We purify the water we drink, we clean the clothes we wear, we sieve the flour we mix; but what do we do when the air we breathe is polluted?
Air pollution is one such form that refers to the contamination of the air, irrespective of indoors or outside. It is undoubtedly a global public health problem differing in the rates of affects.
Victims of air pollution in New Delhi, India
Recent reports based on data from state and central pollution control boards, said that as many as 47 million children live in areas with pollutant PM10, or particulate matter in the air with diameter less than 10 microns, exceeding the safe limits.
India’s late environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave, made headlines last year for denying there was proof that air pollution was singularly responsible for death in India. Dave conceded that air pollution “could be one of the triggering factors for respiratory associated ailments and diseases,” but he blamed the negative health effects on other issues: poor diet, occupational hazards, socioeconomic status and genetics.
The new environment minister, Harsh Vardhan, agreed with the consequences and said that “to attribute any death to a cause like pollution, that may be too much.”
But there are numerous studies linking air pollution to morbidity around world.
“There is a huge amount of data linking outdoor and indoor air pollution with adverse health effects, including acute and chronic disease, exacerbations of chronic disease and death,” said Dr. Barry Levy, adjunct professor of public health at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Karti Sandilya, one of the authors on the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, told, “people in poorer countries ― like construction workers in New Delhi ― are more exposed to air pollution and less able to protect themselves from exposure, as they walk, bike or ride the bus to workplaces that may also be polluted.”
North India’s topography makes its pollution problem worse. The region acts as a basin, trapping pollution from crop burning outside the city and mixing it with industrial pollution from within city limits.
India withholds, premature deaths from air pollution which have stabilized in China, in rival with India in terms of pollution problems and population.
Study reports, In India at least, the total air pollution death rate has declined since 1990 even as the outdoor death rate went up in recent years ― due largely to a decrease in the number of deaths attributable to indoor air pollution. Scientists don’t completely understand how ambient and household air pollution deaths interact, and there’s some overlap between them, which is why the sum of ambient and household air pollution deaths exceeds total air pollution deaths.
It could be stated that developing countries bear the brunt of the world’s pollution problem.
Sadly, “when it comes to the number of deaths from air pollution, India is No. 1,” Landrigan told.
Air pollution ― global hazards
Air pollution was responsible for 6.1 million deaths and accounted for nearly 12 percent of the global death toll in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“Air pollution is one of the great killers of our age,” Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai wrote in an article published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Air pollution from Chinese consumption was linked to an estimated 3,100 premature deaths in the U.S and Western Europe in 2007, according to an article published last year in the journal Nature. At the same time, nearly 110,000 premature deaths in China were linked to pollution prompted by consumption in the U.S. and Western European.
“Air pollution can travel long distances and cause health impacts in downwind regions,” Qiang Zhang, co-author of the article and a researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, explained to Popular Science.
Afghanistan and several African countries have higher ambient air pollution much higher death rates apparently because of the extremely dusty conditions in those countries, combined with other pollution sources, like vehicle emissions and crop burning.
Hazards of this evil
The tiniest airborne particles in soot—whether they’re in the form of gas or solids—are especially dangerous because they can penetrate the lungs and bloodstream and worsen bronchitis, lead to heart attacks, and even hasten death.
Smog can irritate the eyes and throat and also damage the lungs—especially of people who work or exercise outside, children, and senior citizens. It’s even worse for people who have asthma or allergies—these extra pollutants only intensify their symptoms and can trigger asthma attacks.
Hazardous air pollutants are either deadly or have severe health risks even in small amounts. Almost 200 are regulated by law; some of the most common are mercury, lead, dioxins, and benzene. Benzene, classified as a carcinogen by the EPA, can cause eye, skin, and lung irritation in the short term and blood disorders in the long term. Dioxins, more typically found in food but also present in small amounts in the air, can affect the liver in the short term and harm the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, as well as reproductive functions. Lead in large amounts can damage children’s brains and kidneys, and even in small amounts it can affect children’s IQ and ability to learn. Mercury affects the central nervous system.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are toxic components of traffic exhaust and wildfire smoke. In large amounts, they have been linked to eye and lung irritation, blood and liver issues, and even cancer. In one recent study, the children of mothers who’d had higher PAH exposure during pregnancy had slower brain processing speeds and worse symptoms of ADHD.
The Clean Air Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by regulating the emissions of these harmful air pollutants. The NRDC has been a leading authority on this law since it was established in 1970.
But the raw thing is that air pollution and related health problems can travel, no country can solve its air pollution problem alone.