How Much Air Pollution Does Diwali Create?

News reports suggests people are now more aware that fireworks increase Diwali air pollution in Delhi, and there were reports of reduced sales of fireworks. But with 22 million people, Diwali must go on. So that got me thinking: just how much air pollution does Diwali create in India? We tracked the data the published PM2.5 data for 2021 Diwali, and share the results of our own tests as well.

Testing Diwali Air Pollution in Delhi

To get to the bottom of it, we at Smart Air India placed a trusty Dylos DC1700 particle counter on the porch to track air pollution before, during, and after Diwali. This particle monitor is able to count the number of tiny dangerous PM2.5 in the air.

Diwali firecracker air pollution PM2.5

PM2.5 is of particular interest because these tiny particles are small enough to enter the bloodstream and enter our organs causing heart disease, cancer, and other health problems. The diagram below shows how small these pollution particles are.

PM2.5 India

Delhi Air Pollution Increased Signifcantly During Diwali

First, let’s take a look at the PM2.5 data published by the US Embassy in Delhi during Diwali in 2021. PM2.5 spiked during Diwali by over 100% compared to the days prior. Delhi PM2.5 levels were already hovering around 25 times higher than the WHO recommend limit during the 3 days prior. But once Diwali, levels got to over 60 times the WHO recommended limit!

This data is not all that different than data we measured ourselves during Diwali in 2015. I tracked (outdoor) Diwali air pollution before, during, and after the festival in Green Park, New Delhi. Here’s what I found:

Diwali Pollution Graph 2015

The left axis is PM2.5 (micrograms) and the colors represent the AQI. We also plotted the WHO limit, Beijing’s 2015 average, and Delhi’s average to put things in perspective.

At the time of the tests, Delhi’s winter air averaged 220 micrograms of PM2.5, but during the peak Diwali fireworks on November 11, numbers spiked to almost 700 micrograms! That’s a heart-stopping 46 times the WHO 24-hour limit of 15 micrograms.

By comparison, Beijing’s air is often criticized, but Delhi peaked at about 7 times the Beijing average.

The tests results should not be too surprising. We already have data that fireworks signifcantly increase PM2.5 air pollution. At Smart Air, we previously tested air quality during Chinese New Year, which also had signifcant increases in air pollution due to fireworks.

I always look forward to Diwali, but I’ll be packing an air pollution mask!

Mask fit test India N95

Nerd note: I converted the Dylos 0.5 and 2.5 micron counts to approximate PM2.5 micrograms using the semi-official formula.

How I Protect Myself During Diwali and Delhi’s Winters

Despite the harms of PM2.5, studies have found that wearing masks prevents physiological harm to the body. Also using air purifiers in your home have been shown to have positive effects on blood pressure, inflammation, and immune response.

Smart Air is a certified B Corp committed to combating the myths big companies use to inflate the price of clean air.

Smart Air provides empirically backed, no-nonsense purifiers and masks, that remove the same particles as the big companies for a fraction of the cost. Only corporations benefit when clean air is a luxury.

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