Varanasi has most toxic air, as N. Indian cities outpace Delhi

The holy city of Varanasi has Indias most toxic air, and many north Indian cities are recording worse air-quality than Delhi, according to a new report in which IndiaSpend is a collaborator.

In 2015, the north Indian cities of Varanasi and Allahabad had no days (of 227 and 263 monitored, respectively) with good air quality – when the average levels of fine, toxic dust called PM 2.5 was below national air quality safe levels – according to the report, which bases its findings on the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB’s) 2015 data released in June, 2016.

“Varanasi Chokes”, by the Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED), IndiaSpend and Care4Air, used the national safe standard for particulate matter under 2.5 microns in size (PM 2.5), 60µg/m³, or microgram per cubic metre. The national safe level is two-and-a-half times more relaxed than the World Health Organisation (WHO) standard of 24-hour average of 25µg/m³ for PM 2.5.

Since November 2016, IndiaSpend’s network of #Breathe air-quality sensors (now in 16 cities nationwide), with 25 monitoring stations in Uttar Pradesh (UP) alone-Agra, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad and Varanasi-has reported air-quality conditions ranging between very poor (respiratory illness on prolonged exposure) to severe (dangerous enough to affect healthy people and seriously impact those with existing disease).

PM 2.5 is fine particulate matter about 30 times finer than a human hair. These particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases, and are known to pose the greatest risk to human health. Their measurement is considered to be the best indicator of the level of health risks from air pollution, according to the WHO.

Varanasi not among WHO list of cities with worst air, but Indian agency says it among three worst

In 2016, the WHO’s list of 20 most polluted cities in the world featured 10 from India, with four of the worst – Allahabad, Kanpur, Firozabad and Lucknow – in UP. While Varanas is not on the WHO list, the Prime Minister’s constituency is one among India’s three most polluted cities, according to a 2015 CPCB bulletin.

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