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You don’t breathe here, you gasp
Shubhankar Adhikari  NEW DELHI | 12th Feb 2012

More than 1,200 new cars hit city roads every day

n 2011, a study by the Central Pollution Control Board reported that Delhi has the highest level in India of a deadly air pollutant called particulate matter 10 (because they are less than 10 micron in diameter). The National Ambient Air Quality Standards maintain that the normal annual average for PM10 is 60 microgram per cubic metre. But in Delhi, the level of PM10 has risen from 198 in 2008 to 259 in 2010.

Experts say the rise in the level of air pollution in Delhi can be attributed to the increasing number of vehicles in the city (more than 1,200 added each day), a result of the growing prosperity of its residents.

The website of the System of Air Quality Forecasting and Research, which shows the quality of air at several points in the city, paints a grim picture. On Thursday evening, the PM10 level at Delhi's Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management was 510 or in the 'very unhealthy' category. The same was true at Delhi University and other spots in the city.

Measures such as the introduction of CNG for public transport and shifting out of polluting industries to spots outside the city helped to reduce the pollution levels in 2004-05. "But since 2007-08, pollution levels have increased because of the rise in the number of vehicles," says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). "The country's vehicle emission norms are outdated — they're at least 10 years behind those in Europe."

It is no wonder that India was ranked last among 132 countries for its poor air quality in the 2012 Environmental Performance Index prepared by scientists at Columbia and Yale universities. "The government's measures have not been aggressive enough. Air quality standards must be made legally enforceable to for the situation to improve," Roychowdhury adds.

High pollution levels can cause respiratory diseases such as bronchial asthma and even cancer, says Dr Vivek Nangia, head of pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj. "Particulate matter, some of which may be coated with carcinogenic substances, can reach deep into the lungs because of their size," he explains.

A 2010 study by the Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute said 32% of children surveyed in Delhi had different kinds of respiratory problems. "Precautions such as wearing pollution masks, however, do not work. A mask cannot filter PM10 particles," he adds.

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