On Friday morning, the blanket of smog covering Delhi thickened leading to an increase in the national capital’s pollution levels overnight by around 50 points, taking the overall air quality index to 500.
A Central Pollution Control Board official said the AQI entered the “severe-plus” or “emergency” category late Thursday night, the first time since January this year. According to official data, the overall AQI was 582 at 12.30 am.
As part of the emergency measures, the Delhi government has shut down the schools till November 5.
Even though many of us are aware that it is PM2.5 that makes Delhi air so toxic, we hardly understand why is it so harmful and why we have to take precautions to save our kids and family from this silent killer.
Here’s what you all need to know about PM2.5.
Delhi’s air is not polluted as much with poisonous gases as it’s with really tiny particles known as PM2.5. And its levels are consistently 16-20 times higher than the prescribed standard.
Q: What is PM2.5?
A: PM2.5 depicts the size of the particles that are present in the air that we breathe. PM stands for particulate matter whereas 2.5 stands for the size of the particle. In simple words, PM2.5 stands for extremely small dust particles who are just 2.5 microns wide — that’s thirty times smaller than the width of a human hair.
This small size makes it very difficult for our defense mechanism to prevent it from getting into our body and leaving the harmful impact.
Q: What produces PM2.5 in the air?
There is no single answer to this complex question. There could be multiple activities that could lead to the production of a variety of solid or liquid chemicals that falls under PM2.5.
According to the United States’ Environment Protection Agency, depending on the source, a PM2.5 particle could contain compounds of any of these four materials:
Carbon – from cars, trucks, waste burning
Nitrate – from cars, trucks, thermal power generation
Sulphate – from thermal power generation
Crustal – suspended soil and metals
While individual particles obviously can’t be seen without special equipment, large amounts are visible as haze or smog.
Q: What effect does PM2.5 have on our kids’ & family’s health?
As these particles are very small, they could easily reach the lungs and then to the blood and heart. Prolonged exposure to these particles can cause asthma and heart conditions. Among many of us, they could cause a runny nose, sneezing, headache, nausea, choked and coughing.
It can also cause other heart and lung diseases, or make them worse. As per some studies, it could lead to cancer as well. As per WHO, it could slow down the lung development in children and hence, could leave them with reduced lung function for the rest of their lives.
As per WHO, on average a person’s life expectancy is shortened by 8.6 months due to the exposure to PM2.5.
Q: How much of PM2.5 is safe?
As per WHO, PM2.5 is dangerous in any amount and there is no safe level. According to WHO’s standard, the average PM2.5 levels should not be more than 10 mg per cubic meter in one year. And, in a day, WHO states PM2.5 level mustn’t exceed 25 mg/cubic meter. Yet, India has relaxed this limit to 60.
Q: How can I protect my kids and my family from PM2.5?
Please remember that protecting yourself and your family from PM2.5 doesn’t require gas masks. Rather, it requires cotton masks that can block very fine particles.
The experts recommend using an N-95 mask to prevent inhaling these particles.
Sadly, unlike the common prevalent thought, planting more trees couldn’t solve the problem of PM2.5. Since PM2.5 are particles and not gases, they can’t be processed by the leaves.
Shockingly, a high tree density can make the situation even worse as the extra air moisture could trap the particles instead of letting them fly away with the wind. The only way to cut down PM2.5 levels is to stop it at the source – cars, factories, waste burning, thermal power plants.
Until then, please wear the N-95 masks and make sure your family takes all the precautions as suggested by the advisory.