India has faced significant challenges with dense smog, impacting vibrant urban centers characterized by high levels of vehicle emissions and industrial pollutants. Agricultural areas have been affected by smog due to the common practice of field burning to prepare land for the upcoming crop. Rapid industrial and urban growth in India has increased the health risks associated with pollution.
According to The Lancet Commission, 43% of deaths from lung cancer are connected to pollution, and over 90% of these cases are influenced by environmental factors. Individuals with existing lung diseases are especially at increased risk.
The Impact of Tiny Air Pollutants
PM2.5 particles, comprising sulfate, nitrates, and black carbon, can adversely affect cognitive and immune functions. People with respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, along with the elderly and children, are more susceptible to these harmful effects. Elevated PM2.5 concentrations consistently correlate with heart issues. Individuals residing close to bustling roads, highways, or construction areas are at heightened risk. Those with conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, or advanced age face increased vulnerability to elevated PM2.5 levels.
This highlights the severe health consequences of PM2.5 pollution, especially for people with pre-existing health issues and those living in regions with high PM2.5 levels. The increasing pollution poses a substantial risk, potentially decreasing life expectancy by 3.2 to 11.2 years.
India’s High PM2.5 Levels: A Looming Cardiovascular Concern
PM2.5 acts like diabetes in the body, increasing the risk of heart problems through atherosclerosis and inflammation. The recommended safe level by the World Health Organization is 10 µg/m³, but in parts of India, especially the north, it can go up to 250 µg/m³. The north of India has some of the highest PM2.5 levels globally, more than the southern regions.
Combatting PM2.5 Pollution: Personal and Societal Strategies for Cleaner Living
PM2.5 particles pose significant health risks, impacting cardiovascular health and overall well-being. Addressing these concerns involves a combination of personal, societal, and governmental measures:
● Using Face Coverings and Air Cleaning Devices: Wearing face masks outdoors can minimize exposure to harmful particles, while home air purifiers aid in maintaining cleaner indoor air.
● Avoiding Congested Areas: Minimizing time spent in busy zones, especially during peak periods, reduces direct contact with vehicle emissions, thereby lowering personal exposure to pollution.
● Managing Indoor Air Quality: By shutting windows and utilizing air purifiers, one can prevent outdoor pollutants from entering indoor spaces.
● Also, adopting a healthier lifestyle through regular exercise and a balanced diet can improve heart health, reducing associated risks from pollution exposure.
Community and Governmental Actions:
● Shift towards Cleaner Transportation: Encouraging the use of electric vehicles and public transport reduces overall pollution levels.
● Reforming Traffic Regulations: Implementing rules that control and decrease vehicle emissions contributes to lower pollution.
● Urban Planning Adjustments: Building cities with more green spaces, improved waste management, and reduced industrial emissions can help mitigate environmental harm.
● Maintaining Safe Distances from Pollutants: Proper zoning to ensure safe gaps between residential areas and major pollution sources, like factories, is crucial for protecting public health.
● Regulatory Alterations: Enforcing strict regulations against crop burning and offering incentives for adopting eco-friendly methods of agricultural waste disposal helps reduce air pollution.
● Public Awareness Programs: Educating people about the harmful effects of pollution, including smoking habits and other contributors, encourages changes in behavior and a shared commitment to a cleaner environment.
Dr. Sreekanth B. Shetty, Senior Consultant and Head – Interventional Cardiology, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru