NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Doctors in India have called for the postponement of Delhi's half marathon set for Oct. 21, as air pollution has worsened sooner in the year than usual, posing a risk to runners.
The air quality index, which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter, has hit 331 in parts of Delhi on a scale where anything above 100 is considered unhealthy by the Central Pollution Control Board.
Officials said the burning of some crop stubble in the northern breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana drove up pollution levels, even though the practice was banned and federal authorities have threatened to punish offenders.
The Heart Care Foundation of India said runners were at risk of lung infections and other complications from the deteriorating air.
"This is also the time when pollution levels are likely to be extremely high, with poor air quality," it said in a statement, warning that this could aggravate asthma or other lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
More than 32,000 people competed in the race last year, some wearing masks. A high level of PM 2.5, or tiny particulate matter that can reach deep into the lungs, can increase blood pressure and even cause a stroke, the foundation added.
Another pollutant, PM10, was a direct threat to runners, as it is inhaled in large amounts when people breathe through the mouth while running, although it is filtered out through the nose when breathing normally.
"In light of this, the Heart Care Foundation of India has called for the immediate postponement of the Delhi Half Marathon to a later date, when the air quality is better," it said.
Vehicle exhaust emissions in a city with limited public transport, emissions from thermal power stations and swirling construction dust are New Delhi's main pollutants.
City authorities have launched a drive to seize and scrap ageing diesel vehicles.
"We are starting a fresh drive to seize diesel vehicles that are over 15 years and parked in public spaces," said the city's transport minister, Kailash Gahlot.
In winter, crop burning in the farm states around the landlocked capital city worsens the situation.
The chief minister of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, told media he saw smoke plumes over fields during a helicopter flight last week, adding that the state was doing its best to stop the practice.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)