Can Air Pollution Cause Health Problems?
Can Air Pollution Cause Health Problems?
According to the Greenpeace Southeast Asia report, 1,60,000 people in the 5 most populous cities of the world died prematurely. The main reason behind it is the presence of Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM2.5) in large quantities in the air, which directly reaches the lungs and affects them. In India, Delhi is unquestionably the most polluted city and as per the reports, the highest number of deaths, 54,000 deaths, were recorded in the city as a result of air pollution. Tokyo, the capital city of Japan ranks second in the list of highest deaths due to air pollution, with 40,000 untimely deaths. Tokyo ranking second is quite surprising as the Olympic games were going to be held there last year and efforts are being made by the government for the past five years to control the pollution levels. Other countries that follow are Shanghai in China, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Mexico City in Mexico.
Another surprising thing is that all these figures from the year 2020, when the whole world was struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and all the social and economic activities were restricted due to the lockdown imposed by many countries. Last year, for quite a long time, the levels of air pollution in all the regions of the world were almost negligible and many articles related to a pollution-free society were written.
Last year, Greenpeace SouthEast Asia and the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air jointly published a report, which stated that according to an assessment in 2018, air pollution due to the burning of fossil fuels cost $8 billion to the world’s economy every day, i.e. $290 billion every year, which is 3.3% of the world’s economy.
Furthermore, according to this report, 4.5 million people die prematurely due to air pollution, of which 18 lakh people are from china and 10 lakh are from India. Earlier, the World Health Organization also stated that 42 lakh people die prematurely due to air pollution in the world. Another study suggested that the amount of polluted air that people living in Delhi inhale is equal to the smoke produced by 10 cigarettes. The PM2.5 pollution alone costs the world to lose $2 billion, while nitrogen dioxide costs $350 billion and ozone costs $380 billion. Of the total deaths worldwide, 29% of them are associated with air pollution.
According to the recently published report titled State of Global Air 2020, more than 5 lakh newborns around the world die due to air pollution, and children who survive these extreme levels of air pollution suffer from many health conditions in their childhood. Air pollution also has a rather harmful effect on the fetus in the womb, resulting in premature labor or lower weight of the newborn, and both these reasons are a leading cause of infant deaths. Most such deaths occur in developing countries. According to the report published by the Health Effects Institute, the effect of air pollution on the elderly has been studied in detail, but relatively little is known about its effects on infants.
Indoor pollution is the cause of two-thirds of the total deaths of newborns from air pollution. What is to be noted here is that in all the developing countries including India, neither have any studies related to the air pollution inside the house nor are there any guidelines to deal with it. The main cause of air pollution inside the houses in the kitchen located within the four walls, where food is cooked using biofuels like wood, cow dung, etc.
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According to the State of Global Air 2020, the total untimely deaths of 67 lakh people in the world have occurred due to air pollution in the year 2019, and air pollution ranks fourth among the major causes of death in the world. Most numbers of deaths of newborn babies due to air pollution are in Africa and Asia. According to Bet Ritz, a scientist at the University of California, the problem of indoor air pollution takes a heavy toll on houses in India, South-East Asia, and Africa. The same report also stated that air pollution also affects the brain and other organs in children.
Apparently, according to a detailed study conducted in Great Britain, air pollution can cause many problems in the eyes and may even cause complete blindness. Apart from this, according to a paper published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, air pollution can also cause Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which can later lead to blindness. Studies conducted in the past few years suggest that it also increases the eye problems of cataracts and glaucoma and also affects the retina. Professor Paul Foster of the University College of London informs that the blood flow in our eyes is significantly higher as compared to other parts of the body, due to which the effect of pollutants present in the blood affects our eyes more.
To date, the primary cause of AMD was considered to be genetics and poor health. But now, air pollution has also been added to the list of its causes. According to scientists, it is difficult to control the genetic causes, but controlling air pollution in the surroundings, can provide great relief to the condition. As per a study, an increase in PM2.5 concentrations by one microgram per cubic meter can result in up to an 8% increase in AMD cases. Even if PM10 and nitrogen dioxide increase modestly, a large amount of the population's retina is affected. Around 200 million people are affected by ADM worldwide and most of them are people over the age of 50 years. The study was conducted on 1,16,000 people of the age group 40-69 years. Earlier in 2019, Taiwanese scientists had made a similar conclusion while studying the effects of air pollution from traffic.
We always discuss how we will leave the world for the coming generations. But if this condition of air pollution remains unchanged, there will be probably no future generations at all. Also, for those who remain alive by then, their brains and lungs may not function normally.
Inputs by: Mr. Mahindra Pandey
(Mahindra Pandey has been a scientist with the Central Pollution Control Board and has worked extensively on river pollution and waste management.)