Controlling air pollution is an urgent global concern

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Air pollution has become a much-discussed topic these days. Lot is being written about and spoken about the rising pollution levels in the country and its impact on health. Air pollution has been recognized as a critical risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in adults, accounting for 24% of all deaths due to heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 29% because of lung cancer.

New data from WHO has shown that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants reiterating the need for urgent action to check the dangerously high levels of pollution.

What should be of great concern to us all is that 14 cities in India, along with our national capital Delhi, are among the 20 most polluted cities in the world with regard to PM2.5 levels in 2016. For PM10 levels also, 13 Indian cities are included among the 20 most-polluted cities of the world in 2016.

The other major findings include:

Globally, around 7 million deaths occur annually due to exposure to ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution. South-East Asia Region accounts for 2.4 million of these 7 million premature deaths
As per WHO data, more than 40% of people globally still lack access to clean cooking fuels and technologies in their homes, the main source of household air pollution.
About 4.2 million deaths occurred due to ambient air pollution alone in 2016. About 1.3 million of these deaths were reported from SEAR.
Household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies resulted in around 3.8 million deaths in 2016. Of these, 1.5 million deaths occurred in SEAR.
More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
The highest ambient air pollution levels are in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and in South-East Asia, with annual mean levels often exceeding more than 5 times WHO limits, followed by low and middle-income cities in Africa and the Western Pacific.
Africa and some of the Western Pacific region lack air pollution data. Europe has the highest number of places reporting data.
Ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific.
“Every cloud has a silver lining”. The report acknowledges the positive progress in the efforts to reduce air pollution from particulate matter. Specifically, the report makes note of India’s Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana Scheme, which has provided some 37 million women living below the poverty line with free LPG connections to support them to switch to clean household energy use in the last two years. The target is to reach 80 million households by 2020.

These findings re-emphasize the need for urgent action to address this public health problem.

What is important here is to understand that the government does not alone bear the responsibility to prevent and control pollution. We all have a responsibility to protect our environment.

Much of existing pollution is man-made, so we also must contribute and actively participate in the efforts to control pollution.

(Source: WHO)

Dr KK Aggarwal

Padma Shri Awardee

Vice President CMAAO

Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications

President Heart Care Foundation of India

Immediate Past National President IMA

Air pollution can increase the chances of bronchiolitis in children

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Elevated levels of PM 2.5 can lead to reduced immunity

New Delhi, 16thApril 2018: Exposure to tiny air pollution particles even for a brief period can lead to acute lower respiratory infection (ALRI) in young children, as per a recent study. Elevated levels of PM2.5- pollution-causing particles, about 3% of the diameter of human hair, can affect newborns, toddlers, and adults alike. The most common ALRI in children is Bronchiolitis.

Bronchiolitis is a condition in which small breathing tubes in the lungs called bronchioles become infected and clogged with mucus. Air pollution can make the human body more susceptible to infection or impair its ability to fight off infectious agents.

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr K K Aggarwal, President HCFI, and Immediate Past President Indian Medical Association, said, “Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus known as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), spread through tiny droplets of liquid from the coughs or sneezes of someone who’s infected. Bronchioles control airflow in the lungs. In case of an infection or damage, they can swell or become clogged blocking the flow of oxygen. Though it primarily affects children, adults may also develop this condition. There is no need for any specific medication and the infection usually clears up within two weeks. Most children can be cared for at home in the same way that a cold is treated.”

For the first few days, the symptoms resemble that of a common cold and include runny and stuffy nose, cough, and slight fever. This is followed by a week or more of difficulty in breathing or wheezing. Many infants may develop an ear infection.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Group Editor of IJCP, said, “There are no vaccines for the most common causes of bronchiolitis (RSV and rhinovirus). However, it is recommended to give all children older than 6 months an annual flu shot. Infants at a high risk of the RSV infection, such as those born very prematurely or with a heart-lung condition or a depressed immune system, may be given the medication palivizumab to decrease the likelihood of RSV infections.”

Some HCFI tips.

Limit contact with people who have a fever or cold. If your child is a newborn, especially a premature newborn, avoid exposure to people with colds in the first two months of life.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that people frequently touch, such as toys and doorknobs. This is especially important if a family member is sick.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue while coughing or sneezing.

Use your own drinking glass. Don’t share glasses with others, especially if someone in your family is ill.

Frequently wash your own hands and those of your child. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy for yourself and your child when you’re away from home.

Respiratory infections are significantly less common in breast-fed babies.

Is Yagna the answer to rising air pollution levels?

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Burning wood in excess can contribute to air pollution

It can also be detrimental to those with respiratory and cardiovascular ailments

New Delhi, 20th March 2018: A religious group in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh that goes by the name Shri Ayuchandi Mahayagya Samiti has begun a “mahayagya”, or Hindu ritual of burning wood from the mango tree. They believe this will help in reducing air pollution and plan to burn 50,000 kg of wood over nine days during Navratri.

The smoke from wood burning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM).

Speaking about this, Padma Shri Awardee Dr KK Aggarwal, President Heart Care Foundation of India (HCFI) and Immediate Past National President Indian Medical Association (IMA), said, “Poor air quality has been linked to various diseases and may trigger acute asthma, heart attack. Air pollution has become a major public health problem, which is still persisting, despite several efforts to curb pollution. It has been postulated that our ancient Vedic rituals like yagna and havans purify our environment. Only one stiudy so far has published in the Indian Journal of Air Pollution Control in 2007, that open air Yagna when performed at a large scale lowered gaseous pollutants like SO2 and NO2 to some extent. Their levels decreased on the day of the Yagna as well as days after it. In this study, mango wood was taken as the basic Samidha for the experiment as it has negligible CO emissions.” But no confirmation has been recorded in future studies.

But it is equally true that the particles in wood smoke can reduce visibility (haze) and create environmental and aesthetic damage in communities and scenic areas. Clearance for any such massive yagna should have a clearance from central pollution board and the people living in the vicinity of the yagnas.

Adding further, Dr Aggarwal, who is also the Vice President, CMAAO, said, “Particulate matter does not stay airborne forever. It not only settles as ‘dust’ in our homes, but also on rivers and streams causing pollution. It falls on crops and works its way into the soil in which they are grown. Just because wood comes from a plant does not make its particulates safe when it lands on organic and other farm soil and crops.”

Although there is a provision for environmental protection in our Constitution and steps have been taken by the government to address this issue, there is still a long way to go before the country can breathe clean air.

The need of the hour is dedicated and sustained efforts which involve the public as well.

Even the NGT in one of the judgment had said that the government should find alternatives for wood used in cremation grounds.

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