Air pollution in Delhi: Breathing capital’s deadly air is robbing you of 6 years of life

Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi
Sep 12, 2017 11:06 AM IST

If India met its own air quality standards, every Indian would live an average one year more.

It is well documented that poor air quality impacts health, for the first time the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute (EPI) has developed an Air Quality-Life Index (AQLI) to measure by how much. If India met its own air quality standard for only PM 2.5 (40 µg/m³) every Indian would live an average 1 year more. If India met the more stringent WHO standards for PM 2.5 (10 µg/m³) Indians would live on average 4 years longer.

School going children wear masks to protect themselves from the toxic Delhi air in Mayur Vihar, in New Delhi, India.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
School going children wear masks to protect themselves from the toxic Delhi air in Mayur Vihar, in New Delhi, India.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)

National Capital Region residents are losing out on almost 6 years of life because of the dangerous air pollution levels. If WHO standards were met in NCR, people would live 9 years longer. In Kolkata and Mumbai better air quality would translate into almost 3.5 year longer life spans.

“The AQLI is the first tool of its kind to allow people to learn how much longer they could live in the areas where they live if air pollution is reduced to meet global or national standards,” Michael Greenstone, the director at EPI and one of the authors of the study, said. “It suggests that particulates are the greatest current environmental risk to human health, with the impact on life expectancy in many parts of the world similar to the effects of every man, woman and child smoking cigarettes for several decades.”

India’s last environment minister stirred controversy by suggesting that the link between air pollution and health impacts is yet to be established, and data about air pollution deaths is particularly problematic. A government effort to study the health impacts of air pollution has not taken off.

However, Indian scientists have argued that the link between air pollution and health impacts like respiratory disorders and cardiovascular morbidity. Elderly people and children are particularly susceptible.

“Epidemiological studies have shown that the smallest forms of particulate pollution (PM10 and PM2.5) are the most damaging to human health,” Greenstone said. “The study itself utilizes a PM10 monitoring network throughout China from 2004 - 2012, while the AQLI utilizes grid-level global estimates of PM2.5.”

The estimated average PM 2.5 concentration for population-weighted exposure increased from 59 in 1990 to 73 µg/m3 in 2015 in India. The Global Burden of Disease 2015 report estimated that PM 2.5 contribute to 4.2 million deaths globally, a majority of which occur in India and China. The new report presents a different but no less distressing aspect of the problem.

Check air quality in your part of the city with HT’s Air Quality Map

“These findings are consistent with what has been found across the world,” Anumita Roychowdhury, at the Centre for Science and Environment, said.

The national capital has historically experienced severe pollution episodes during the winter season around the time of Diwali, because of crop burning in Delhi’s neighbouring states and also the stagnant air that prevents the pollutants from being dispersed.

“It is fine to do research, the bottom line is no level of population is not safe. The first strategy should be to bring down the pollution as low as possible,” T. K. Joshi, director, Occupational and Environmental Programme at the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, said.


    Malavika Vyawahare tells science and environment stories using words, photos and multimedia. She studied environmental journalism at Columbia University and is based in Delhi.

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