Delhi pollution levels 15 times the safe limit, no respite in sight
Delhi’s pollution touched a new high on Saturday with the levels of particulate matter finer than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) crossing the 900 mark in some stations, almost 15 times the permissible levels.
The particulate matter in Anand Vihar was the maximum at 996 micrograms per cubic meter (umg/m3) as per Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) data. The level in colonies such as RK Puram, Mandir Marg, Punjabi Bagh and Civil Lines crossed the 700 mark.
In RK Puram, the maximum PM2.5 level was recorded at 771umg/m3 and at Punjabi Bagh the level reached 795umg/m3.
Environmentalists said Delhi is facing an emergency situation and the government had no action plan.
“This is visibly the worst pollution spell that we have witnessed in the city so far. We will have to wait for the weather conditions to play up to save the city. The temperature is dipping and the mixing height, which means the dispersion of pollution particles in the air, is low. This is making the pollutant particles float in the air,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).
She said though some schools have suspended classes in the NCR, this cannot happen indefinitely.
“There is no single silver bullet which will solve all of Delhi’s pollution problems. The government could shut down the Badarpur plant during winters and ensure 24-hour power supply. That will ensure there is no need for diesel generators in this season. Otherwise it might worsen air quality,” she said.
The visibility in the region deteriorated further on Saturday after a brief stint of clear skies that gave the Delhi residents some hope. Nothing could be seen beyond 200 metres in Safdarjung and beyond 250 metres in Palam at certain times during the day.
Delhi residents can expect Sunday to be smoggy, cool and humid, with maximum and minimum temperatures at 30 degrees Celsius and 15 degrees Celsius. Humidity is expected to oscillate between 98% and 44%.
Weather experts explained that the smog thickens with higher pollutants in the air.
“For a ‘cloud’ causing low visibility to qualify as smog, there should be enough pollution, smoke, and moisture in the air. The smoke and other particulate matters combine with fog, which is formed when there is high humidity and low temperatures, to form smog,” said a weather expert.
The smog, since Diwali, has been relentless due to certain weather conditions such as low wind speed, lack of vertical wind and lower temperature. Winds usually blow the pollutants and particulate matter away, helping to clear up some of the smog. But with no winds in sight until Monday, the pollutants remain stagnant in the air. Delhi residents can expect the smog to persist through the weekend.
The situation, however, is likely to improve from next week.
The winds predicted for Monday are also expected to blow from northwest, and west direction. This means it would blow over Punjab before reaching Delhi.
If the wind speed is not over 10 kmph, these winds could in fact exacerbate the situation. They could be bearing dust particles from Punjab and deposit it over Delhi, according to the expert. There is also a direct correlation between smog and pollution, with data showing that visibility, and hence smog, is usually worse on days when the air quality is also worse.
Though the smog has been bad throughout the day, the weather expert claimed that we need to be more concerned about the haziness that persists during the day time. “In the early mornings and late evenings, the haziness is because of fog and smog. But during the daytime, between 11 AM and 6 PM, the water particles would have mostly evaporated. The haziness is essentially just smoke,” he explained.
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