Poi­sonous air chok­ing In­dia’s cap­i­tal

Anger ris­ing over lack of ac­tion by au­thor­i­ties

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Nick Perry

NEW DELHI — As thick smog crept over In­dia’s cap­i­tal this past week and smudged land­marks from view, Nikunj Pandey could feel his eyes and throat burn­ing.

Pandey stopped do­ing his reg­u­lar work­outs and said he felt tight­ness in his lungs.

He started wear­ing a triple layer of pol­lu­tion masks over his mouth. And he be­came an­gry that he couldn’t safely breathe the air.

“This is a ba­sic right,” he said. “A ba­sic right of hu­man­ity.”

Pandey is among many peo­ple in New Delhi who have be­come more aware of the toxic air in re­cent years and are in­creas­ingly frus­trated at the lack of mean­ing­ful ac­tion.

This past week the air was the worst it has been all year in the cap­i­tal, with mi­cro­scopic par­ti­cles that can af­fect breath­ing and health spik­ing to 75 times the level considered safe by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Ex­perts have com­pared breath­ing the air to smok­ing a cou­ple of packs of cig­a­rettes a day. The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal re­cently es­ti­mated that some 2.5 mil­lion In­di­ans die each year from pol­lu­tion.

United Air­lines sus­pended its flights be­tween New Delhi and Ne­wark, New Jer­sey, for Satur­day and Sun­day be­cause of the heavy air pol­lu­tion in the In­dian cap­i­tal, said So­nia, an air­line of­fi­cial who uses one name.

Pandey said the mil­lions of ru­ral folk who have moved to the city un­der­stand the prob­lem bet­ter than they once did and are try­ing ev­ery­thing from ty­ing scarves over their faces to eat­ing “jag­gery,” a sugar cane prod­uct that some peo­ple be­lieve of­fers a range of health ben­e­fits.

Masks once considered an af­fec­ta­tion of hypochon­driac tourists are these days rou­tinely worn by gov­ern­ment work­ers and reg­u­lar peo­ple on the street.

Vol­un­teers handed out thou­sands of green sur­gi­cal masks this week to make a point about the pol­lu­tion, but such masks likely have a lim­ited im­pact on keep­ing out the tiny par­ti­cles from peo­ple’s lungs.

“This is truly a health emer­gency,” said An­u­mita Roy­chowd­hury, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of re­search and ad­vo­cacy at New Delhi’s Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment.

Altaf Qadri The As­so­ci­ated Press

Com­muters wait for trans­port amid a thick blan­ket of smog Fri­day on the out­skirts of New Delhi, In­dia. Air pol­lu­tion peaked this week in the city, ris­ing to more than 30 times the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion’s rec­om­mended safe level.

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