NEW DELHI—As winter sets in to India’s capital, the pollution and poor air quality is growing worse and many hospitals are reporting an increase in the number of patients admitted for respiratory illnesses.
Dr. Rajesh Chawla, a senior consultant in the respiratory and critical care department at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in Delhi says the air pollution is especially affecting children.
“There is an increase in the number of people who get a recurrent irritative cough, recurrent episodes of sinusitis and more frequent attacks of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” he said in an email.
Earlier in December, a non-profit called the Center for Science and Environment (CSE) released a study of Delhi’s air quality. The study, running from November to December, was conducted by attaching portable air quality monitors to a group of citizens as they went about their daily life, and then comparing the results to the data collected by the government.
“Our data is quite shocking,” said CSE director general, Sunita Narain, in a statement. “We have found that daily personal exposure to toxic air is significantly higher than the background ambient air pollution that is monitored by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee.”
The CSE study recorded levels of particulate matter (PM) 2.5, some of the most dangerous particles for human health, at three to four times India’s national standard in a 24-hour period.
The World Health Organization ranked New Delhi as the worst city for air pollution in a study of 1,600 cities across the world earlier this year, mostly because of its high PM 2.5 and PM 10 counts.
For Rajeev Sharma, a mechanic who has been working in an engineering company in the Patparganj industrial area of the city, the pollution is a day-to-day threat to his health.
“I’m suffering from skin allergies. Even most of the people [here] are suffering from skin allergies and this is just because industries around are not following industrial pollution safety,” he said.
In another industrial area in Delhi called Mandoli, chimneys can be seen exhuming thick black smoke, and pools of polluted industrial water lie stagnant in the roads, reflecting the vehicles that spew noxious emissions above.
Satish Sharma, the director of an NGO called the Delhi Pollution Control Society, said the pollution has a lot to do with the city’s booming auto industry. Delhi has the highest vehicle density in the country, and every year about 1,400 cars are added to the city’s roads.
“Public vehicles in Delhi all run on CNG [compressed natural gas] but private vehicles still run on diesel,” he said. “People are buying more diesel cars because it’s cheaper.”
In April, the Delhi Pollution Control Society did a door-to-door survey of 118 automobile service stations in the city, none of which had the mandatory pollution safety permits from the government.
After that survey, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, a government-run body, studied another 481 stations and found that 435 of them were not following environmental protocols either.
The pollution in the city also comes from domestic sources—people still burn coal, kerosene, cow dung and other dirty biomass fuels that the government cannot easily regulate.
“We are giving poison to our children,” said Satish. “Delhi is no longer a place to live.”
The Delhi Pollution Control Society has called for higher emission standards for vehicles, government health advisories on days when air pollution levels become dangerous, better controls on polluting industries and more alternative modes of transportation.