New Delhi Air is ten times worse the Beijing and United has cancelled flights

Citing toxic smog that one official said has turned India’s capital city into a “gas chamber,” United Airlines has canceled flights to New Delhi until the air gets better.

New Delhi’s air quality is consistently ranked among the world’s worst. But a perfect storm of problems is exacerbating the problem to potentially deadly levels. Farmers who have recently harvested crops in neighboring states are illegally burning their fields, sending smoke into the air. Construction projects and pollution from vehicles in a city that lacks adequate public transportation are making things worse.

This week, the smog was 10 times worse than reigning pollution champion Beijing, where air-quality problems have reached Olympic proportions. Some parts of New Delhi have pollution 40 times the World Health Organization-recommended safe level.

People huddled indoors with expensive air purifiers, indoor plants and closed windows.

But doctors say it won’t be enough to prevent some deaths in the city of 20 million people. Children are the most vulnerable.

The air is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes per day or over 2 packs a day.

The air quality index – on which anything over 100 is considered unhealthy – hit the severe level of 451 – and in parts of the city some monitors even recorded levels off the scale – over 999.

On an annual average there are cities in Iran and India that are worse than Delhi.

Key trends from 2008-2013:

* Global urban air pollution levels increased by 8%, despite improvements in some regions.
* In general, urban air pollution levels were lowest in high-income countries, with lower levels most prevalent in Europe, the Americas, and the Western Pacific Region. The highest urban air pollution levels were experienced in low-and middle-income countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean and South-East Asia Regions, with annual mean levels often exceeding 5-10 times WHO limits, followed by low-income cities in the Western Pacific Region.