Delhi govt told to shut schools, discourage outdoor activities as air pollution turns ‘severe’
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has urged Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to declare a public health emergency in the national capital due to high pollution levels.
IMA president Dr KK Aggarwal asked people to stay indoors and recommended the closure of schools. “Schools should be shut, odd-even should start, and people should refrain from walking in parks because particulate matter 10 is around 1,000 today. Usually, a count of 400 is enough to make a healthy person feel breathless,” he said.
As children breathe faster than adults per unit of body weight, they end up inhaling a higher amount of contaminants and damage still-developing airways, lungs and immune system. They are also more likely to breathe through their mouths, which increases the amount of pollutants inhaled because it bypasses the preliminary filtration system in nasal passages.
By midday on Tuesday, almost all stations across Delhi were showing air quality in the ‘severe’ range (Air Quality Index: 400-500), which is the most hazardous. Air quality this poor affects not just people with existing medical problems but also those who are healthy.
Air pollutants trigger allergies, cough, viral fever, lung infections, high blood pressure, asthma, anxiety, tiredness, diabetes, heart disease and irreversible lung damage. “The health advisory for the air quality index prescribes minimal outdoor exposure at times of high pollution,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director at the Centre for Science and Environment. “Curtailing outdoor sports in such bad conditions is standard practice across the world.”
Significantly, Delhi Half Marathon title sponsor Airtel has also hinted that it may stop associating with the event from next year if the “authorities” refrained from addressing the issue of air pollution in the Capital. “Air pollution poses serious health risks, and it is important that these concerns are addressed urgently and appropriately by the authorities for Airtel to continue associating with the event next year and beyond,” the telecom major said in a statement.
Though the IMA has called for the cancellation of the November 19 race due to high air pollution levels, organisers Procam International termed the demand as “shortsighted” and said they have the support of international athletes.
Meanwhile, clinics across the city registered an increase in people complaining of severe wheezing, breathing difficulties and chest constriction typically associated with acute asthma and chronic bronchitis since Monday. “Apart from respiratory distress, sustained exposure to air pollutants such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter lowers immunity and raises the risk of viral and bacterial infections,” said Dr RK Singhal, director, department of medicine, BLK Super Speciality Hospital.
Dr Srikanth Sharma, senior consultant at Moolchand Hospital’s department of medicine, advised Delhiites to roll up the windows when travelling in vehicles and use air masks when heading out in the morning. “As pollution levels peak due to the cold, one must also avoid strenuous physical activity that may strain the lungs in the morning and evening,” he added.