Every year post-Diwali, our social media feeds are lined up with news stories detailing the massive spike in air pollution levels. This year, many Indian cities woke up to a cloud of smog the day after Diwali, with air pollution levels reaching alarming levels. During the festival of lights, pollution levels in the national capital touch extremely unhealthy levels as a dangerous mix of noxious gases and respirable pollutants remain very close to the surface due to low temperature and negligible wind movement. PM (Particulate Matter) 2.5 rose to "hazardous" levels – from 643 to 999 micrograms in various areas, which is several times higher than the safe limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre, according to the Central Pollution Control Board. PM 10 was 999 micrograms per cubic metre, also much higher than the safe limit of 100 micrograms.
On the day after Diwali, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the levels of PM 10 and PM 2.5 in Delhi were recorded at severe levels of 785 micrograms per cubic metre and 491 micrograms per cubic metre, respectively. Levels beyond the safe limit can cause serious harm to the respiratory system as the ultra-fine particulates can embed themselves deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream. Children are in fact exposed to higher health risks than adults, as they breathe twice as quickly. Health experts contend that once such particulate matter enters the lungs, they restrict the availability of oxygen to lung muscles, affecting the supply of essential air flow. Apart from other serious health-related risks, the accumulation of particulate matter could ultimately result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancers.
Besides the dangers of rising vehicular pollution and accumulating road dust during Diwali, residents have to contend with firecrackers. As per a recent IndiaSpend report: “Six popular firecrackers—the snake tablet, the laadi (string of 1,000 crackers), fuljhadi (sparkler), the string sparkler, the anar (flower-pot), the chakri (spinning firecracker)—emit particulate matter 200 to 2,000 times the safe limits as designated by the World Health Organization. Despite the risks, residents remain callous in their desire to burst crackers during Diwali. Efforts to crackdown on illegally imported toxic firecrackers and enforce the Supreme Court's directions banning bursting of crackers after 10 pm did not amount to much this year. Matters are made worse by the burning of crop stubble in neighbouring Haryana and Punjab during the winter period. Winds from the west and north-west direction carry the smoke from this stubble burning to the national capital.