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New Delhi pollution rises to ‘severe’ level after Deepavali fireworks

NEW DELHI: Pollution in the Indian capital, New Delhi, rose to a "severe" level yesterday after revellers let off fireworks long into the night to markDeepavali.

Two federal government pollution indices showed air at "very poor" and "severe" levels, indicating prolonged exposure could lead to respiratory illnesses.

The indices mostly measure the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter, or PM 2.5, particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, which can be carried deep into the lungs.

The US embassy said PM 2.5 levels in its part of central Delhi had soared to 689, indicating emergency conditions, posing a serious health risk.

A reading of 50 or under is considered safe.

A task force under the federal pollution control board was scheduled to meet to assess the situation, a city government spokesman told Reuters.

Few Delhi residents wear face masks when they go out in heavy smog, and joggers and passers-by were out as usual early yesterday.

Last month, the Supreme Court allowed the use of "green" firecrackers for Deepavali, but for only two hours in the evening.

However, there were no "green" fireworks available for sale and countless fireworks were let off through the evening.

The authorities have been reluctant to ban fireworks to avoid offending members of the majority Hindu community.

"The Supreme Court order on fireworks was not followed and health warnings from the government were limited to few newspapers and some websites," said Greenpeace campaigner Sunil Dahiya.

The apparent lack of concern about the toxic air gives politicians cover for failing to address the problem, said environmental activists and others.

In recent weeks, Delhi doctors have reported a rise in patients with respiratory problems.

Adding to the smog has been smoke from the countryside, where farmers at this time of the year burn the stubble in their field for winter sowing.

For a second year, New Delhi's Chief Minister likened the city to a "gas chamber". - REUTERS

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