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Air pollution in Delhi invisible but rising

Sep 02, 2011

An exponential increase in the number of vehicles in the Indian capital is causing air pollution to rise, offsetting the reduction of pollution from public transport; as a result there is an increase in respiratory illnesses like lung cancer.

New Delhi: Ten years after the city's public transport switched to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), air pollution has again become a major threat to public health in Delhi, say environmentalists. With 6.9 million vehicles plying on city roads, a growth of about 6 million in 20 years, experts say oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) are now at critically high levels.

NOx and PM are known to cause cancer and asthma. Medical experts say signs of deteriorating health are already manifest. The Delhi cancer registry maintained by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) shows a 2-3% rise in lung cancer cases every year.

Dr Vinod Raina, a cancer specialist at AIIMS says till some years ago, 14-15 lung cancer cases were reported for every 100,000 cancer patients. "Of late, we have been getting about 13,000 new cases of cancer each year, of which 10% come in with lung cancer. And, 30% of lung cancer patients have nothing to do with smoking," he said.

The Centre for Science and Environment says vehicular pollution has returned as a big threat in Delhi. "About 55% of Delhiites stay within a 500m distance from main roads where vehicular pollution is at an all-time high. After public transport was converted to CNG, pollution has become invisible but is still on the rise," said Anumita Roychowdhury, associate director, CSE.

"In the 1990s, when the issue of air pollution was first raised, only particulate matter was being monitored. Now there is also a red alert on NOx and PM. AIIMS has been tracking hospital admissions and has found that they have been rising in winter months when pollution levels rise," Roychowdhury said.

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