New Delhi’s half-marathon race yesterday used ultra-high frequency (UHF) radio waves to clear the air for the runners, an experimental technique the organizers hope could improve the city’s notorious air quality.
India is home to the world’s 14 most-polluted cities. Last year, the smoke from burning crop waste and thousands of firecrackers contributed to a toxic smog that blanketed the capital, New Delhi, and a large part of northern India.
New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the city would face the same fate this year if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party did not do more to combat pollution.
After medical experts urged the canceling of last year’s race, marathon organizers responded by bringing the race date forward to October, away from November’s Diwali festival when the firecrackers are set off.
They also tried to dampen down the dust that hangs over the city in winter, including reagents from the mining industry to treat roads, dropping water vapor along the course from a height of 6m.
The techniques also included using the UHF waves to dispel pollution from particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or smaller, known as PM2.5, whose small size allows it to lodge deep in the lungs, damaging the respiratory system.
“It was a great day with clear skies and no pollution-related incidents among our 35,000 runners,” Vivek Singh, a managing director of race promoter Procam International, told reporters.
He said the Delhi government, which last year resorted to shutting power stations and banning some cars from roads to clear the air, should look at using the UHF technology, manufactured by Bengaluru-based company Devic Earth, to mitigate pollution.
“We have shown that it works and made a point to tell the authorities,” he added.
Amateur runner Pranav Patil said the air appeared clearer than last year, when competitors complained of burning eyes and sore throats.
“Today was better. My friends and I were happy, we ran hard and enjoyed the run,” the 26-year-old said.
“I did doubt signing up, but it was just the usual morning haze, and didn’t feel hard to run in,” said Emily Jackson, a British carbon market analyst living in New Delhi who competed in the race for the first time. “I only saw one person with a mask.”
Others were more cautious.
“Pollution is always there in Delhi. I think everybody should wear a mask,” said Neeraj Chhibba, who jogged along in a mask.
Singh said the measures had reduced pollution by at least 30 percent during the race, although readings from air quality at monitoring stations near the route were still rated as “very unhealthy” under international standards.
The US embassy Web site showed that levels of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants reached 199 at race time — eight times the WHO’s safe maximum.
The women’s race was won by Ethiopian Tsehay Gemechu in a course-record time of 1:06:50, while teenage compatriot Andamalak Belihu finished first in the men’s race with a time of 59:18.
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