Monday November 13, 2017

New Delhi's toxic smog poses serious health threat, warns doctor

An Indian man and his family ride a bike during heavy dust and smog in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016. A thick grey haze enveloped India's capital as air pollution hit hazardous levels.

An Indian man and his family ride a bike during heavy dust and smog in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016. A thick grey haze enveloped India's capital as air pollution hit hazardous levels.

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Last week, the air pollution in New Delhi hit 30 times the World Health Organization's safe level.

The thick blanket of toxic smog that has cloaked India's capital has prompted doctors to warn of a public health emergency.

Doctors say the air quality is so poor that simply being outside is equivalent to smoking up to 50 cigarettes a day. 

'I shudder to think what kind of toxic and harmful long term effects it will have on the lungs of children.'- Lung surgeon, Dr. Arvind Kumar 

Schools are closed, traffic is snarled, and residents say they feel nauseous and it hurts to breathe. 

India Air Pollution

Motorists drive surrounded by smog in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8. The Indian Medical Association has reported New Delhi was in the midst of a 'public health emergency.' (Altaf Qadri/Associated Press)

Paroma Dutt Mehra, a mother in Delhi, says she's become paranoid.

"As a parent of two children, I am scared beyond belief," Dutt Mehra says.

"Just few days ago, my younger daughter who's just turned three is coughing away, and I can make out that it has nothing to do with her ear, nose and throat. I know it's because she's finding it difficult to breathe."

Dr. Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, says the air pollution is the worst he has ever seen in his 35 years in Delhi.

"[People without health issues] are finding it difficult to breathe. On minimal exertion, they're feeling choked, they're feeling breathless," Dr. Kumar tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

'I'm very, very horrified that I have been seeing black spots on the lungs of even teenagers, nonsmoker teenagers.'- Dr. Arvind Kumar

He says the toxic particles in the air are currently on average "15 to 20 times higher than the permitted WHO standards in a country."

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The air quality index, which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter in the air, hit the 'severe' level of 451 on a scale where the maximum reading is 500 and where anything above 100 is considered unhealthy by the Central Pollution Control Board. (Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

As a lung surgeon, Dr. Kumar says he's been seeing the effects of air pollution in "the colour of lungs of people in our country."

"And I shudder to think what kind of toxic and harmful long term effects it will have on the lungs of children who are being born in this city ... and, of course, the adults and the elderly."

In 1988, Dr. Kumar started operating as a lung surgeon and says he only saw black lungs only in smokers.

'These are very serious warning signs of significant lung damage occurring to the population.'- Dr. Arvind Kumar 

"But the last few years I'm very, very horrified that I have been seeing black spots on the lungs of even teenagers. Nonsmoker teenagers having black block deposits on the lungs means that they already have been exposed to a significant amount of pollution."

INDIA AIR POLLUTION

An Indian man meditates as the Lodhi garden is engulfed in heavy smog during early morning in New Delhi. An October Lancet study suggests pollution is causing more deaths globally than war or smoking. (Rajat Gupta/EPA-EFE)

He points to concerning developments he's seen in the increase of nonsmoker lung cancer, as well as noting lung cancer "occurring a decade or two earlier than the Western countries."

"Now, all of these are very serious warning signs of significant lung damage occurring to the population on account of extremely high levels of pollution that we are all exposed to around here."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith and Amra Pasic.