Soot turned the white handkerchief around Abhash Kumar Sharma’s face to black as the police officer tried to direct gridlocked traffic in the Indian city with the world’s dirtiest air.
It was all he had to ward off the pollution blamed for filling Kanpur’s hospital beds with growing numbers of chronic lung and cancer cases.
“It is the same story for everyone who spends such long hours out in this city,” said Sharma, who does not get a mask for his duties.
“The pollution gets into your eyes and it often stings.”
The city of three million people has been smarting since a World Health Organization (WHO) report last month put it at the head of 14 Indian cities in the world’s top 15 with the dirtiest air.
The pain has building up for much longer, but as the world marks Environment Day, the fallout has reached crisis point for many in Kanpur.
Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner with Greenpeace India, said “the models available to us make it certain that hundreds of thousands of people are dying in India each year because of air pollution”.
A senior doctor at the Murari Lal Chest Hospital, Anand Kumar, said the number of patients has jumped from about 40,000 in 2015 to 64,000 last year.