The air quality in Delhi, the capital of India, according to a WHO survey of 1600 world cities, is the worst of any major city in the world. Two other cities in India have worse air quality than Delhi: Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, and Raipur in Chhattisgarh.
Air pollution in India is estimated to kill 1.5 million people every year; it is the fifth largest killer in India. India has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases and asthma, according to the WHO. In Delhi, poor quality air damages irreversibly the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children.
In November 2017, in an event known as the Great smog of Delhi, the air pollution spiked far beyond acceptable levels. Levels of PM2.5 and PM 10 particulate matter hit 999 micrograms per cubic meter, while the safe limits for those pollutants are 60 and 100 respectively.
The effects of air pollution on respiratory health is widely known but its impact on other major organs of the body is not known much. Air pollution can cause short-term as well as long-term impact on the overall health. Some of the harmful effects of air pollution on humans include:
Respiratory disorders: As the pollutants enter the body through the airways, symptoms of respiratory diseases have resulted first. It can lead to irritation of the airways causing cough, throat irritation, changes in the voice, etc. It can worsen the symptoms of wheezing, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, and other respiratory conditions in people already suffering from the condition. In the long run, air pollution can increase the risk of pneumonia, impaired lung development in kids, and even lung cancer.
Eye problems: Chronic exposure to air pollutants can increase the risk of retinopathy and ocular problems such as dry eyes, eye pain, and changes in the vision. It can also lead to irritation of the eyes and in rare cases, can also lead to blindness.
Skin problems: Skin is the first line of defense against any foreign particle and the same is the case when it comes to dealing with air pollutants. These pollutants are absorbed by the skin, which leads to skin irritation, redness of the skin, hives, and allergy. The long-term exposure can cause acne, skin pigmentation, dark spots, and premature skin aging.
Cardiovascular problems: Exposure to air pollutants can increase blood pressure, which is a risk factor of heart disease. It can also lead to swelling of the right and left ventricles, which can impact the functioning of the heart. Other common effects on cardiovascular health include increased heart rate and inflammatory markers, high risk of atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, and cardiac failure.
Immune system: Poor air quality can cause serious complications in the immune system such as an abnormal increase in the serum levels of the immunoglobulin (Ig); IgA, IgM, and other inflammatory markers. Exposure to these immunotoxins can predispose you to various health complications including skin diseases, immune dysfunction, respiratory problems, and heart diseases.
Neurological complications: The toxic substances in air pollution can have damaging effects on the nervous system which include anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity, and neurological impairment in kids.
Reproductive problems: In pregnant women, exposure to air pollution can up the risk of low birth weight babies and preterm birth. If exposed for a long time, it can predispose the kid to respiratory complications and increase the risk of asthma in the fetus.
How can we reduce the harmful effects of air pollution?
Here are a few simple tips to lower the impact of air pollution on overall health.
-Stay indoors, whenever possible, to limit the exposure to outdoor pollution.
-Keep your door and windows closed to prevent polluted air from entering your house.
-Use a face mask or respirators to breathe cleaner air, when outdoors.
-Opt public transport or carpooling instead of private vehicles to reduce traffic and pollution.
-Avoid areas which are highly congested to lower the risk of pollution.
What causes this pollution mainly
On average, across the urban airshed of the Greater Delhi, to the annual average PM2.5 concentrations
- Vehicle exhaust is responsible for up to 30%
- Biomass burning (including seasonal open fires, cooking, and heating) is responsible for up to 20%
- Industries are responsible for up to 20%
- Soil and road dust is responsible for up to 15%
- Diesel generators are responsible for up to 15%
- Open waste burning is responsible for up to 15%
- Power plants are responsible for up to 5%
- Outside the urban airshed is responsible for up to 20%