Cleaner Air: Concentration of PM 2.5 in India Plunged by 71% After Lockdown Began
Mon, April 19, 2021

Cleaner Air: Concentration of PM 2.5 in India Plunged by 71% After Lockdown Began


India has imposed a nationwide lockdown a week ago to contain the spread of the COVID-19. / Photo by Dinesh Hukmani via Shutterstock


India has imposed a nationwide lockdown a week ago to contain the spread of the COVID-19. This move puts almost all parts of the country to a halt and even proved to be a temporary solution to another health issue: air pollution. The concentration of PM 2.5 in New Delhi, India has dropped by 71%, CNN reports, citing India’s government data.


Air pollution in India

Fine particles (PM 2.5) is an air pollutant. They are tiny particles or droplets in the air of about two- and one-half microns. The particles make the air appear hazy, especially when the PM 2.5 levels are elevated. Exposure to these particles can cause health effects, such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, nose, eye, throat, and lung irritation, and shortness of breath. It can also worsen medical conditions, such as heart disease or asthma. PM 2.5 outdoors primarily come from off-road vehicles, trucks, cars, exhausts, and other operations that involve burning of fuels while sources of indoor PM 2.5 are cooking, smoking, oil lamps or burning candles, and fireplaces.

The nationwide lockdown means that shops, markets, places of worship, and factories are closed in the country. The majority of the transport was also suspended and construction work was temporarily put to stop. The government has asked its citizens to practice social distancing and stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus. As of April 1, India has more than 1,300 confirmed COVID-19 cases.


World air quality report

Software company AirVisual IQAir, which focuses on providing air quality data, has ranked India fifth as the most polluted country in 2019. Bangladesh air (83.30 μg/m3 on average) is the worst in the world using a weighted population average. It is followed by Pakistan (65.81 μg/m3), Mongolia (62.00), Afghanistan (58.80), India (58.08), Indonesia (51.71), Bahrain (46.80), Nepal (44.46), Uzbekistan (41.20), Iraq (39.60), China (39.12), United Arab Emirates (38.94), Kuwait (38.30), Bosnia Herzegovina (34.58), and Vietnam (34.06).

Twenty-one cities in India are also included in the list of 30 cities in the world with the worst air pollution. These cities include Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Bhiwadi, Noida, Patna, Lucknow, Delhi, Jodhpur, Muzaffarpur, Varanasi, Moradabad, Agra, Gaya, Jind, Kanpur, Singrauli, Kolkata, Pali, Rohtak, Mandi Gobindgarh, and Ahmedabad.

Ghaziabad was listed as the most polluted city in the world with an average PM 2.5 concentration of 110.2 last year. Such kind of air is nine times more than the level that the US Environmental Protection Agency has considered healthy.



Public health emergency in India: high level of smog

In November 2019, a public health emergency was also declared in India after the air quality index in certain parts of the capital city exceeded 800, three times more than the hazardous air quality level. When pilots could not see through the thick smog, flights were diverted and delayed from New Delhi international airport.

Traffic controls were instituted and authorities have temporarily halted work at construction sites. Noida resident Siddharth Singh said that because of the smog, many people have itchy eyes and persistent dry cough. “Everything is hazy, so the eyes don't focus on objects in the distance,” he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that air pollution can have deadly effects, accounting for 4.2 million deaths in the world because of exposure to air pollution. Smog was also linked to increased risk of chronic lung disease, lung cancer, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.


No2 levels after nationwide lockdown

The level of nitrogen dioxide, which is an air pollutant that contributes to the formation of photochemical smog, has also declined dramatically after the nationwide lockdown in India. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a part of the Environment Ministry of India, compiled the data. It said that the No2 fell from 52 per cubic meter to 15 after the lockdown, highlighting the stunning effect of social distancing on air pollution.

Aside from New Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, and Mumbai have recorded a decline of the No2 level. India-based environment organization Care for Air’s co-founder Jyoti Pande Lavakare said she has never such blue skies in the city for the past decade.

The data, however, is not something to celebrate. We cannot let many human beings suffer as a way to clean the air, said Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air’s analyst Sunil Dahiya.


WHO reminds the public that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. / Photo by NadyGinzburg via Shutterstock


Air pollution inventor for PM 2.5

WHO reminds the public that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. The Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases study in Delhi shows the air pollution inventor for PM 2.5 particular as follows: road dust (38%), vehicles (20%), domestic sources (12%), industrial point sources (11%), concrete batching (6%), hotels and restaurants (3%),  MSW burning (3%), industrial area sources (2%), construction and demolition (2%), diesel gensets (2%), cremation, aircraft, and medical incinerators (1%).


Economics and air pollution

There are several ways that air pollution takes a toll on the economy. It reduces people’s ability to work, it damages the historical and cultural monuments, it costs human lives, it affects the ecosystem’s ability to perform functions, and it costs money in restoration and remediation. It's no wonder new technologies are constantly developed to help reduce emissions in the country.

The Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air has also explained that air pollution accounts for 2.9 trillion in economic costs or 3.3% of the world’s gross domestic product. Air pollution is likewise responsible for 2 million preterm births, 4 million new cases of childhood asthma, and 1.8 billion days of absence from work. When a country has a higher rate of chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, or asthma caused by air pollution, it lowers the participation rate in the workforce. Kids will also miss their school days, thus impacting their learning. Healthcare needs will also mean that the children’s parents or guardians will have to leave work to attend to their child.

Policymakers across the globe should take a lesson from China. Data has shown that emissions and air-related pollution bounced back after the quarantine period.

To help decarbonize the economy, there is a need for sustained effort--one that is not just for short-term results.