The air we breathe, a vital necessity for life, has undergone a detrimental transformation due to human activities. Particulate matter (PM), comprising various sizes such as PM10, PM2.5, and even smaller particles, along with a plethora of gases and toxins, has infused the atmosphere. As we inhale polluted air, gases infiltrate the deepest parts of our lungs, while larger particulate matter gets trapped in the upper respiratory tract. However, smaller particles, notably PM2.5, penetrate deep into the lungs, accumulating over time due to continuous inhalation. Particulate matter isn’t merely inert; it carries a toxic payload. These particles harbour an array of chemicals and acids that deposit in the lungs, inflicting irreversible physical and chemical damage. Worse still, these substances enter the bloodstream, affecting every organ in the body, from the brain to the extremities. Shockingly, exposure to these pollutants begins even before birth, as pregnant women inhale polluted air, allowing toxins to traverse the placenta and impact the developing foetus.
Health Implications From Pre-birth To Adulthood
Pollution can exert multifaceted effects on human health, manifesting across various stages of life. The influence of air pollution on foetal development commences during pregnancy, with exposure during different trimesters being associated with congenital defects and growth complications. Infants exposed to highly polluted air, registering PM2.5 levels at 200 or more, face health ramifications analogous to the inhalation of ten cigarettes daily. This early exposure precipitates immediate respiratory challenges and neurodevelopmental repercussions, leading to childhood afflictions like cancers, asthma, obesity, and neurological impairments, impeding IQ development.
Furthermore, the ramifications of air pollution transcend into adulthood, precipitating afflictions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, and tuberculosis. Research studies have established correlations between air pollution and severe health conditions like heart attacks, strokes, reproductive issues, breast cancer, and increased vulnerability to severe instances of COVID-19. These findings underscore the pervasive and far-reaching impact of air pollution on human health across various life stages.
Global Impact And Economic Toll
The World Health Organization’s sobering estimation of more than seven million premature deaths annually attributed to air pollution underscores the magnitude of the global health emergency. In India, citizens lose an average of five to six years of life due to air pollution, with significantly higher losses, up to nine to ten years, observed in North India. Beyond the profound impact on human health, air pollution exacts a substantial economic toll, accounting for a considerable share of approximately seven to eight percent of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This economic burden primarily stems from various sources, including the use of fossil fuels, unregulated construction activities, indiscriminate waste and crop burning practices, as well as emissions from industrial operations.
Strategies To Combat Air Pollution
Tackling air pollution requires a comprehensive strategy that involves both prevention and remediation efforts. Unlike water pollution, the purification of contaminated air poses significant challenges, emphasising the critical need to prioritise prevention measures. These preventive actions encompass the prohibition of waste and crop burning, the transition towards cleaner energy alternatives such as renewable sources, and the implementation of stringent emission controls within industrial and construction sectors. Moreover, on a global scale, the decisive phase-out of fossil fuels stands as a crucial step in addressing not only air pollution but also combating the broader challenge of climate change.
Roles And Urgency For Collective Action
While the government has implemented concentrated initiatives to mitigate pollution sources, such as the initiation of a solarisation program targeting 30% of energy derived from solar sources by 2030, visible improvements in air quality, particularly in regions like Delhi, remain scarce. This deficiency in progress predominantly stems from the insufficient engagement of individuals in minimising pollution. Urgent attention is required for individual contributions in reducing pollution; even a modest 10% reduction in personal emissions can wield a significant collective impact on pollution levels.
Central to this issue is the imperative need for community involvement, advocating for measures like efficient waste segregation and the reduction of unnecessary vehicular usage to effectively combat air pollution. Initiatives such as “Doctors for Clean Air” play a vital role in fostering heightened community awareness. By actively educating and mobilising communities for action, these endeavours aim to stimulate a collective conscience towards the gravity of the situation.
Emphasising community-driven solutions becomes paramount in this context. Collective agitation and collaborative efforts are pivotal to incite both personal and governmental actions aimed at curbing air pollution. Without active participation and a shared commitment to environmental well-being, the realisation of significant improvements in air quality may remain elusive.
The profound impact of particulate matter on human health, spanning from prenatal stages to adulthood, underscores the pressing need for swift and collective action. Effectively mitigating air pollution necessitates a collaborative and cohesive effort that engages governments, communities, and individuals alike. Through the rigorous implementation of preventive measures, a deliberate shift towards cleaner energy sources, and the cultivation of widespread awareness coupled with active community participation, we chart a course towards a healthier future, free from the shackles of pollution, ensuring the well-being of forthcoming generations.
(This article has been authored by Dr. Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Lung Transplant, Medanta, Gurugram.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the authors.
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.