Sunday, November 6, 2016

Prolonged exposure of pollution can cut life expectancy, affect heart, lead to cancer

The worsening levels of air quality in Delhi is bound to bring its own share of problems, putting residents at the risk of developing heart-related issues and cancer.

A week after Diwali night, the air quality has been deteriorating each passing day with a thick blanket of dense smog enveloping the city and nearby areas. Residents have been rushing to stores selling air masks and air purifiers are back in demand this season. A protest against the “ineffectiveness” of the government in tackling the rising pollution levels was also organised at Jantar Mantar on Sunday. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal cited farmers burning crop stubble in neighbouring states such as Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as the reason for Delhi turning into a “gas chamber”.

But how does air pollution effect your health? Inhaling pollutants cause inflammation in the lungs and directly effects the heart and cardiovascular system. Particulate matter, when inhaled, pass into the blood stream and cause damage to the heart and blood vessels. Researchers at the American College of Cardiology noticed that ultrafine air pollutants decrease blood flow to the heart and its pumping function. Prolonged exposure to pollution leads to acute respiratory infections and chronic bronchitis. It could also aggravate pre-existing heart and lung disease. Asthma and reduced life expectancy are also linked to short-term exposure.

A study conducted by Green Peace earlier this year showed that there was a 13 per cent increase in PM 2.5 levels in India in comparison to a 17 per cent reduction in China from 2010 to 2015. Images taken by a NASA satellite showed that India’s air quality has steadily worsened during the five-year period, while China’s slight improved. The study also found that the average PM 2.5 levels in a year was 128 for New Delhi, much higher than China’s capital Beijing (81).

A recent set of satellite imagery from NASA suggests that Kejriwal may not be far off the mark in laying the blame at Haryana’s doorstep. A sharp increase in the number of crop fires in states neighbouring Delhi was noticed. Farmers burn crop stubble, instead of manually removing them, in preparation for the next harvest. The phenomenon is, however, not new as countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia suffer due to the effects of Southeast Asian haze. Like in India, farmers in Indonesia resort to slash-and-burn technique to clear large patches of land. This involves cutting down the vegetation and setting fire to the remaining stubble. Smoke emanating from these fires produce a thick smog, effecting its neighbouring countries. Though the practice of slash-and-burn is banned in Asia, authorities in Indonesia are accused of turning a blind eye.

Asked about crop burning, Kerjiwal on Sunday said that he was not pointing fingers at anyone, but merely stating that everyone has to sit together and find a solution. Union Minister for Environment Anil Madhav Dave invited neighbouring state chief ministers and environment ministers for discussing the issue.

Meanwhile, an emergency Cabinet meeting was called by Kejriwal on Sunday to tackle the rising air pollution levels on war footing. Kejriwal listed a slew of measures to tackle the problem. Ban on construction activity, shutting down the Badarpur power plant, ban on burning of leaves, and sprinkling and vacuuming of roads were among those announced. Earlier this week, Deputy CM Manish Sisodia said air purifiers will be installed at Anand Vihar, ITO, Sarai Kalen Khan, Kashmere Gate and IIT (Delhi) or AIIMS.

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