On Thursday, the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) found itself engulfed in a dense smog, adding to the perennial concern over the region’s deteriorating air quality. The Air Quality Index (AQI) had been progressively worsening in Delhi NCR, reflecting an alarming trend. According to recent statistics, the AQI veered into the ‘severe’ category at 402 by 5 PM, reaching hazardous levels.By 8 PM yesterday, the AQI had worsened to 417, suggest data from the Central Pollution Control Board. Thehazardous air quality, primarily attributed to various factors including vehicular emissions, industrial pollution, crop burning in neighboring states, and meteorological conditions, has posed significant health risks to the region’s inhabitants.
The thick blanket of smog that enveloped Delhi NCR not only reduced visibility but also led to respiratory problems among residents. The high levels of particulate matter in the air can lead to various health issues, particularly for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or bronchitis. Additionally, the elderly and children are more susceptible to these adverse effects, making the air quality concern an urgent public health issue. In response to the hazardous smog, the Delhi government took precautionary measures, announcing the closure of all government schools along with private primary schools on 3rd and 4th November. Here is a low-down on AQI, what it means and its implications.
READ ALSO: Delhi schools shut as air pollution hits ‘severe’ mark; MCD schools to hold online classes
AQI: A bird’s eye view
The Air Quality Index serves as a crucial tool to gauge the seriousness of air pollution by assessing various pollutants and their associated risks. It operates on a scale ranging from 0 to 500. Lower numbers signify safer air quality, while higher figures indicate hazardous levels of pollutants. In India, the AQI considers the measurement of eight specific pollutants adhering to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, each having distinct health impacts. These pollutants encompass Particulate Matter 10 (PM 10), Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Ozone, Ammonia, and Lead. To generate an AQI reading, at least three of these pollutants, including one of the particulate matter types, must be measured and reported. The AQI is a valuable system used to inform the public about air quality conditions, recommend appropriate measures, and highlight potential health risks associated with different levels of pollution.
Decoded: Air Quality Index categories
As the AQI scale ranges from 0 to 500, providing distinct categories to indicate varying levels of air quality. The AQI categories have been divided into six segments. Here’s a low-down on them.
Good (0–50): It signifies minimal health risk. Air quality in this range is considered satisfactory, posing little or no risk to the general population.
Satisfactory (51–100): It indicates acceptable air quality that might pose a mild health concern for sensitive individuals, such as those with respiratory issues.
Moderately polluted (101–200): It is ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ suggesting that the general public might not be significantly affected, but individuals with respiratory or heart conditions, children, and the elderly could experience health issues.
Poor (201-300): This is an ‘unhealthy’ level that raises concerns for everyone. At this level, the air quality is considered hazardous, potentially causing health effects even for the general public.
Very Poor (301–400): Further up the scale, this is the ‘very unhealthy’ range indicating a significant health alert and signifying a health risk for the entire population. The air quality at this level can prompt serious health effects on everyone.
Severe (401-500): This is the highest end of the spectrum denotes an emergency condition, indicating severe health effects and urging the entire population to avoid outdoor activities. Air quality at this level presents a serious risk to health, demanding immediate action to minimize exposure to the polluted air.
Who are at risk due to poor AQI
People within specific demographic or health groups face increased risks due to poor Air Quality Index levels.
Children and Infants: Their developing respiratory systems make them more susceptible to the harmful effects of pollutants.
Elderly Individuals: Their decreased lung function and potential underlying health conditions amplify the risks associated with poor air quality.
Individuals with Respiratory Conditions: Those with asthma, chronic bronchitis, or other respiratory ailments are at heightened risk due to increased difficulty in breathing in polluted air.
Individuals with Heart Conditions: Poor air quality can exacerbate heart conditions, leading to increased stress on the cardiovascular system.
Outdoor Workers: Those whose jobs require outdoor activities are at increased risk due to prolonged exposure to polluted air, potentially leading to respiratory issues and other health concerns. These groups face heightened vulnerability to the adverse effects of compromised air quality, emphasizing the need for caution and protective measures during times of poor AQI.
Precautionary measures for school children
Amidst the deteriorating AQI, several precautionary measures need to be taken for all, especially school children in order to safeguard their health. Encouraging the use of N95 masks to reduce inhalation of pollutants, organizing indoor activities to minimize outdoor exposure, and ensuring proper ventilation in classrooms are essential. Additionally, educating students about the importance of maintaining personal hygiene, staying hydrated, and seeking medical attention if experiencing any discomfort due to the poor air quality is equally important. These measures will significantly mitigate the adverse effects of deteriorating air quality on the health and well-being of school children.

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