China has become infamous due to its high levels of air pollution, but another Asian country has a staggering pollution problem as well: India. According to a study done by the World Health Organization, the Indian capital of New Delhi has the most polluted air in the world. Furthermore, the top four most polluted cities are all located in India, indicating a countrywide problem.

Pollution is monitored by measuring the size of the particulate matter (PM) in a certain concentration per a specific amount of air. In May, the New York Times reported that air pollution was found at 2.5 PM (meaning “particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter”), concentrated at 350 micrograms in one cubic meter of air. The most alarming part is the size of the particulate matter. The New York Times discloses that 2.5 PM “is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs” due to its small size.

Time Magazine reports that air pollution was the “fifth largest killer in India” in 2013. A myriad of respiratory issues, some “unidentified,” were the cause of 600,000 premature deaths. The Indian Journal of Community Medicine outlined some of the medical issues directly associated with pollution in Delhi, and compared the prevalence of those issues with rural communities. Respiratory symptoms all around were 1.7 times higher, upper respiratory symptoms were 1.59 times higher, and lower respiratory symptoms were 1.67 times higher. Rates of asthma were “significantly higher” and overall lung function was diminished.

The list of problems goes on, including headache, eye and skin irritation, increased blood levels of lead, and even a connection to ADHD in children. Schools have been closed on days with especially poor air quality, parents try to keep children indoors as much as possible and physicians discourage outdoor exercise for the elderly.

The Indian Journal of Community Medicine reports that even in 1997, the amount of air pollution was excessive. 3000 metric tons of air pollution was produced by Delhi alone, “with a major contribution from vehicular pollution, followed by coal-based thermal power plants.” The study reported that there were 3.4 million cars on the roads of Delhi in 1997. That number has risen to 7.2 million in 2014.

The problem, while once neglected, can no longer be ignored. The government in Delhi has imposed some measures to decrease the amount of pollution. Various policies calling for less harmful car fuels have been instituted. Different roads and subways have been constructed, with the intention of “smoothing traffic flow.” Drivers are required to obtain a “Pollution Under Control” certificate for their vehicles as well.

Industrial policies exist as well, but their plans are far more vague in a “comprehensive document envisioning higher industrial development in Delhi, with one of its mandates being to develop clean and non-polluting industries.” While these plans are ideal, they do not explicitly call for immediate action.

Researchers call for “existing measures to be strengthened and magnified to a larger scale.” While government policies provide the guidelines, it is up to “participation of the community” to insure that reduction in pollution actually happens. Use of public transportation, continual checking of Pollution Under Control certificates and greater education on reduction measures is suggested.

-Bridget Tobin

Sources: The New York Times, National Center for Biotechnology Information, TIME
Photo: Every Stock Photo