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Take my breath away

Thirteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are Indian

These charts show how eye-wateringly polluted India cities are.

Delhi is the reigning king of polluted cities in the world, of that there is little doubt. So grimy is its air today that there are calls for closure of schools when pollution levels are particularly harmful. According to a recent World Health Organization report, the capital has six times the levels of airborne particulate matter than are considered safe. Other cities in the country are only slightly better off. The same WHO report reveals that 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in India.

The report ranked cities after studying their air for the presence of harmful gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide, besides particulate matter 10 and 2.5.

Particulate matter (or small airborne particles) is among the most detrimental of these pollutants. Studies link it with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.

“Particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter pose the greatest threat to human health,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director at the Centre of Science and Environment. “They can not only get deep into a person’s lungs but can also enter the blood stream.”

Smaller particles

The WHO advises that fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) should not exceed 10 micrograms per cubic metre. At the top of the WHO ranking, Delhi had 153 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre. Not far behind were Patna with 149 micrograms, Gwalior with 144 micrograms and Raipur with 134 micrograms. The other Indian cities in the list included Ahmedabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Firozabad, Amritsar and Ludhiana.

Of the seven non-Indian cities in the rankings, three were from Pakistan. Karachi had 117 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre, Peshawar had 111 micrograms, and Rawalpindi had 107 micrograms.



Bigger particles

Though airborne particulate matter between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter (called PM10) are less hazardous than their smaller cousins, they are nevertheless harmful. In Delhi, according to the WHO report released in May, PM10 levels stood at 486 micrograms per cubic metre. In Gwalior, the levels were 329 micrograms and in Raipur 305 micrograms.

Lucknow (219 micrograms), Firozabad (219 micrograms), Kanpur (212 micrograms), Amritsar (210 micrograms) and Ludhiana (207 micrograms) also feature on the list.

Asian cities

Compared to other major cities in Central and Southeast Aisa, Delhi is way ahead on the list.



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According to the WHO’s Ambient Air Pollution Database released in 2016, ten of the twenty most polluted cities in the world are in India, with Gwalior and Ahmedabad occupying the second and third positions. Pollution levels are usually expressed in the levels of particulate matter (PM) in the air. This refers to microscopic matter that is a mixture of smoke, metals, chemicals and dust suspended in the atmosphere that can affect human health. Particulate matter is easily inhaled, and can cause allergies and diseases such as asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Indian cities have some of the highest levels of PM10 (particles smaller than 10 micrometres in diameter) and PM2.5 particles (particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter). The finer the particulate matter, the deeper into your lungs it can penetrate causing more adverse effects. According to WHO, the safe limits for PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Emissions resulting from transportation is regarded as one of the major contributors to pollution levels, especially particulate matter. A study conducted by the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science estimated that the transport sector constitutes 32% of Delhi’s emissions. It makes up 43% of Chennai’s emissions, and around 17% of Mumbai’s emissions.

Controlling emissions is a major task for cities and auto companies. The Indian government, to this end, has set emission standards for automobiles called the Bharat Stage emission standard, which mirrors European standards. This emission standard was first instituted in 1991 and has been regularly updated to follow European developments with a time lag of about 5 years. Bharat Stage IV emission norms have been the standard in 2010 in 13 major cities. To tackle air pollution that has intensified since then, the Indian government announced that Bharat Stage V norms would be skipped completely, and Stage VI norms would be adopted directly in 2020.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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