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India’s capital, Delhi, grapples with a two-fold environmental challenge as it reopens schools and construction sites while contending with hazardous air pollution. Despite government efforts to address the annual battle against pollution, the city faces ongoing air and water quality threats. As Delhi resumed its activities on Monday, the Air Quality Index (AQI) showed a marginal improvement from 509 to 336, still classified as “hazardous” by Swiss group IQAir. Returning to schools after a nearly two-week closure due to pollution concerns, children were seen wearing masks. Not only the pollution but Delhi faces another crisis where Toxic river foam covers the Yamuna River.
The toxic river foam that covers Yamuna, deemed hazardous by authorities, originates from sludge and untreated waste, according to Ankit Srivastava, a former advisor to the Delhi government. Srivastava mentioned that the city’s water board uses a food-grade chemical to control the foam, emphasizing that while it is not lethal, it can lead to illness upon exposure.
Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai announced on Sunday that construction work on public infrastructure projects could resume, with restrictions on activities contributing to airborne dust. This decision followed the revocation of emergency measures implemented on November 5, including a ban on all building activity, as air quality index levels showed improvement.
The air pollution in Delhi worsens during winter due to reduced wind speeds that trap pollutants from various sources, including vehicles, industry, and agricultural burning in surrounding states. A real-time study in collaboration with the Delhi government on Monday revealed that traffic emissions, contributing 51% of PM2.5 particles along a major thoroughfare, were a significant factor. PM2.5 levels, though reduced from their peak on November 5, remained above 128 micrograms per cubic meter, well beyond the World Health Organization’s safe limit of 15.
According to the government’s early warning system, Delhi’s air quality is expected to improve over the next two days as wind speeds increase. However, the city continues to grapple with the multifaceted challenges posed by air pollution, water contamination, and the persistent issue of toxic river foam covering Yamuna.