Nov. 7 (UPI) -- The notoriously poor air quality in New Delhi, India, was rated hazardous on Tuesday -- as pollution levels exceeded permissible government standards.
A toxic haze descended Tuesday on the National Capital Region, an area of 45 million people that includes New Delhi.
Chief minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city's air to a "gas chamber" -- and The Indian Medical Association said New Delhi is currently in a "public health emergency state."
Elementary schools were closed and the lack of visibility affected plane and train travel. Schools will remain closed if air quality fails to improve, Delhi education chief Manish Sisodia said.
Levels of the most dangerous air particles, known as PM 2.5, reached more than 400 micrograms per cubic meter, the Central Pollution Control Board said. It later surpassed the 700 level, data indicated. The control board regards a figure above 250 micrograms per cubic meter as a "severe" health hazard.
Prolonged exposure to high concentrations of PM 2.5 is equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day, experts say.
The Environmental Pollution and Control Authority ordered a temporary quadrupling of parking fees in the New Delhi area to reduce automobile exhaust, regarded as a major contributor to the problem. Bus companies were asked to increase the number of public buses on the streets.
The National Green Tribunal, a government court system, was critical of Indian agencies' failure to reduce the problem and called for helicopters to sprinkle water in the air.
Auto exhaust, smokestack emissions and the burning of garbage in the city are blamed for the recurring problem, which has intensified since last month. The CPBC said it did not expect the situation to change in the next two days.