Drowning in Smoggy Delhi: There’s No Blue Sky, So Where’s Blueair? (Updated)

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— Domani Spero

In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:

One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).

The NYT also reported in February last year  that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response
Photo from January 11, 2013
(click on image to read more)

The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.”  That’s putting it mildly.  Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air.  NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.

The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:

Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.

Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years.  Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?”  Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.”  In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.

We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”

This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.   The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.

The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
[…]
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.

“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

Image via http://epi.yale.edu

This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.

Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the  finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?

How did that happen?

Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.

Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries.  Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.

On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers  for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:

The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US.  The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.

We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India.  Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing.  There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Report that should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers.  Or check with MED which should have this information available.

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