As air quality in cities declines, the incidence of strokes, heart diseases, lung cancers, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases increases. Right now, the air quality in major Indian cities continues to be ranging from severe to hazardous and this is likely to continue till end of December.
Major factors of pollution nowadays include automobile and industrial emissions, burning of crop stubble, cutting down of trees, low wind speed and so on. Also, Diwali just went by and left us with more pollutants.
According to a study conducted by Chest Research Foundation, Pune, the firecrackers during Diwali created further havoc. The study highlights the negative effects by mentioning that a single snake tablet can produce 64,500 µg/m3 of PM 2.5 within three minutes and a garland (ladi) of 1,000 crackers produces 38,540 µg/m3 of PM 2.5 within six minutes.
Experts are calling the situation a major public health emergency. Air pollution has become a major problem in India due to rapid industrial development and urbanisation. This has lead to sharp increase in exposure to poor air quality in cities. “The situation as it exists today is the worst that I have seen in my 35 years’ staying in the city of Delhi,” says Arvind Kumar, a lung surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Dr Randeep Guleria, director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), says, “Every year thousands die of pollution-related ailments in our cities during the winters when the air is extremely foul. Pollution is a silent killer; it does not directly kill anyone but aggravates existing diseases.”
What we need to do
Government’s initiatives like educating farmers to recycle stubble into fertilisers, procuring and using more mechanised road sweepers and water sprinklers can help in the long run. Besides, increasing the number of public buses, cleaning and building more footpaths, urging citizens to use public transport as well as enforcing appropriate guidelines for construction activities can help.
In our individual capacity, we can take small but effective steps to reduce air pollution and lead a healthy life. Dr Mukesh Goel, Sr Consultant, Cardiology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, has the following suggestions:
- We should refrain from morning walks or any other outdoor activity in the early hours.
- We should try putting a handkerchief over our mouth and nose to help filter gas and smoke. An anti-pollution mask of at least N95/99 grade of reputed brands like 3M, Honeywell, Dettol, Philips etc is a good option.
- Having air purifying plants inside our homes is also a great remedy. Plants like Aloe Vera, Areca Palm, Bamboo Palm, Ivy, and Spider Plant can be placed at home and office. Increasing green cover outside our homes will also help fight pollution.
- Using air purifier at home or office is the best way to reduce indoor air pollution by filtering the particulate matters and making fresh air available indoors.
- Make sure there is proper ventilation inside your home and recirculate the air by opening doors and windows in the evening.
- Put a chimney in the kitchen and an exhaust in the bathroom.
- Do not smoke inside the house or office.
- Maintaining a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, etc can also help. Research has shown that certain foods, which are rich in vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids, can help clean your system as these foods are antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory in nature.
- Taking steam with a few drops of eucalyptus oil every evening will help relax air passages and help our body remove harmful particulate substances.
- Eating jaggery (gur) can help flush out pollutants from the lungs. Drinking herbal tea like ginger and tulsi can also be beneficial.
Let’s be responsible
We should not leave an un-livable world for our future generations, says Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General, United Nations. He says, “We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.”