Asia Minute: India’s Capital Choking on Air Pollution

Nov 15, 2017

West Delhi
Credit Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier / Flickr

India’s capital city remains under a cloud of toxic pollution. The air has been so thick in recent days that flights have been cancelled, construction has been suspended, and trucks have been forced off the road. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

You know that air pollution is bad when an official reading of “very poor” is celebrated as an improvement.

That was the case in New Delhi Tuesday because for the past week or so, air quality was at an “emergency” level.

One metric is the level of tiny particles of 2.5 microns in width—thirty times thinner than a human hair.

They’re called “PM 2.5,” and when it comes to measuring air pollution, they are the coin of the realm.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s scale for PM 2.5 only goes as high as 500—a level it calls “hazardous to human health”—warning that people should not go outside in such conditions.

Last week in New Delhi, levels of PM 2.5 topped out at more than one thousand. 

New Delhi’s Chief Minister called the city a “gas chamber”

Another government official said breathing the outside air for a day was the equivalent of smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes.

Things got so bad that United Airlines suspended flights into the capital city.

India’s government has taken emergency responses—including shutting down construction across the capital region and banning trucks except those carrying essential commodities.

Flights are back now, and in the short term, weather forecasters are holding out a small piece of hope—rains later this week are expected to help clear some of the air.