Nirvan Mehra is a 28-year-old asthmatic patient and a runner. He took to running because he wanted to build lung capacity and fulfil his dream of climbing Stok Kangri in Ladakh.
“Running became the means to an end—from one kilometer, I now run 30-40 kilometres a week,” says Mehra, who had to relocate from Doon School to Delhi because of his asthma, but now runs half marathons regularly.
But Delhi's declining air quality took a toll on his running. Subsequently, an expatriate runner friend introduced him to a mask with changeable filters and it made a dramatic difference. “After just a day of wearing the mask, I found that not only had I shaved several minutes off my running time, I didn’t need to take my inhaler along,” he says. “If I did run without the mask, I had to stop almost immediately because I felt like I was choking.”
But when Mehra took out his mask's filter a month of usage recently, he was shocked. The UK-based manufacturer recommends that the filter can be used for three months. But with Delhi's air, the mask had become choked and unusable within a month. This is the picture Mehra posted on Facebook.
This is its state after one month's worth of running on Delhi roads:
This is what the new filter looked like:
“It was shocking to think that this is what would have gone and embedded itself deep inside my lungs,” he says.
The shockingly poor quality of Delhi's air is now manifesting in people's lives as worsening Asthma attacks and rising instances of respiratory ailments.
The World Health Organization said last year that Delhi has the most toxic air in the world.
Nobody really woke up then and air pollution was not an issue for any of the parties in the recently concluded Delhi elections.
In a survey last week, environmental organization Greenpeace said Delhi's air quality readings were on average worse than Beijing's, widely considered to be burdened with the planet's worst air pollution. The levels of particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less was found to be 9 times higher than prescribed safe limits by Indian authorities, which are themselves way higher than the levels prescribed by the World Health Organization. This kind of particulate matter, called PM2.5, gets deep into lungs and the blood stream and can cause severe respiratory and cardiac ailments.
A recent New York Times story took stock of the air quality challenges facing Delhi.
Delhi's new chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, is in many ways the perfect man to begin tackling the problem. He has bronchial issues and developed asthma last year. And persistent cough intercepts his speeches often. He has not assumed any portfolios yet. Perhaps he can make the corruption of Delhi's air his main portfolio and principal concern.