Birmingham experts launch project to tackle Delhi air pollution health risks

Experts at the University of Birmingham are joining forces with partners in India and the UK on a project to help tackle health problems associated with air pollution in Delhi.

With air pollution levels at times up to 30 times greater than those found in the UK, Delhi - pictured below in November - was rated as the most polluted city in the world for ambient air pollution by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014.

Delhi SmogInvolving leading researchers from universities in India and the UK, the team put together by Birmingham air pollution experts will investigate the causes of pollution in the Indian capital city, which is home to some 18 million people.

‘ASAP-Delhi: An Integrated Study of Air Pollutant Sources in the Delhi National Capital Region’ is supported by a £1.4 million grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Air Pollution and Human Health programme. 

Led by the University of Birmingham, the team involves experts from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi and the Indian National Physical Laboratory, as well as the University of Surrey.

Professor Mukesh Khare, from IIT Delhi, commented: "Air quality is one of the most important environmental challenges facing Delhi.  This project will allow us to definitively quantify the contributions of different sources to fine particles in Delhi's air - a key step to solving this problem.”

Experts will measure airborne particulate matter and analyse how the pollution is being generated.  Results from this work will feed into other research projects in a wider NERC programme and be used to help efficiently reduce pollution levels and improve population health.

Professor William Bloss, Head of the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham said: “Some 46 million people live in and around Delhi and extremely high particulate matter levels are responsible for damaging citizens’ health and the environment, leaving many people unable to work, which has significant economic implications for the region.

“As a global ‘civic’ university, the University of Birmingham looks to enrich the life of both our home city and others globally. This partnership in Delhi chimes with Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s Smart Cities Mission to make India’s cities citizen-friendly and sustainable.” 

Professor Bloss added that many Asian countries, including India, were undergoing rapid industrial development and urbanisation, leading to sharp increases in population exposure to poor air quality in cities – mainly fine and ultrafine particles.

“We’ve designed the project to better understand the sources of the most dangerous air pollutants in Delhi,” said Professor Bloss.  “It partners leading researchers from India and the UK and will allow us to assess the likely effectiveness of changes in behaviour – for example odd/even number plate traffic bans – to improve air quality.”

The project runs for four years and will involve a series of field studies and follow-on analyses to determine the sources and processes responsible for airborne particulate matter in Delhi, linking with other projects funded in parallel to develop mitigation options.

Work at Birmingham has already discovered a sharp reduction in visibility caused by fireworks events.

Scientists found that visibility was further decreased when the relative humidity was high. The research showed that events such as Diwali celebrations and Guy Fawkes’ Night affected short-term air quality and lead to significant reductions in visibility.

Dr Francis Pope’s research used data taken over 13 years between 2000 and 2012 from 34 meteorological stations throughout the UK the scientists noted an average 25% reduction in visibility caused by atmospheric particulate matter from fireworks and bonfires.

ENDS

For more information or interviews , please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham on +44 (0) 121 414 8254 or  +44 (0)782 783 2312. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

Notes to Editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Delhi’s air quality is notoriously bad: After the recent Diwali celebrations, levels of PM2.5 (fine particles in the air) reached over 750 micrograms per cubic meter – which may be compared with levels in Birmingham of 10 – 20, and WHO guideline average limits of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.  The associated human health, wellbeing and amenity impacts are severe, with air pollution linked to 1 in 10 of the city’s deaths (Nature, 2016). 
  • The ASAP-Delhi project will involve field measurements in Delhi, including collection of airborne particulate matter, and its physical and chemical analysis through a range of online and offline techniques; these data will be used to directly quantify the specific natural and anthropogenic sources responsible for PM in Delhi. 
  • NERC is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Its work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. It co-ordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. It receives around £330m of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
  • MRC invests in research on behalf of the UK tax payer. Scientists apply to MRC for funding for their research and applications are reviewed by panels of independent experts. Its work ranges from laboratory research to research with people, such as clinical trials and population studies. Research is carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of dedicated establishments across the UK and Africa.