Air Pollution: Tackle the right way

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” – Ancient proverb

Air pollution is contamination of indoor or outdoor environment by any physical, chemical or biologic agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

The usual culprits for air pollution are Industries emitting toxic waste, forest fires and motor vehicle emissions. In India burning fuel and biomass for the purpose of cooking contributes to major part of indoor air pollution.

The common pollutants in air are carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides, Sulphur dioxide and particulate matter.

“Particulate matter” is a term used for the mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air. Particle pollution includes PM 10 (inhalable particles of diameter 10 micrometers or smaller), PM 2.5 (inhalable particles with diameter 2.5 or smaller). PM 2.5 particles can lodge deep in the lungs and lead to short term and long term respiratory problems.

SMOG refers to mixture of emissions under particular climatic conditions. Ozone a colorless, odorless gas forms a protective layer in earth’s upper atmosphere. But when present near the ground, it forms smog and causes health hazards.

“Air Quality Index” is a way of describing outdoor air pollution levels in a clear and simple way.

Harmful effects of air pollution on health

Air pollution causes increase in respiratory problems and contributes to exacerbations of conditions like Asthma, COPD. Environmental pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular problems and stroke It also increases the risk of Lung Cancer. These affects are more pronounced in infants, Children, elderly, people suffering with chronic health conditions and urban poor and homeless people.

What can we learn from the experience of Delhi’s scenario?

It doesn’t take much for health emergencies to happen due to catastrophic levels of pollutants in the air, if we, the people, the government don’t take environmental pollution seriously. Bad practice of burning of agricultural waste in the neighboring states of Delhi is attributed to the worsening of the problem along with other usual sources like Road dust, vehicle emissions and Industrial wastes.

Today as people of Delhi are breathing air polluted with alarming levels pollutants, let’s look at the measures citizens can take to protect themselves from the polluted air and bad health consequences of pollutants.

Supreme Court rightly placed a ban on fire crackers this Diwali, to reduce the pollutant burden on citizens of Delhi.

When we talk about health hazards, we should also take into account the stress and anguish faced by citizens, more so if they or their loved ones are already dealing with health ailments.

What can you do to protect your health if you are living in a city with significant environmental pollution?

  • If you have Asthma or COPD, talk to your doctor and Have an action plan for Asthma and COPD exacerbations.
  • If you are an Asthmatic, Carry your rescue inhaler with you. Do not miss your maintenance medications.
  • Regular deep breathing exercises in fresh air can increase the lung capacity.
  • Plant more trees, have the plants recommended by NASA that are known to decrease indoor air pollution at home.
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity on the days that pollution is high.

Some measures you can take to prevent worsening of environmental pollution

  • For short distances avoid vehicle usage and walk
  • Choose public transport over private vehicles
  • Encourage and engage in car pooling
  • Get pollution certificate for your vehicle.
  • You can save fuel by keeping the automobile fuel filters clean
  • Keep up with the maintenance of your vehicle because well maintained vehicle uses 9% less fuel and emits less toxic gases.
  • If you are stopping beyond one minute, it is more fuel efficient to restart the car.
  • Avoid smoking to protect yourself and people around you from the double burden
  • When outdoor air pollution is more than indoor air pollution, keep the windows closed and limit outside air entering inside

Role of masks

The role of masks is debatable at this time, with no clear proven benefit from wearing a mask. The most sophisticated masks can filter some pollutants but they may not be able to protect small particulate matter that is most damaging to health. Given how severe the air pollution is at present in Delhi, the mask may help to some extent.

Which mask?

Surgical masks are a definite No, and if you prefer to wear a mask, it is better to go for N-95 or N-99 mask. Mask with adjustable ear strings and nose clip offer better fit.

Role of air filters for home

While air cleaning devices may help to control the levels of airborne allergens, particles or in some cases, gaseous pollutants in a home, they may not decrease adverse health effects from indoor air pollutants.

Driving tips

To avoid accidents, maintain a safe distance between vehicles when visibility is less due to smog. Drive at a lower speed than the usual in smog; think that the Speed limits are lowered by 10 km/hr.

These actions by the Government can be helpful

“Odd Even scheme” for the vehicles may be implemented for other cities too.  Analysis of the benefits with measurable components will be beneficial. No unauthorized construction work should be allowed. Taking steps to avoid burning of agricultural wastes will cut down hazardous particles in the air. Long term control of air pollution is beyond the control of individuals and requires major actions from both state governments and central government.

Long term measures

Plant more trees : Political parties should come together instead of blaming each other for the current situation, formulate policies to control air pollution, come up with stringent rules for industrial setups, enforce disposal of agricultural waste in a nature friendly manner. 

Devise health policies and action plans to protect children, pregnant women, elderly and people with chronic health conditions.


– Dr. Lavanya AribandiChief Medical Officer, eKincare

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