Thursday, December 26, 2019

Christmas Air Quality

Air pollution in New Delhi has hit crisis levels. According to reports from the New York Times, on the worst air quality day last month, fine particulate levels in New Delhi reached over 900 µg/m3. This morning the level was 376 AQI . For comparison, Long Park along Route 15 in Haymarket, VA (really close to my house) had barely within the good  level at 49 AQI. You can see that overnight the level had been higher in the moderate air quality range.

This happens to be one of the higher levels I have seen at this monitoring station, though still within the U.S. EPA standard. In 2013 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the reduction in the fine particle pollution, PM2.5, average annual allowed level to 12 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) or an AQI of 39. The 24-hr standard was recently revised to a level of 35 ug/m3 (an AQI of 99) and in truth not all cities in the United States currently meet that standard. 

PM2.5 particles are a major contributing factor to lung disease. A study of children in Southern California showed lung damage associated with long-term particulate exposure, and a multi-city study found decreased lung function in children associated with long term particulate exposure. The United States particulate levels are a small fraction of the levels in the worst areas of the world-Beijing, New Delhi, Santiago (Chile), Mexico City, Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), Cairo (Egypt), Chongqing (China), Guangzhou (China), Hong Kong, and Kabul (Afghanistan).

PM2.5 particles can be either directly emitted by burning fuel or formed via atmospheric reactions. Primary particles are emitted from cars, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as residential wood combustion, forest fires, and agricultural waste burning as is still common in India. The main components of particulate pollution formed when pollutants like NOx and SO2 react in the atmosphere to form particles. These particles are emitted from coal fired power plants and other combustion engines. The increase in automobiles and coal fired power plants in both India and China and along the Chinese belt of influence where they have financed coal fired power plants has exacerbated this problem in India, China and other areas of the world because particulates can travel great distances.

The wild fires that burnt across California carried smoke and particulate pollution to the other parts of California and particaulat pollution reached “very unhealthy” levels (near 250 AQI more than 100 miles away), The “very unhealthy” range is when people are advised to limit outdoor activity.

So, if you want to take a look at real time particulate pollution levels you can see what the monitors nearest your home or any where else in the world are reporting at this link.

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