Delhi residents woke to a thick, grey smog on Thursday as air pollution in the Indian capital surged to emergency levels. The state-run Central Pollution Control Board’s air quality index, which shows the concentration of poisonous particulate matter known as PM 2.5, stood at 440, up from 430 on Wednesday and about 12 times the US government-recommended level of 35.Pollution levels hit 500 in some parts of Delhi, and there was very poor visibility in some areas. Last year the high was 450 on 23 December.A sharp drop in temperatures and wind speed, combined with vehicle and industrial emissions, dust from building sites and smoke from the burning of waste, has increased pollution over much of north India including Delhi, which is home to more than 20 million people.
According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), the air quality index (AQI) was at 341 on Wednesday which falls in 'very poor' category. An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered 'good', 51 and 100 'satisfactory', 101 and 200 'moderate', 201 and 300 'poor', 301 and 400 'very poor', and 401 and 500 'severe'.Gufran Beig, a scientist at SAFAR, said whole of northwest Indian, including north Gujarat, Rajasthan, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi are going to be in the grip of dust storm from tonight.
"As the storm dust is now arrested in Delhi and combining with local dust lifting, further deterioration of air quality is expected for today and tomorrow. Air quality is predicted to touch severe category late tonight and will continue to be so till May 10," he said. Beig said the "origin of the current episode" is widespread dust from dry arid west Rajasthan region due to high temperature and favourable wind speed.
"Most of the northwest region is going to have very poor to sever air quality during next two days (till May 10). After that, Delhi's air quality is expected to improve due to western disturbance and thunderstorm. But occasional episodes of sudden peaking of dust at isolated places in Delhi cannot be ruled out," he said.
The SAFAR also gives a list of precautions that people should take under the severe air quality condition, which includes avoiding all physical activity outdoors.
"Give a miss to walk today. Stop any activity level if you experience any unusual coughing, chest discomfort, wheezing, breathing difficulty, or fatigue and consult doctor. If the room has windows, close them. If the air conditioner provides a fresh air intake option, close it," the SAFAR said.
"Avoid burning anything, such as wood, candles or even incense. Keep the room clean -- do not vacuum. Do wet mopping frequently. Masks known as N-95 or P-100 respirators may only help if you go out. Do not rely on dust masks for protection," the SAFAR said.
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