the World Health Organisation recommends that PM2.5 levels should not rise above an annual average of 10, while the festival saw a much smaller spike of 435 last year.
As a harmful pollutant which can be inhaled and infiltrate the bloodstream, PM2.5 has been linked with a whole host of coronary and cardiovascular ailments. Indeed, it’s believed that those who suffer long-term exposure to levels greater than 35 on a consistent basis are 15% more likely to develop life-threatening complaints than others.
“We need to make people aware that their activities should not release more emission when our air is already so polluted,” explained Dr Dipankar Saha – the very same scientist who had shrugged off India’s poor air quality just four years previously.
The time for change is now
Dr Saha’s change in attitude towards air quality issues is indicative in a greater shift in national policy towards the problem. The government have taken a number of steps over the last year to try and curb harmful emissions and clean up their airways, including banning older trucks and buses and introducing a new car sales tax.
While these measures are certainly a step in the right direction, there is a long way to go in the fight to lift India off the bottom of the table in terms of global air quality. With a ballooning population, a motorist mentality and an economy fuelled by rapid industrial growth, achieving that feat will be far easier said than done.
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