"Delhi has turned into a gas chamber." So said the Indian capital's chief minister Friday as air pollution reached severe levels. Officials declared a public health emergency and distributed 5 million masks to students and parents at schools across the city in the midst of a public health emergency, reports the BBC. Fine particulate matter in the air, known as PM 2.5, was at least 400 micrograms per cubic meter at locations across the city, or 16 times the maximum level recommended by the World Health Organization, reports India Today. One area, Bawana, recorded 716 micrograms per cubic meter.
Schools are to be closed until early next week, all construction is at a standstill, and fireworks have been banned. And beginning Monday, there will be limits on driving, with odd or even license plate numbers taking to the road on a given day. But vehicle emissions, construction dust, and fireworks set off in celebration of Diwali are only part of the problem. India's air quality normally takes a dive in November and December as farmers burn tons of crop residue, sending carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide into the air, per the BBC. India Today reports there were almost 20,000 fires burning in the nearby state of Punjab on Wednesday alone. (Read more Delhi stories.)