Things to know about the rising pollution in Delhi-NCR

This post covers,

🚬 The extent of air pollution in metro cities (If you live anywhere in Delhi-NCR, you’re passively smoking roughly 40–50 cigarettes a day).

☠️ The consequences of air pollution (they’re way more tragic than you think).

🏠 Some myths about air pollution (hiding in your homes is not a good idea),

🍻 What can we do about it? (Drinking Old monk helps…)

🏛 What can be done at the organizational level?

A typical Delhi morning…

Alright, to begin with, let’s check the AQI (Air Quality Index) of Delhi today (8 November 2018).

The post-diwali AQI for Delhi. Source: AQICN

It’s even worse. 999 is just the hard limit those devices are capable of measuring (they never thought we’d be needing 4 digits this soon). The safe limit is around 55, and any PM 2.5 (particulate matter having a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers) levels above 250 are considered hazardous to life. And we’re way beyond that!

PS: You can also check the official data at http://www.dpccairdata.com (they have shown PM10 levels beyond 999, up to 2900 at some places).

Last year, while living in the most polluted part of the most polluted city in the world, I posted on Reddit asking people advice on how to safeguard my health in such a toxic atmosphere.

PS: 500 cigarettes weren’t true, it was 44, which was still very bad! (even for a chain smoker).

And here’s how people replied,

The AQI (Air Quality Index) in Beijing as of today is 59 (going up to 82 in some areas) which is almost 15x as toxic as ours.

And one might say it’s because of people bursting crackers in Diwali. No, it has been around these levels throughout the year. The average AQI in Delhi-NCR is usually 200 (some areas reaching close to 400) throughout the year.

Burning crops or high traffic or large-scale construction are some more reasons highlighted by media for this kind of pollution.

And there are some prevalent myths among us too,

  • We’ll evolve and adapt to it (What doesn’t kills us makes us stronger): Well, the human body can develop immunity to allergens, not toxins. The only evolution we’d get is the diminished ability to perceive it due to the constant exposure. (just like a sleep-deprived person loses his ability to realize that he’s sleep deprived).
  • We should stay inside our homes and avoid the outside world: Indoor air in a typical Indian household is 5–10 times worse than the outdoor air (unless you’re rich enough to install those fancy HEPA Air purifiers all over your home and exhausts in your kitchen).
  • Morning air is fresh: That’s what the elderly people have been saying. But in Delhi, it’s just the cool temperature that makes it seem fresh. Here’s why it’s not a good idea to do go out too early in the morning (trapped particles, low wind, dust due to early morning sweeping, low temperature, and many more reasons).
  • The translucent stuff that we see in the atmosphere is natural, and it’s Fogg: No, it’s smog!
  • More trees would save us: Unfortunately, if the particulate concentrations in the air are too high, the stomata on the plants and trees gets blocked, and they become ineffective.

And here’s one more reply on my reddit post

To some extent they are right. I feel that we Indians are slow to realize the gravity of any problem. Here are a few hints,

  • Media is more interested in pointless political and religious discussions. They do cover air pollution as well, but they just crunch the AQI numbers or show politicians talking without making viewers aware of the potential solutions for the problem.
  • Some state governments are busy less-important activities like changing names of the cities (as if changing the name would bring us a good fortune).
  • And most importantly, even we people are busy blaming the government for being ignorant (and also at the same low-key hating them for measures like the odd-even rule). This is a more imminent problem (the cost of air pollution according to a 2013 report) to worry about as compared to corrupt government, net neutrality, feminism, terrorism (terrorists claim fewer lives as compared to the air pollution), and what not. If we can get on the roads for other issues or create petitions, why can’t this be one of them?

What can be done?

At individual level

Let’s stop playing victims, and do something about it…

  • Reduce your carbon footprint. This includes all those cliches which we’ve been hearing throughout. Limit driving by carpooling, biking and walking (think twice before gifting cars/vehicles to your loved ones). Keep your vehicles well maintained. Use public transport wherever feasible, don’t burn garbage/crops (not even incense sticks, they cause a lot of indoor pollution), and needless to say, don’t smoke (we’re already getting enough).
  • Use good quality pollution masks (by good quality I mean at least N95, N99, N100, P100 air masks by trusted companies, you can refer here for details).
  • Install Air purifiers in your home (there are various types available in the market, ones with HEPA filter provide the highest value for their price, a word of caution though: don’t fall for the ones with too high a price).
  • Keep plants like Aloe vera or English Ivy in your room (they help purifying the air to some extent).
  • During celebrations like Diwali, be cautious of fire incidents. A lot of pollution is due to the fires that happen due to our carelessness (people have been successful in burning entire godowns/factories 🏭, here’s how we performed this Diwali).
  • If you do running or any other strenuous outdoor physical activity, try not to do it in the evening or too early in the morning, and do it away from the main roads (as it may lead to too much inhalation of minute pollutants, and lung cancer eventually).
  • Don’t stir up the dust un-necessarily. Regularly dampen dry patches of land around your place. Encourage sweeping the streets at night instead of mornings (since it allows the particles to settle back over the night so that we don’t have to breathe them in our morning walks).
  • If you’ve capital 💸, please set examples by going solar (don’t worry, the costs will pay for itself in 4–7 years).
  • Leave the city if that’s an option for you. It’s a slow posion, you might not be experiencing the health consequences immediately, but in the long run, you (and your loved ones) are bound to be diseased if the situations don’t improve. The bottled air startups don’t seem far away. If you experience effects as small as burning eyes and itchy throat, it means the pollution has been catching up with you.
  • Drink water; it helps in flushing inhaled toxins from the body (yes, one more reason to drink more water).
  • And maybe, drink old monk. 🍻

At the organizational level

Not using vehicles or not burning crops or stopping construction are just temporary unsustainable workarounds, what we need is long-term solutions like better infrastructure for transport, usage of more cleaner fuels, and development better ways/incentives for farmers to dispose those crops which they tend to burn, and these initiatives need to be taken by government/organizations. People like us can only whine and bring these problems/solutions to the attention of government and organizations.

  • Enforce stricter penalties on pollution-causing activities (laws exist, but not many people give a damn).
  • Improve public infrastructure, make public transport cheaper and more convenient.
  • Come up with new norms like making owning a car less affordable 🚙, and installation of air purifiers mandatory in those expensive shopping malls.
  • Set up infrastructure (charging docks, wind turbines, etc) for adoption of sustainable fuel alternatives (wind, hydro, bio, electricity, resources we’ve been reading about since our school 🏫).
  • Promote research, and implement innovative concepts like giant smog vacuum cleaner, smog-eating roof tiles, urban forestry, etc that other countries have come up with.
  • Obvious but worth mentioning, stop deforestation and plant more trees.
  • Create awareness among the citizens. Those boring Modi/Kejriwal/Rahul ads on Radio Mirchi or TV news channels can be substituted for something more informative and useful related to air pollution.

We need efforts, and funds. There’s no such thing as free lunch (and if steps are not taken, there won’t be a thing like fresh air too!). Beijing’s (once known to be the most polluted city in the world) condition has improved tremendously over the last four years, so can ours.

References

This post might be opinionated, if something needs correction, let us know in the comments. If you have some tips/information that can be a worthwhile addition to the article, let us know that in comments too! And finally, if you’d like to write about any topic, please visit this link.

Until next post…