Air pol­lu­tion sky­rock­ets to haz­ardous lev­els in In­dia

Reg­u­la­tions to curb Di­wali fire­works have proven in­ef­fec­tive in New Delhi, where 18 mil­lion peo­ple live POL­LU­TION PEAKS AT DI­WALI THES­TAR.COM/ WORLD

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Toxic clouds de­scended upon New Delhi on Thurs­day, forc­ing res­i­dents in­doors and pos­ing sig­nif­i­cant health con­cerns. The lethal smog came just hours after cel­e­bra­tions to mark Di­wali, the Hindu “fes­ti­val of the lights.”

Com­mem­o­rat­ing the tri­umph of good over evil, the hol­i­day hap­pens every fall — but this year the at­mos­phere threw a wrench in the plan. The city of more than 18 mil­lion awoke Thurs­day morn­ing to a shroud of haz­ardous haze, spurred by con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity and ve­hi­cle emis­sions and ex­ac­er­bated by fire­works det­o­nated the night be­fore.

The air pol­lu­tion soared to 20 times safe lev­els.

For the sec­ond year in a row, In­dia’s 31-mem­ber Supreme Court banned the sale of most fire­works lead­ing up to the fes­tiv­i­ties. Only “green” fire­works were to be sold, a pro­hi­bi­tion that ex­tended to on­line mer­chants — in­clud­ing Ama­zon — as well. The court also set a fixed time, from 8 to 10 p.m., for them to be lit off.

De­spite the strict reg­u­la­tions, poor en­force­ment may have been in­evitable in a city so large. Res­i­dents con­tin­ued to ig­nite fire­works after mid­night while don­ning face masks and cough­ing up ashen soot. Last year, New Delhi’s chief min­is­ter likened the de­ba­cle to a “gas cham­ber,” ac­cord­ing to the Guardian.

The Air Qual­ity In­dex (AQI) is based on the con­cen­tra­tions of five air pol­lu­tants: ground-level ozone, car­bon monox­ide, sul­phur diox­ide, ni­tro­gen diox­ide and par­tic­u­late mat­ter. The lat­ter de­scribes fine par­ti­cles in the air be­tween 2.5 and 10 mi­crons across, roughly 1/28th the di­am­e­ter of a strand of hu­man hair.

AQI val­ues un­der 50 are con­sid­ered good. When they ex­ceed 100, they are con­sid­ered to be “un­healthy for sen­si­tive groups.” Big con­cerns come around 150-200. Any­thing over 300 is deemed “haz­ardous.” New Delhi’s AQI hit about 1,000 in the early morn­ing hours Thurs­day, the worst con­di­tions found just south of Saf­dar­jung air­port.

A weather bal­loon launched from the hub at 6:30 p.m. Wed­nes­day night shows a strong in­ver­sion present just a thou­sand feet above the sur­face. This layer of warm air acted as a “ceil­ing” to the at­mos­phere, trap­ping all pol­lu­tants be­low. The smoke can’t rise, so it be­comes pent up. It’s like leav­ing a ve­hi­cle idling with your garage door shut. The con­se­quences can be deadly.

This is the third year data shows an alarm­ing spike fol­low­ing Di­wali.

press­ing ur­gency: The re­treat of glaciers, which is com­pounded by global warm­ing, threat­ens the main source of fresh water for res­i­dents in the nearby cities of El Alto and La Paz — and the crops on which they rely.

“If tem­per­a­tures con­tinue to rise, these high-al­ti­tude glaciers will also lose their mass of ice and there will only be snow on the sum­mit,” said New Delhi’s Air Qual­ity In­dex (AQI) proved to be dan­ger­ously high fol­low­ing the cel­e­bra­tion of Di­wali, or the “fes­ti­val of lights.”

glaciol­o­gist Pa­trick Ginot. “This will hap­pen all along the An­des.”

Last year, Ginot was part of a team of sci­en­tists that trans­ported chunks of ice from a melt­ing Bo­li­vian glacier to Antarc­tica to be pre­served for pos­ter­ity and fu­ture study as part of a global project called “Ice Mem­ory.”

The Cha­cal­taya sta­tion is an im­por­tant place to col­lect

data sam­ples partly due to its own lo­ca­tion on the rem­nants of a glacier. The glacier, which is thought to be about 18,000 years old, once served as the site of Bo­livia’s only ski re­sort be­fore it melted a decade ago.

Ini­tially, the sta­tion was launched as a cos­mic ray ob­ser­va­tory in the mid-1940s.

Learn more at thes­tar.com/world

Cha­cal­taya is an ideal site for in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists who col­lect data on pol­lu­tion.

MANISH SWARUP/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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