NEW DELHI – Toxic levels of air pollution in New Delhi led an environmental agency to declare a public health emergency in the capital on Friday with a temporary suspension of schools and industrial activity.
Pollution levels have skyrocketed in recent days due to the use of firecrackers on Diwali, the Hindu new year celebration that was held on October 27, and the burning of stubble in the northern states of New Delhi, Bhure Lal, head of the Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority.
In a letter addressed to the head of government of the Indian capital Arvind Kejriwal, he warned about the damage that the situation could cause to children.
Lal said: “The air quality in Delhi and NCR has deteriorated further as of last night and is now at the severe level.
“We have to take this as a public health emergency as air pollution is now hazardous and will have adverse health impacts on all, but particularly our children.”
The EPCA ordered the local government to completely stop construction activity in the metropolitan area until 5 November.
The suspension extends to asphalt processing plants and factories that use coal as fuel in all districts of the region.
It also prohibits the use of fireworks during the winter period.
The head of Delhi’s government also announced in a press conference on Friday the closing of schools until 5 November to avoid children being exposed to the toxic pollution, as well as the implementation of traffic restrictions for odd and even vehicles as of next Monday.
Data from the Central Pollution Control Office showed a concentration of PM 2.5 particles (less than 2.5 microns) in 460 per cubic meter of air, while the concentration of PM particles 10 was 632.
The WHO considers that concentrations greater than 100 PM 10 particles are dangerous for high risk groups and above 300 in air is considered as toxic to humans.
Exposure to these toxins increases the risk of acute respiratory infections, as well as heart disease, chronic lung disease and lung cancer, the organization warned.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Twitter: “Delhi has turned into a gas chamber due to smoke from crop burning in neighbouring states.
“It is very imp that we protect ourselves from this toxic air. Through pvt & govt schools, we have started distributing 50 lakh masks today.
“I urge all Delhiites to use them whenever needed.”
The EPCA urged the population to reduce direct exposure to air, as much as possible, as well as avoid any outdoor exercise.