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Delhi snoozes, Beijing panics

By: Staff Reporter

Delhi pollution

By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. (G’nY file photo)

New Delhi, Jan 29 (G’nY news service) According to a report in the New York times titled ‘Beijing’s bad air would be a step up for smoggy Delhi’ (Jan 25, 2014), the daily peak reading of fine particulate matter (PM) from Punjabi Bagh, a Delhi monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing. By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

The report says that India has the world’s highest death rate because of chronic respiratory diseases, and it has more deaths from asthma than any other nation, according to the World Health Organization. A recent study by Sundeep Salvi, director of the Chest Research Foundation in Pune found that half of all visits to doctors in India are for respiratory problems.

The Punjabi Bagh air station is under the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC). Dr. M. P. George of the air lab said that the northern belt is inherently dusty. “It is important to evaluate the source of particulate matter,” said George. However, USA’s Environment Protection Agency says that sources of fine particles with diameter 2.5 microns include all types of combustion activities (motor vehicles, power plants, wood burning, etc.) and certain industrial processes. They do not mention dust as a constituent of fine particulate matter below 2.5 micron.

Dr. Gufran Beig, the Programme Director of System of Air Quality forecasting and Research (SAFAR), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, rubbished the report. Dr. Beig claimed that the DPCC site must have been “down” or not updated. “Even in Diwali, the air quality is much better than that in Beijing,” he said. According to him, PM 2.5 never crossed 300 between Jan 1 and Jan 15, the time for which the New York Times report has tracked the pollution levels in Beijing and Delhi.

The New York Times report points out that Delhi’s peak daily fine particle pollution levels are 44 percent higher this year than they were last year, when they averaged 328 over the first three weeks of the year.

Gurnam Singh, a scientist in the air lab in the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), said that an annual average should be looked at, not data from a short period of 15 days. This negates the need of SAFAR, which has been established for air quality prediction with the specific need to alert individuals with heart and lung ailments.

As stated in the New York times report, Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

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