How to fight off Urban Air Pollution & Stay Healthy

Every year during the month of November, when the mercury goes down, everyone is India suddenly becomes quite concerned about air Pollution levels. The only question everyone asks is, how to fight off Urban Air Pollution & Stay Healthy.

Air pollution is the biggest concern most of us are facing in cities world over. Our children are most susceptible to it. UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake explains. “Air pollution is a major contributing factor in the deaths of around 600,000 children under five every year – and it threatens the lives and futures of millions more every day. Pollutants don’t only harm children’s developing lungs – they can actually cross the blood-brain barrier and permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures. No society can afford to ignore air pollution.”

Just around Diwali festivals, governments agencies requests all the Delhiites or Mumbaites or Puneites to stop bursting crackers.

However, this year has been quite exceptional as the air quality or air pollution levels have been alarming for weeks now.

Why should we worry about Air Pollution

As per WHO (World Health Organisation), Air Pollution is the world’s biggest environmental risk.

Air pollution is primarily the introduction of particulate matter, biological molecules, or other harmful substances into Earth’s atmosphere.

Air Pollution causes several diseases, allergies, deaths, damage to other living organisms such as animals and food crops.

Our daily intake of air is 13.9 Kg which is seven times the amount of food intake (2 Kg). I am sure with this you can understand, what will happen with polluted air going into your system.

India is known to have one of the most polluted air quality in the world. Our capital New Delhi is also known as its Asthma Capital. India also boasts of having half of the top 20 most polluted sities in the world.

Indoor Air Quality is also one of the leading causes of worry

It is not that only the outdoor air is polluted, in fact indoor air pollution is also a major source of toxins. Our children take 26000 breaths each day (more than adults) and are much more susceptible to harmful effects of airborne pollution because:

  • Immune system and organs are still not matured of kids
  • Children breath more through mouth
  • Children breathe at lower level owing to less height
  • Air pollution to kids can lead to acute Poisoning, respiratory diseases, allergies, cancer, developmental disturbances, etc.
  • Diseases pass around quickly in classrooms

Air Quality Index: Measure of Air Pollution or Air Quality levels

To measure and indicate how healthy is the air quality or if the Air Pollution levels are in control, the world over government agencies use Air Quality Index (AQI). AQI is a number that communicates a common man, how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecasted to become.

Indian Air Quality Index

The increase in AQI results in a widespread increase in adverse health effects. India uses a comprehensive formula to measure the air quality with eight parameters under National Air Monitoring Program (NAMP) covering 240 cities with more than 342 monitoring stations.

Indian Air Quality Index has six AQI categories:

  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Moderately polluted
  • Poor
  • Very Poor
  • Severe

Indian Air Quality Index considers eight pollutants

  • PM10 (Particulate Matter 10)
  • PM2.5 (Particulate Matter 2.5)
  • NO2 (Nitrogen Di Oxide)
  • SO2 (Sulpher Di Oxide)
  • CO (Carbon Mono Oxide)
  • O3 (Ozone)
  • NH3 (Amonia)
  • Pb (Lead)

AQI Category, Pollutants and Health Breakpoints

AQI Category (Range)PM10 (24hr)PM2.5 (24hr)NO2 (24hr)O3 (8hr)CO (8hr)SO2 (24hr)NH3 (24hr)Pb (24hr)
Good (0-50)0-500-300-400-500-1.00-400-2000-0.5
Satisfactory (51-100)51-10031-6041-8051-1001.1-2.041-80201-4000.5-1.0
Moderately polluted (101-200)101-25061-9081-180101-1682.1-1081-380401-8001.1-2.0
Poor (201-300)251-35091-120181-280169-20810-17381-800801-12002.1-3.0
Very poor (301-400)351-430121-250281-400209-74817-34801-16001200-18003.1-3.5
Severe (401-500)430+250+400+748+34+1600+1800+3.5+

Under this Index Government agencies have also indicated the likely health impacts from the identified eight pollutants as below:

AQIAssociated Health Impacts
Good (0-50)Minimal impact
Satisfactory (51-100)May cause minor breathing discomfort to sensitive people.
Moderately polluted (101–200)May cause breathing discomfort to people with lung disease such as asthma, and pain to people with heart disease, children and older adults.
Poor (201-300)May cause breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure, and pain to people with heart disease.
Very poor (301-400)May cause respiratory illness to the people on long exposure. The effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases.
Severe (401-500)May cause respiratory impact even on healthy people, and severe health effects on people with lung/heart disease. The health effects may be experienced even during light physical activity.

Causes of Increase in Air Pollution or Air Quality Index

First of all, you need to understand the causes of increase in AQI:

  • AQI can increase due to an increase in emission of pollutants
    • During peak traffic
    • Forest fire
    • Fire in the farms to burn the leftovers
    • Fire in the dump yards
    • Construction activity
  • AQI can also increase due to change in weather
    • Lack of dilution of air pollutants
    • Stagnant air
    • Temperature inversion
    • Low wind speeds restricting pollution to remain in a local area
    • Chemical reactions between air contaminants
    • Hazy conditions

So what should you do when AQI is in danger Zone

Well there is hardly much you can do to the ambient, or outdoor air quality is you are facing a situation, however below is what you must certainly do:

1 Stay Indoors

Ensure that person in the sensitive age groups such as elderly, children, and those with respiratory or cardiovascular problems to avoid outdoor activities. Please advise them to stay indoors.

2 Helps to reduce Air Pollution

Use public transportation on days when there are dangerous levels of air pollutions. Your ownership os this matter will go a long way to providing a pollution free atmosphere to our loved ones.

3 Use masks

You can use masks to ward off particulate matter entering your lungs.

4 Grow Your Own Fresh Air Indoors with Houseplants

Houseplants have been used by many of us for their decorative purposes, but do you know some of them have been cleaning the air inside your home and have been keeping you healthy. In several studies benefits of houseplants for human beings have been found:

  • As per a report published in 2009 by the American Society of Horticultural Science in The Science Daily houseplants have been found effective in reducing indoor ozone ( the main component of air pollution) concentrations.
  • Houseplants regulate indoor humidity levels and eliminate asthma triggers like allergens by providing a clean and pure supply of oxygen, vital for every organ of your body.
  • As per NASA study of 1980’s, houseplants purify air and are great at keeping respiratory conditions in check.

Sources:

  1. National Air Quality Index (AQI) launched by the Environment Minister AQI is a huge initiative under ‘Swachh Bharat.’
  2. Half of world’s 20 most polluted cities in India, Delhi in 11th position
  3. Air pollution causes more than one-third of strokes, lifestyle diseases in India
  4. Two billion children exposed to high levels of air pollution

 

Anupama Singh

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