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A toxic smog that has smothered New Delhi this week and triggered a pollution emergency, is hurting the homeless and those living in slums the most, said activists and doctors, as city officials struggled to contain the crisis.
The air has remained consistently in the “hazardous” category or above those levels, despite measures including an order to halt to all construction activity, restricting vehicles and raising parking charges to push the use of public transport.
Television images showed people wearing face masks, while discussions on air purifiers and filtration systems filled internet chat rooms.
“At these high levels, even the healthy are affected. The homeless and those on the streets are the most vulnerable, as they are not very healthy to begin with,” said J.C. Suri, a pulmonary disease specialist at Safdarjung Hospital.
“They are exposed to construction dust, vehicle exhaust on a daily basis, and at this time of year, it gets worse,” he said.
Tiny particulate matter, called PM 2.5, reached 523 at 9 a.m. local time on Friday – the outer limit of “good” air is 50. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
At least 2.5 million people in India died early because of pollution in 2015, more than any other country in the world, according to a study by the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health.