New Delhi: Did you know, India is the world’s second most polluted country? Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) shortens an average Indian’s life expectancy by 5.3 years, relative to what it would be if the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic meter was met, states the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI) produced by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). While the national capital New Delhi is infamous for its toxic air pollution, other Indian cities including Mumbai, Kolkata, parts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana are also engulfed by toxic air, with air quality index (AQI) oscillating between ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’ categories.
The AQLI also states that if India was to reduce particulate pollution to meet the WHO guideline, residents in Delhi would gain 11.9 years of life expectancy. In North 24 Parganas—the country’s second most populous district—residents would gain 5.6 years of life expectancy.
But, the fact is, we are breathing toxic air. It’s the air pollution season in India, which has come with varying health impacts – ranging from cold and cough to severe respiratory disorders. Dr Sachin D, Consultant – Interventional Pulmonology, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Fortis Hospital shared that the hospitals are seeing a spike in the number of patients and emergency visits. He said,
At least 15-30 per cent of the surge in patients can be attributed to air pollution.
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Impacts Of Air Pollution
In an interview with Team Banega Swasth India, Dr Sachin explained what particulate matter is to understand the multi-faceted impact of air pollution. He said, “Particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) is the fine fraction of carbon particles suspended in the air. It has got chemicals and metals which we inhale. PM2.5 particles enters into the bloodstream and cause oxidative stress at various levels of the body including heart, brain and pancreas.”
Short-term effects of air pollution:
- Burning of eyes
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Chest congestion
Dr Sachin adds,
Some people may feel claustrophobic or tightness of their chests when they go in polluted air. We are more worried about the long-term impacts. Air pollution significantly impacts people with underlying asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and chronic Bronchitis. These patients can have frequent attacks, and persistent cough and we are seeing this. Earlier, in case of a viral fever, people would develop sore throat lasting for five to seven days. However, now, the cough lasts for over a month.
The expert clarified that air pollution not only affects the lungs but also has extra-pulmonary effects. Fine particles called particulate matter (PM2.5) enter the circulatory system and cause:
- Heart attack
- Loss of memory
- Parkinson’s disease
- Birth-related issues
- Variety of cancers
Further talking about the impact of air pollution on pregnant women and newborns, Dr Sachin said,
Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy can cause low birth weight babies, preterm births, infertility and abortions. Air pollution affects the growth and development of the lungs of newborn babies and it has been proven by a study that evaluated the lung capacity of children growing in a high AQI area versus those growing in a low AQI area. The study found low lung capacity among children living in highly polluted environments. Hence, take care of newborns and children during pollution time.
Indoor Air Pollution
Busting the common myth that indoor plants help purify the air, Dr Sachin said that indoor plants do not help in reducing air pollution. In fact, indoor plants contribute to the amount of pollen and fungal spores in the environment inside the home.
It is very dangerous for asthmatics and people with allergies.
Dr Sachin said that indoor air pollution is mainly caused by biomass burning and smoking inside the house. Additionally, disinfecting agents used to clean floors and other surfaces have hazardous gases, adding to the pollution.
To reduce indoor air pollution:
- Keep your house dust-free
- Keep doors and windows closed
- Use an air conditioner or air purifier
- Use an air purifier with adsorbing and absorbing properties that is it should have HEPA filter and carbon filter to take care of PM2.5 and toxic gases produced indoors
How To Protect Yourself From Air Pollution
- Avoid going outdoors for the next two to three months. People with chronic lung and cardiac diseases should try and stay indoors.
- Wear an N-95 mask when stepping out. But remember, a mask alone won’t protect you from the hazardous effects of air pollution.
- Close all doors and windows when using an air purifier.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.