The Great Smog Month and Spatial and Monthly Variation in Air Quality in Ambient Air in Delhi, India

J Health Pollut. 2020 Aug 25;10(27):200910. doi: 10.5696/2156-9614-10.27.200910. eCollection 2020 Sep.


Background: In recent years, poor urban air quality in Delhi, India has gained significant attention. Episodic events including crop stubble burning and Diwali celebrations are considered major factors in the worsening quality of ambient air.

Objective: This study aimed to investigate spatial and monthly variation as well as the role of episodic events in ambient air quality in Delhi, including the 'Great Smog' month of November 2017.

Methods: Monitoring of air pollutants (particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5, PM1) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2)) was carried out at three distinct locations of Delhi from April 2017-February 2018. The concentration of NO2 was measured using a modified Jacob and Hochheiser method and PM was measured using a GRIMM aerosol spectrometer. Air quality index was also determined to identify the effects of air pollution on human health.

Results: Overall, the levels of air pollution were found to be approximately 2.1-3.2 times higher along a traffic intersection and about 1.4-2.0 times higher in a commercial area compared with an institutional area. The highest average monthly concentrations of PM10, PM2.5, PM1 and NO2 were 768, 374, 298 and 149 μg/m3, respectively, during the Great Smog month of November 2017. November and August were recorded as the most polluted and cleanest months, respectively, in the city. Generally, poor to severe categories of the air quality index (AQI) were obtained from October to February. Higher concentrations during November were attributed to stubble burning in the nearby states of Delhi with the additive effect of fireworks during Diwali celebrations.

Conclusions: Severe ambient air quality as observed in the present study is a serious matter of concern for the health of Delhi's population. To control spikes in poor air quality during episodic events, it is imperative to raise awareness among farmers regarding the severe health hazards of stubble burning.

Competing interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Keywords: AQI; NO2; ambient air pollution; episodic event; particulate matter; spatial-temporal variations; stubble burning.