Air Pollution and the Toxic Smog in India

November 9, 2017, 6:00 am

Urban air pollution has grown in India to alarming proportions. Almost all cities face severe pollution from particulates and gases. Rapid industrial development, constructions and smoke from motor vehicles have been major contributors. The situation worsens during winter months, especially in the northern parts of the country. (International SOS) On November 08, 2017, New Delhi declared a public health emergency due to a thick blanket of toxic smog. Pollution trackers suggest the smog has reached the worst level so far this year. (Al Jazeera)

In New Delhi, smog levels reached levels of PM 2.5 (the particles most damaging to health) have reached 40 times the World Health Organization’s safe limit. (Al Jazeera) The Indian Medical Association has declared a "state of medical emergency" and doctors have likened the impact of being in the smog to inhaling 50 cigarettes a day. (Time) The U.S. State Department Mission India has an updated Air Quality Index on their website, with AQI reaching 713, “hazardous”. India and its neighbors are approaching what is known as the “fog season”, which will continue through the winter, into February. In addition to smog causing health problems, road accidents are very common because of limited visibility.

Schools in New Delhi were closed on Wednesday, November 08, 2017, and will remain closed until Sunday, November 12, 2017.

Air pollution is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases including emphysema) and lung cancer, and increases the risks for acute respiratory infections and exacerbates asthma. (The World Health Organization) In addition to smog causing health problems, it has been causing road accidents because of limited visibility.

Travel Advice

Generally, when outdoor air is polluted, indoor air quality is presumed to be better. Hence, during times of poor outdoor air quality, it is advisable to:

  • Reduce or avoid outdoor physical activities altogether. Young children, older adults and people with underlying health issues, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma should be especially vigilant about minimizing exposure.
  • Keep doors and windows closed.
  • Use an air conditioner on ‘recirculate’ if possible.
  • When going outdoors, consider wearing a particulate respirator (N95 mask). Consult your doctor for an individual recommendation, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions.
  • If driving or traveling in a vehicle, make sure the driver uses extreme caution and keeps the low beam headlights on.

As always, if you are abroad and in need of immediate assistance (counseling, medical or security related) please call International SOS at +1-215-942-8059 or UTPD at +1-512-471-4441