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Clean air is a basic necessity for our health. However, a considerable number of people living in India and other countries suffer from exposure to many air pollutants that put our health at risk. Air pollution affects our health in different ways from simple to serious problems. Pollutants such as ozone irritate people’s breathing, increasing asthma and COPD symptoms and cause lung and heart diseases. Air pollution is a mixture of particulate matter (PM) and gases released into the atmosphere mainly by industries, motor vehicles, and thermoelectric power plants, as well as from biomass fuel burning. In autumn and winter months, large-scale crop residue burning in agriculture fields – a low-cost alternative to mechanical tilling, is a major source of smoke, smog, and particulate pollution. Crackers also add to the problem.

Children, the Elderly, and individuals with pre-existing chronic diseases like asthma, COPD, fibrosis, diabetes, and cardiac diseases are susceptible to the adverse effects of exposure to air pollutants. Besides gaseous pollutants, the atmosphere can also be polluted by particles. These particles (either in suspension, fluid, or in solid- state), have a divergent composition and size and are sometimes called aerosols. They are often cataloged as ‘floating dust’ but are best known as particulate matter (PM). This floating dust is most often categorized based on its aerodynamic diameter. The aerodynamic diameter of a dust particle is the diameter of a sphere-shaped particle that shows the same behavior in the atmosphere as a dust particle (which does not necessarily have a sphere shape). In the framework of air quality problems, particulate matter is the most important. Particulate matter such as PM10, PM2.5, PM1, and PM0.1 is defined as the fraction of particles with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than respectively 10, 2.5, 1, and 0.1 μm (for your information: 1 μm = 1 millionth of a meter or 1 thousandth of a millimeter). In comparison, the average diameter of a human hair equals 50-70 μm (see figure below). 

Cause:
WHO focuses on below health-related air pollutants, namely, particulate matter (PM), measured as particles with an  aerodynamic diameter lesser than 10 μm (PM10) and lesser than 2.5 μm (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone. Delhi and NCR have one of the worst levels of air quality which peaks every November during Deepawali since 1999 on both PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels. Household air pollution (HAP), also known as indoor air pollution (IAP), is a serious area of concern in rural spaces, a majority of this population continues to depend on traditional biomass for cooking and space heating and depend on kerosene or other liquid fuels for lighting, all of which are highly likely to lead to high levels of HAP. 

Facts

• 76% of Indians live in places that do not meet national air quality standards.
• One in eight deaths in India was attributable to air pollution in 2017.
• According to WHO, the most polluted country in the world is China with India being a close second.
• About half of these 1.24 million deaths are of people over the age of 70, making the elderly among the most vulnerable to air pollution, in addition to women, children, and low-income communities. • The average life expectancy of a child is reduced by at least 2.6 years.
• 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India, and almost 99% of Indians breathe air that is above the WHO’s defined safety limits.
• Greenpeace India, in a study, also revealed that air pollution in Delhi and other parts of Northern India is mainly caused due to industrial waste, vehicles emissions and seasonal agricultural waste burning.

Solutions

Countries around the world are tackling various forms of air pollution. For example, China is making strides in cleaning up smog-choked skies from years of rapid industrial expansion, partly by closing or canceling coal-fired power plants. In the U.S., California has been a leader in setting emissions standards aimed at improving air quality, especially in places like famously hazy Los Angeles. And a variety of efforts aim to bring cleaner cooking options to places where hazardous cookstoves are prevalent.
So, What can Citizens do?
• Reduce pollution from diesel transport
• Restrict the open burning of biomass and fossil fuels
• Ban open field burning of crops
• Limit driving by carpooling, using public transportation, biking and walking
• Keep your home as clean as you can from Mold, dust, and pet dander
• Stay up-to-date with your vaccinations. Get a flu shot each year, and if you’re 65 or older, get a pneumonia vaccination as well
• Use masks when going out
What can Government do?
• To control Industrial work causing pollution
• Convert all public transport into electric
• Control construction and demolition work in nearby areas
• Control stubble burning
• Control diesel generator sets use
• Ban the burning of leaves/crackers
• Dust control and Vacuum cleaning, water sprinkling of roads.

By: Rahul Pradhan.        Email: rahul@rahulpradhan.in        Contact: +91-9931190266

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