“Looking at the developing situation and consistent deterioration in air quality, a mobile air purifier van has been deployed at the west gate of the Taj Mahal,” Regional Officer of India’s Pollution Control Board Bhuvan Yadav is quoted as saying this week about the famous mausoleum in Agra, the Times of India reported.
Pollution levels are so high in India’s capital of New Delhi that the city government has banned around half of the city’s private cars from the roads. In addition, classes have been canceled at New Delhi schools, and authorities have declared a public emergency.
"I have a headache every day I wake up. It's suffocating to breathe sometimes. And inflammation in the nostrils and all. And eyes also. Like it kind of burns," local Ankusha Kushi told AFP.
The pollution levels are currently so severe that breathing in the New Delhi air is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, Al Jazeera reported.
On Monday morning, the particulate level in New Delhi’s atmosphere was 613 micrograms per cubic meter of air, Al Jazeera reported. Fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, consists of microscopic solids and liquid droplets in the air that small enough to be inhaled and even absorbed by the bloodstream, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO’s recommended daily limit for PM2.5 concentration is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, and the annual limit is 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
Fine particulate matter that travels into the respiratory tract can eventually affect lung health and aggravate conditions like asthma and heart disease. In addition, PM2.5 exposure has been linked to chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and cardiovascular illnesses.
Smog levels were so impairing Monday that 30 flights were diverted from Delhi’s airport due to visibility issues, Al Jazeera reported.
According to Al Jazeera’s New Delhi correspondent Anchal Vohra, pollution levels are especially high at this time of year due to farmers burning detritus leftover from the harvest in order to strip their fields.
"A huge part of the pollution is vehicular pollution, so if you halt the number of vehicles, then yes I believe it should help … But the large part of this pollution is because of farmers burning the stubble in neighbouring states which are also fighting pollution, but there is no political consensus ... no clear directions as to what the government plan is. [So] as long as farmers keep burning the stubble, and in winter the pollution is expected to be high," Vohra said.
Government officials have urged locals to wear anti-pollution masks and avoid outdoor or physical activities.