Breathing in Delhi air equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes a day

It was early on the morning when residents in the Indian capital of Delhi first began to notice the thick white haze that had descended across the city. Initially viewed as a mild irritant, by mid-week its debilitating effects were evident to all, as the city struggled to adapt to the new eerie, martian-like conditions brought about by the pollution.

The World Health Organization considers anything above 25 to be unsafe. That measure is based on the concentration of fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, per cubic meter. The microscopic particles, which are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, are considered particularly harmful because they are small enough to lodge deep into the lungs and pass into other organs, causing serious health risks.
With visibility severely reduced, trains have been canceled, planes delayed and cars have piled into each other, with multiple traffic accidents reported across the city. On the afternoon, city chiefs closed all public and private schools, requesting instead that the city’s tens of thousands of school-aged children remain indoors; they banned incoming trucks and halted civil construction projects; while they announced new plans to begin implementing a partial ban on private car use as of next week. But as the city woke up to a fourth straight day of heavy pollution, practical considerations were being overtaken by more serious concerns, with journalists and doctors warning residents of the long-term health implications.

Air quality readings in the Indian capital have reached frightening levels in recent days, at one point topping the 1,000 mark on the US embassy air quality index. Across the capital, doctors reported a surge in patients complaining of chest pain, breathlessness and burning eyes. “The number of patients have increased obviously,” said Deepak Rosha, a pulmonologist at Apollo Hospital, one of the largest private hospitals in Delhi. “I don’t think it’s ever been so bad in Delhi. I’m very angry that we’ve had to come to this.”
Breathing in air with a PM2.5 content of between 950 to 1,000 is considered roughly equivalent to smoking 44 cigarettes a day, according to the independent Berkeley Earth science research group.

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