Doctors in Delhi, India’s capital region, have declared a public health emergency over the densely populated, metropolitan area’s extremely high level of air pollution, the breathing of which has been described as the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes in a day. The Indian Medical Association has called for the capital city’s upcoming half-marathon to be cancelled to avoid “disastrous health consequences” and it urges residents to remain inside to protect themselves from the pollution. Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, described the city as “a gas chamber,” according to the Guardian, while he and other officials work to determine an effective response to the crisis.

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As the region struggles to breath, state and federal government have been urged to take action to protect its citizens. In response to the public health emergency, schools have been closed while transportation routes have suffered delays under the decreased visibility. While the smog contains a number of noxious chemicals, the most destructive are concentrations of fine pollutants smaller than 2.5 micro-meters, which are so tiny that they are able to slip through natural filters in the human body. These fine pollutants, which include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, have reached concentrations in the air eleven times the level defined as safe by the World Health Organization. “It has terrible effects on every part of your body,” said Dr. Arvind Kumar, chest surgery chairman at Sir Ganga Ram hospital in Delhi, according to the Guardian. “It can precipitate an acute asthma attack and in the long run it will increase their risk of lung cancer.”

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Delhi’s air is polluted for much of the year due to open burning of trash, road dust, exhaust from vehicles, and byproducts of industrial activity. However, it becomes even more unbearable in winter when seasonal changes trap the pollution closer to the ground. Attempts to improve Delhi’s air quality have included traffic rationing, shuttering of local coal power plants, and even banning fireworks during Diwali. Unfortunately, to truly tackle this urgent problem, local, state, and federal governments will need to examine the complex systems that result in an outpouring of pollution and craft comprehensive policies to discourage unhealthy practices and encourage healthy ones.

Via The Guardian

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