- Delhi-NCR have been recording severe and very poor levels of pollution
- COVID-19 can rise because of high ambient pollution: Dr Mehta, Apollo
- Experts recommend following COVID precautionary measures to fight pollution
New Delhi: Air quality in Delhi and neighbouring areas like Gurugram (erstwhile Gurgaon), Faridabad, Noida and Ghaziabad is inching closer to emergency levels. In all five regions, the Air Quality Index (AQI) – index value that states the current pollution status of the city – is in a severe and very poor category. As on November 14 (4 PM), Delhi has AQI of 414 with PM2.5 (tiny particles or droplets in the air that are less than 2.5 microns in size) being major pollutants. Similarly, neighbouring Noida reported AQI of 425, Faridabad (378) and Ghaziabad and Gurugram recorded AQI at 456 and 358 respectively. Winters accompanied by stubble burning and festivals like Diwali that involve the bursting of firecrackers and add to air pollution are tough for Delhi-NCR every year. The national capital and neigbouring cities started to report a spike in levels of air pollution even before Diwali festivities began with AQI fluctuating between ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’. Talking about the influence of sudden spike in air pollution on her health, 25-year-old Shreya from Ghaziabad said,
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic I am staying indoors which means I am not breathing polluted air directly. However, on Monday (November 9), when thick smog engulfed our region, I suddenly got cold and cough and started feeling a little feverish. The following day, my health deteriorated and I was throwing cough all day only. The pollution levels here are so high that I am experiencing a burning sensation in the eyes too. The doctor has confirmed that it is because of air pollution.
A latest survey by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, covering over 35,000 respondents across Delhi, Gurugram, Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad found that 73 per cent of the respondents from Delhi-NCR now have one or more individuals suffering from pollution-related ailments like cough, cold, sore throat, headache, burning eyes, and difficulty in breathing. The findings of the survey were released on November 11.
The survey asked the citizens, “With Delhi-NCR air quality having deteriorated by 1,000 per cent in the last six weeks and AQI now in the 500-700 range, what are you and your family experiencing?” To this, LocalCircles received 5,965 responses from Delhi, 1,544 from Gurugram, 1,514 from Noida, 1,357 from Ghaziabad and 1,441 replies from Faridabad.
85 per cent of respondents from Delhi, 62 per cent from Gurugram, 68 per cent from Noida, 43 per cent from Ghaziabad, and 66 per cent from Faridabad said they have one or more member at home suffering from pollution related health issues like cold, cough, burning eyes, headache among other ailments.
Almost a month ago, LocalCircles did a similar survey and received feedback from over 15,000 individuals. Findings of a survey published on October 15 stated that 65 per cent of the respondents from Delhi have one or more individuals who have started experiencing pollution related ailments. Now, for Delhi, this has risen to 85 per cent respondents.
Talking to NDTV about the rise in air pollution levels specifically in the national capital Delhi, Dr Ravindra M Mehta, Senior Consultant and HOD – Pulmonology & Interventional Pulmonology, Apollo Specialty Hospitals, Jayanagar, said,
When the pandemic began, it brought in the need for a lockdown, which remarkably dropped pollution levels, and that combined with social distancing led to the reduction in many pollution-related issues. But sooner or later we had to unlock and we did it in various stages with which we started to notice things returning to normal. Pollution related to traffic has come up, manufacturing will resume soon. In cities like Delhi, crop burning has started all over again. What we are not seeing is the rise of pollution which comes from airline travel given that it is still not close to where it was, earlier. Delhi is going through this particularly because the pollution part of it is related to the temperature, and the weather is getting colder, so clearly, the pollutants tend to hang around more which has been seen year after year. The rise of the COVID-19 infections is also attributed partly to the increase in pollutants level in Delhi.
Often stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana is blamed for a rise in air pollution in Delhi but other factors like vehicular pollution, waste burning, among others also contribute to pollution. Dr Rahul Bahot, Consultant Respiratory Medicine, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre believes vehicular exhaust contributes to air pollution significantly. He said,
We can expect the rising number of respiratory tract ailments. During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in case the particulate matter less than 10 microns in size is not controlled, the aerosols would work as virus carriers or host in the rapid spread of the pandemic.
Further elaborating on the side-effect of breathing in polluted air and the disease it can cause, Dr Mehta said,
Among non-respiratory ailments, hypertension and non-communicable diseases are directly related to increasing pollutants. Other respiratory ailments one might incur are allergies, sinusitis, bronchitis, persistent cough, high incidents of tuberculosis, worsening of asthma, and lung diseases.
Increase In Pollution Dampens Festive Spirit
Due to an increase in air pollution levels and its plausible impact on COVID-19, people plan to not socialise on Diwali, states the finding of LocalCircles. In the same survey, the second question tried to understand people’s social plans for Diwali. The questions asked, “With Delhi-NCR AQI now in the 500-700 range and COVID-19 daily cases load near 7,000, how do you plan to socialise this Diwali?”
5,908 responses from Delhi, 1,364 from Gurugram, 1,449 from Noida, 2,650 from Ghaziabad, and 1,318 from Faridabad were received. Of which, only 22 per cent of respondents from Delhi, 20 per cent from Gurugram, 25 per cent from Noida, 22 per cent from Ghaziabad, and 50 per cent from Faridabad said ‘will socialise’ this Diwali.
The aggregate views of citizens suggest that only 25 per cent of the residents of Delhi-NCR will socialise this Diwali given the double whammy of air pollution and COVID-19 pandemic.
To reduce air pollution, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed a total ban on the sale and use of firecrackers in Delhi and adjoining areas starting midnight of November 9 to November 30. If anyone in Delhi is caught bursting firecrackers in this duration, they can be sentenced to 1.5-6 years in jail, state Environment Minister Gopal Rai said.
As per the findings of another survey released by LocalCircles on October 26, 79 per cent Delhi-NCR residents are in the favour of banning the sale of firecrackers this festive season.
Precautions To Protect Oneself From Air Pollution And COVID-19 Pandemic
Dr Mehta very categorically said that COVID-19 can rise because of high ambient pollution and citizens need to follow COVID-19 precautions now more than ever. Talking about the role of face masks – one of the COVID precautionary measures – on air pollution, Dr Mehta said,
Masks do have some sort of impact on the inhalation of particulate matter. It is possible to partly mitigate the impact of rising pollution due to unlocking, by a uniformly implemented aggressive mask policy. But, this is a challenge because most people are not using masks appropriately.
In addition to this, Dr Bahot suggested the basic preventive measures including the use of air purifiers to clean indoor air, public transport to reduce vehicular emissions, curb the use of wood burning stoves, candles and incense inside the home and avoid waste burning. He recommended a healthy diet as well and said,
Diet rich in vitamin D and E protect from aggravation of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from air pollution. Intake of choline is found to reduce airway inflammation. The choline rich foods are non-vegetarian foods like meat, liver, eggs, poultry, fish and shellfish. The vegetarian sources of choline include peanuts, and cauliflower. N-acetyl cysteine is shown to crab hyper responsiveness of airways to diesel smoke. Vitamin C, curcumin, choline and omega-3 fatty acids offer some degree of protection from air pollution.
Dr Mehta also advised to not confuse pollution disorders like allergies and sneezing with COVID-19 and asked to continue vigilance as the COVID-19 damp will unfold with unlock increasing city-on-city.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current 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 highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. 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 become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.