A man operates an 'anti-smog gun' in Delhi, a machine that sprays atomised water into the air, 23 February 2018. Photo: Saumya Khandelwal / Reuters

By Siobhan Heanue
23 Feb 2018

(ABC News) – Before heading off on a foreign assignment, journalists take a course about working in hostile environments — learning about things like trauma first aid, weapons effects, and how to survive earthquakes, floods, and civil unrest.

It's all pretty useful training. And heading off to live and work in India, I was more than aware of the everyday dangers I'd be facing.

For instance, India has one of the world's highest road tolls and Delhi is one of the worst places in the world for sexual violence against women.

But I had no idea the most hostile thing I would encounter upon moving to India would be the air I'd have to breathe every day.

The reality of breathing in Delhi

Within a week of moving to Delhi, the first signs of trouble started to show.

I would wake up in the middle of the night with my throat on fire. I'd lay awake for hours unable to soothe the pain.

My partner suffered worse — he developed a chest infection and a disgusting cough.

I'd read plenty of news stories about air pollution in Delhi; that it's been getting worse for the past three years, that it peaks in winter, that sometimes schools are shut and that breathing the air is the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

Air that takes years off your life

Until you're breathing the air, until you're tasting those chemicals on your tongue, until your eyes start to water uncontrollably when you go outside, it's difficult to really understand how it's going to affect your life.

So let me explain exactly what people in Delhi are sucking into their lungs.

The big problem is a miniscule airborne particle — so tiny you could fit 30 across the width of a human hair.

Being so small, they can travel deep into a human lung, and from there into the bloodstream.

There the toxins can cause respiratory illness, heart attacks and cancer.

I used to check Twitter on my phone first thing every morning.

Now the first thing I check is one of the many air quality apps which send real-time data to your phone about how polluted the air is. [more]

India's air pollution crisis risks becoming humanitarian catastrophe

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