Air pollution adversely impacts us all - from 'Womb to Tomb'

Reepa Agrawal
Air pollution adversely impacts us all - from 'Womb to Tomb' 06 Dec, 2018

The rising air pollution is a burning problem globally. Let us be clear that air outside (ambient) and inside (household) both have become highly toxic. Be it industrial waste, automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, fossil fuel burning at home; everything is contributing to this rise in air pollutants.

We breathe this highly polluted air carrying harmful particles less than 2.5 and even 1 micron (PM 2.5, PM 1) which crosses all our natural barriers and gets deposited in the alveoli of our lungs. Imagine children who by physiology breathe faster, absorb much more of this particulate matter studded air and are being harmed constantly. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 93 % of children are exposed to toxic levels of air pollutants which include the 630 million of children under 5 years of age, and 1.8 billion of children under 15 years. In high income countries, 52% of children under 5 are exposed to levels above WHO air quality guidelines as compared to an alarming 98 % of children under 5 in low and middle income group countries. Air pollution has been declared as the biggest environmental risk in Europe; and United States of America is also fighting against toxic air pollutants. In Asia, Indian capital city of Delhi is most part of the year covered by thick lethal smog. China has acknowledged the issue very well and is now showing reduction in air pollution levels by afforestation with its campaign for 'blue skies'.

The damage can be caused during antenatal period leading to premature births, stillbirths, and low birth weight babies and also throughout life. It adversely affects the neurodevelopment of children and also leads to a spectrum of respiratory problems, triggers childhood cancers which can hamper their growth and lifestyles. About 600,000 deaths were attributed to the joint effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016 in children under 15 years of age. Also 50% of acute lower respiratory infections in children under 5 years of age in low- and middle-income countries are due to air pollution.

This bad air is causing debilitating chronic respiratory diseases in adults especially the elderly population. Air pollution has been identified as the ‘fifth risk factor’ for non communicable diseases by WHO recently. Stringent air quality monitoring is very important and the magnitude of the problem can be determined if done strictly by all countries. Pragmatic urban planning comprising of optimum distance of schools, residential areas from industries will help reduce exposure of children to toxic pollutants.

This is mainly a man-made problem which is going to reach disaster levels if not kept under check. Few measures like proper industrial waste management, decreased dependence on fossil fuels and use of renewable sources of energy will go a long way. Each one of us should understand how our activities adversely affects the environment and one must try to live in harmony with the nature or else face its wrath!

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