How Safe Was Running At The Kolkata Full Marathon? We Find Out

We covered the entire route of the marathon with a pollution monitor. The levels were six times the safe limit.

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On 4 January 2017, over 10,000 runners took to the streets of the City of Joy for the Kolkata Full Marathon. The marathon is the largest in eastern india and the marathoners had blocked the date on their calenders for a very long time. However, given the dismal pollution levels in Kolkata, how safe was it for so many people to be running in these conditions?

Accompanied by Ajay Mittal of ‘Kolkata Clean Air’– a citizen’s group campaigning for clean air – we went around the marathon route with an Air Quality Monitor to take stock of the pollution levels.

At the starting point, at 5.30am, right as the 42 km full marathoners sped off from the line, pollution levels read “Very Poor”, which is above 300 on the Air Quality Index. Levels of particulate pollutant PM 2.5 and PM 10 were more than six and two times the ‘safe limit’ respectively. Both these pollutants are 30 to 100 times smaller than the width of hair. While running, the capacity of the lungs expand which means that runners are taking in more pollutants. Due to their small size, these pollutants get into the blood stream unobstructed and affect the lungs, heart and brain. Some studies say that running in these conditions is akin to depositing two spoons of ash in the lungs.

Pollution levels tend to be higher when there is no sunlight as pollutants find it difficult to disperse without heat. We thus waited for the sun to rise. However, even at 6.15am as the 21-km marathoners started their run, the air quality monitor continued to show “very poor” levels. Levels of particulate matter also continued to be equally bad.

We covered the entire route and the results were the same throughout.

Should a marathon be allowed in such dismal pollution conditions? Let us know in the comments below.

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