Deadly toxic smog engulfs city as officials warn of imminent ‘health disaster’

Air quality in India’s capital has hit a “severe level”, local authorities have said.

New Delhi officials have raised the city’s pollution risks following a surge in hospital admissions, with schools having shut their doors following the descent of a thick smog.

The local air quality index reading spiked to 473 on Saturday, on the borderline of the maximum level it is possible to record.

Monitors can only record as high as 500; when air pollution levels “pose an immediate danger to the public”.

The reported readings exceed 100 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) just as India begins its pollution season.

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Commuters travelling through New Delhi this morning were seen donning face masks to escape the dangerous effects of the encroaching smog, which is an annual sight in the city late in the year.

Colder temperatures tend to trap pollutant particles, with nearby crop and coal burning adding to the mounting smog.

Doctors have started noticing the physical impact on New Delhi’s residents, who are increasingly seeking help for breathing issues and eye irritation.

The effects have been dubbed a “disaster in terms of respiratory health” by local experts, who have warned of a “huge humanitarian problem”.

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Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Dr Sugandha Srivastav, an environmental and energy economist at the University of Oxford, said children and the elderly are at particular risk.

She said doctors examining young children have found their lungs in a similar condition as smokers.

Dr Srivastav said: “What is happening is a disaster in terms of respiratory health…we have a huge humanitarian problem on our hands.”

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The academic added: “For kids, the blood-brain barrier is much thinner than adults.

“So you can have these fine particles settle all over their bodies. And they have a whole host of impacts on respiratory health and cognition.”

Locals have been warned to wear masks, stay indoors where possible, and use air purifiers to escape the worst of the pollution, while experts have blamed the disaster on a more than 700 per cent increase in local crop burning.

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