India’s capital Delhi reopened schools and some construction sites on Monday amid signs of easing air pollution, although it remained classified as hazardous, while a toxic foam hit stretches of the Yamuna river that flows through the city.
The world’s most polluted capital resumed its annual pollution battle this month, despite government pledges to improve. Monday’s air quality index (AQI) of 336 was down from Thursday’s level of 509 but still “dangerous”, Swiss group IQAir said.
Children wore masks on their way to school after a nearly two-week shutdown to protect them from pollution, while Hindu devotees celebrating a festival waded through the smoggy morning for a dip in the river, undeterred by the white foam , which authorities described as toxic.
The foam comes from sludge and untreated waste, a former Delhi government adviser said, adding that the city’s water board is spraying a food-grade chemical to control it.
“The foam is not lethal in nature,” said the former official, Ankit Srivastava, an environmental engineer. “You wouldn’t die from consuming it, but you would get sick.”
On Sunday, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai told reporters that construction work on public infrastructure projects could resume, albeit with restrictions on activities that blow dust into the air.
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The remarks followed Saturday’s lifting of emergency measures ordered on November 5 to prevent worsening air quality, including a ban on all building activity, which were eased after index levels improved.
Delhi’s AQI is forecast to drop over the next two days as wind speeds are expected to pick up, according to the government’s air quality early warning system.
Delhi’s air pollution worsens in winter, when wind speeds drop and cooling air traps pollutants spewed by vehicles, industry and farmers burning agricultural waste in surrounding states to prepare for new planting.
Traffic emissions were a major contributor on Monday to particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) in the air, a real-time study by experts working with the Delhi government showed.
Vehicles contributed 51% of these particles, considered particularly dangerous to humans, along a key road, up from levels of 27% and 32% in the previous two days, the study added.
PM2.5 levels remained above 128 micrograms per cubic meter of air as of Sunday in the National Capital Region, according to the federal pollution control board. Levels have fallen from a high of 300 on November 5, but are well above the 15 24-hour average safe limit set by the World Health Organization.
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