Every day there are more than 200,000 people added to the planet. Almost all of these people will show up in cities of developing nations. The result is air pollution, in direct correlation to the combination of population size and economic development. Beijing's air is famously bad, as I have noted before, but a story in today's NY Times suggests that air pollution in New Delhi is even worse. Inconceivable!
Delhi’s air is the world’s most toxic in part because of high concentrations of PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs. While Beijing’s air quality has generated more headlines worldwide, scientists say New Delhi’s air is often significantly worse, especially during the winter, when choking smog often settles over the sprawling city.
Indeed, there has not been a single 30-day period in Beijing over the past two years during which the average PM2.5 level was as bad as it was in December and January in Delhi.
Worse yet, the numbers tell only half the story because Delhi’s PM2.5 particles are far more dangerous than those from many other locales because of the widespread burning of garbage, coal and diesel fuel that results in high quantities of toxins such as sulfur, dioxins and other carcinogenic compounds, said Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, director of Urban Emissions, an independent research group based in Delhi.Fortunately, it seems that India is finally coming to grips with this problem and is seeking advice and help. The problem in India, as in China, is of course that these nations are trying to develop in the old-fashioned way--the way that the now rich countries developed--without concern for the environmental consequences of cramming a lot of people into urban areas. It costs a lot of money to clean up the environment, but the alternative is unsustainable.