Hindu devotees worship the Sun god amid the foam covering the polluted Yamuna River during the Hindu religious festival of Chhath Puja on a smoky morning in New Delhi, India, November 20, 2023. REUTERS

MUMBAI — India’s capital reopened schools and some construction sites on Monday amid signs of easing air pollution that authorities have deemed dangerous, although toxic foam has stained stretches of the Yamuna River that runs through New Delhi.

The world’s most polluted capital resumed its annual battle against pollution this month, despite government promises to improve. Monday’s air quality index (AQI) of 336 was down from Thursday’s level of 509 but was still “dangerous”, Swiss group IQAir said.

Children wore masks on the way to school after a nearly two-week closure to protect them from pollution, while Hindu devotees celebrating a festival marched through the smoky morning for a dip in the river, undeterred by the white foam. , which authorities described as toxic.

The foam arises from deposited sludge and untreated waste, a former Delhi government adviser said, adding that the city’s water board was spraying a food-grade chemical to control it.

“Foam is not lethal in nature,” said the former employee, Ankit Srivastava, an environmental engineer. “You won’t die from consuming it, but you will get sick.”

On Sunday, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai told reporters that construction work on public infrastructure projects could resume, albeit with restrictions on activities that spread dust into the air.

These remarks followed Saturday’s revocation of emergency measures ordered on Nov. 5 to prevent deterioration in air quality, including a ban on all construction activities, but which were eased after index levels improved. .

Delhi’s air pollution worsens in winter, when wind speeds decrease and cold air traps pollutants expelled by vehicles, industry and farmers burning agricultural waste in neighboring states to prepare for new crops.

Traffic emissions were a major contributor on Monday to fine particles of size 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) suspended in the air, a real-time study by experts collaborating with the Delhi government showed.

Vehicles contributed 51% of these particles, considered especially dangerous to humans, along a major road, up from levels of 27% and 32% in the past two days, the study added.

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