Delhi chokes on pollution: What is AQI — and how is it measured?

Delhi chokes on pollution: What is AQI — and how is it measured?

Context- As the air pollution continued to get worse in Delhi-NCR and surrounding areas for the second day on Friday (November 3), the Air Quality Index (AQI) has once again come under the spotlight.

AQI is a number, which is a measure of air quality. The higher the AQI, the worse the air. On Friday at 9 am, the AQI in Delhi was at an average of 471. A day before, the air quality plummeted to hit the ‘severe’ category for the first time this season with the AQI breaching the 400 mark.

(Credits- CPCB)

The colour-coded AQI index was launched in India in 2014, and it helps the public and the government understand the condition of the air and what subsequent measures are to be taken to combat the situation, based on its severity. There are six categories of AQI, namely ‘Good’ (0-50), ‘Satisfactory’ (50-100), ‘Moderately polluted’ (100-200), ‘Poor’ (200-300), ‘Very Poor’ (300-400), and ‘Severe’ (400-500)

What is the AQI and how does it calculate pollution?

  • Launched by the central government in 2014 as part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, the AQI was to help simplify the common understanding of pollution.
  • An expert group comprising medical professionals, air quality experts, academia, advocacy groups, and others was constituted and a technical study was awarded to IIT Kanpur. IIT Kanpur and the Expert Group recommended an AQI scheme.
  • According to the Central Pollution Control Board, part of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the AQI transforms complex air quality data of various pollutants into a single number (index value), nomenclature and colour. The pollutants measured include PM 10, PM 2.5, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone, Carbon, etc.
  • There is a calculation that goes behind the index. There are six or eight pollutants in the affected air and each of these pollutants is given a weight based on a formula. That weight depends on the kind of impact it has on human health. The worst of these weights is given as composite air quality
  • Monitoring stations across the country assess these levels.

What is the impact of these pollutants?

  • Among the more harmful pollutants are those of a smaller size, such as particulate matter (PM) 2.5, which is an atmospheric particulate matter of a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometres (or around 3 per cent of the diameter of a human hair).
  • It causes respiratory problems and reduces visibility. The particles can only be detected with the help of an electron microscope because they are so small.
  • Due to their size, the PM 2.5 particles can easily bypass the nose and throat and can easily enter the circulatory system. The particles can also lead to chronic diseases such as asthma, heart attack, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.

How does the AQI influence government policy?

  • Based on the levels, the governments in areas like Delhi announce measures. As the AQI in NCR dipped to the ‘severe’ category on Thursday, stage 3 of the Graded Response Action Plan was set in motion.
  • The GRAP has specifically been instituted for emergency measures that kick in to prevent further deterioration of air quality in Delhi-NCR.

Syllabus – Prelims; Current Affairs

Source – Indian Express