India Air Quality Fact Sheet 2021

India’s growth in recent decades has resulted in an exponential increase in the number of vehicles and industrial factories emitting pollutants into the atmosphere. As a result, the air quality has been worsening, with big cities seeing some of the highest levels of air pollution in the world. Particulate Matter (PM) concentrations have increased over the past decade and have since become a grave health concern for millions in the country:

  • India is the second most polluted country in the world.
  • According to a 2018 census, among the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 15 of them are in India.
  • It is estimated that at least 140 million Indian residents are breathing air that contains 10 times the WHO’s acceptable levels of PM2.5.
  • A 2017 study concluded that 1 in 8 deaths in India can be linked to air pollution.

Effects of Air Quality on Life Expectancy

According to the Air Quality of Life Index (AQLI), India’s current air pollution and PM concentrations are having a severe impact on the life expectancy of its residents:

The concentrations of PM are estimated to shorten the average person’s life expectancy by 4 years, with several northern states seeing life expectancy reduced by as much as 6 years.

In the northern Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Bihar, the regions with some of the highest levels of PM pollution, there has been an increase in PM concentrations that were 6 times the WHO’s acceptable standard in 1998 to 10 times the safe limit in 2018.

The capital city of Delhi experiences the country’s worst air quality conditions, with PM concentrations over 11 times the WHO’s acceptable standard, measuring at 113 µg/m3; life expectancy in Delhi is estimated to be reduced by over 10 years as a result of the poor air quality.

Currently, improving air quality is the single most effective way to increase life expectancy in India; reducing PM2.5 and other pollutants to the levels recommended by the WHO would add an average of 4 years to an individual’s life expectancy.

PM Levels and COVID-19 Mortality

A study conducted in 2021 observed the relationship between COVID-19 mortality and overall air quality in India during the lockdowns, including PM concentrations and their effect on respiratory mortality:

Air Quality Index (AQI) hotspots, or areas with markedly higher levels of PM concentrations, were correlated with areas most vulnerable to COVID-19[9].

The cities with the highest levels of air pollution correlated to higher COVID-19 case numbers and mortality rates; cities with better air quality had lower rates of cases and mortality.

Clinical COVID-19 cases may be worsened in areas with high levels of pollutants, such as the case for many major cities in India.

Taking Precaution

The current levels of air pollution in India warrant serious caution regarding periods and levels of exposure. Given the research, it is advisable for anyone with pre-existing respiratory or otherwise vulnerable medical conditions to receive daily updates on the ambient air quality levels.

Residents in high-risk areas can view real-time air quality data on the PurpleAir Map. PurpleAir air quality monitors accurately measure local sensors and PM levels.


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