Air Pollution in Delhi – Can we do our share for cleaner air?

Like every parent, Mrs. & Mr. Gupta loved watching their 10 year old son Varun playing with other kids in the park, until one unfortunate evening that changed their life forever.

That evening after playing in the park for an hour, Varun had difficulty in breathing and came home to his mother with a pale face. Varun couldn’t stop coughing and his breath was labored, his young body suffering the strain of forcing oxygen into his lungs. Unable to understand the situation, the parents rushed their child to the nearest medical center where they were informed that he was having an acute Asthma attack.

This came as a rude shock to them as neither parent smoked and they lived in an upmarket Delhi colony, lush with greenery. They couldn’t understand how their son would be exposed to any harmful gases, which could bring about this illness.

What they didn’t know is that every year, millions of adults and children like Varun suffer from obstructive lung diseases, which nowadays are very common amongst the growing urban areas and a growing level of air pollution in Delhi. According to a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), ozone levels have shot up severely in Delhi with the gas causing serious health problems for asthmatics and those with respiratory illnesses in the city and adding up the level of air pollution in Delhi to a highly intoxicating one.

A few days back, driving through Lodi Road I chanced to look at the pollution meter. I was shocked at the increase in the suspended particle matter in the air. The readings were all above the prescribed standard. Now to any driver glancing at this meter the values don’t mean very much but they do cause a wrinkle of doubt in their minds. But the next time they open the paper and see Delhi’s dubious distinction in being the leading city in the world in terms of polluted air!

I am simplifying this but the cause for worry is not diminished. A quick look at any pollution meter or data collection site shows you alarming figures. That’s the reason healthy children like Varun develop breathing disorders. People use inhalers today almost as a fashion accessory; it is one of the most common over the counter sales in a pharmacy today. Children, young adults as well as the elderly are quickly and adversely affected and the problem has no short-term solution.

I can almost see a future in which anyone living in our cities will soon be wearing masks to breathe clean air. These masks will be attached to tanks in our cars and there will be refilling stations for oxygen, just like we have for fuel. This is not something out of a science fiction movie, but a very real scenario we face in the coming future.

Thus the time to act is now, leaving everything up to the government is not enough. We are citizens and I also urge you to be activists, else we will let this silent killer run rampant amongst us.

So lets quickly take a look at what is happening and what we need to do about it:

What’s actually poisoning Delhi’s Ozone layer and causing high level of Air Pollution in Delhi?

The main culprits are known to all of us – increased traffic, continuous construction and industrial activity in and around the city.

Road Dust – Road dust contributes to about 50% of the total Particulate Matter (PM), which has been found to be highest in Delhi among any other Indian city.

Road dust re-suspension is caused primarily because of undone pavements, roadside eateries and construction activity without pollution control measures. It is unnecessary to point out that Delhi suffers from all of these.

Industrial Contributors – Power plants within city boundary limits are the primary cause for industrial pollution contributing. They contribute up to 22% of the particle matter in Delhi

Vehicular Traffic– One of the biggest culprits in Delhi. A horrifying yet true fact — the city adds 1400 cars to its roads every day. Even worse, is the number of vehicles in Delhi that has jumped by a phenomenal 97% over the last decade?

So you must be asking what exactly the effect of this increased pollution?

Both ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal. Some of the common ailments that I am talking about include:

  • Short-term effects – irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and upper respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Short-term air pollution can also aggravate the medical conditions of individuals with emphysema.
  • Long-term health effects – chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease, and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver, or kidneys. Continual exposure to air pollution affects the lungs of growing children and may aggravate or complicate medical conditions in the elderly.
  • Other illnesses such headaches, nausea, and allergic reactions

Lets now take a look at what we can do as a country, a society and individuals to make a change:

State Government Level

  • Initiate smog-control programs
  • Put in place effective measure to fine polluters, be the commercial or individuals
  • Insist on fitting diesel trucks with diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) filters to reduce emissions
  • Encourage drivers to reduce engine idling
  • Provide alternates for the use of some for domestic fuels
  • Most importantly, encourage green travel, such as enhanced public transit and cycling paths
  • Greening of municipal fleets (using more efficient vehicles and cleaner fuels)

How can you make your share in ‘Solution to Pollution’?

  • Break the automobile addiction! Take public transport, even better, ride a cycle or walk. Imagine if each one of us leaves our car at home just once a week, the reduction in emissions will be substantial. Hollywood actress Stana Katic of ‘Castle’ fame started a global initiative called The Alternative Travel Project. The project encourages everyone, everywhere – to go car-free for just one day. The campaign has been extremely successful, causing people from around the globe to join the initiative.
  • Use public transit or join a carpool. Most people feel that carpooling doesn’t work due to change in peoples work timings, but it actually makes people work more effectively.
  • Combine errands to save gas and reduce exhaust. Parking and walking is easier on the air than sitting with your motor running at drive-through venues like restaurants or banks
  • Don’t leave your engine running in traffic! If every Delhite avoids idling for just five minutes every day, we could prevent more than a million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere.
  • Drive slowly on unpaved roads and other dirt surfaces so that your vehicle doesn’t kick up dust
  • Keep your vehicle engine in good condition with a regular maintenance and an annual emissions check
  • I really like the simple idea of planting a tree or garden at home. The planters around my house look so aesthetic plus they come with fresh air
  • I have also heard of people using water-based (latex) paint rather than the oil-based variety
  • Close paint cans tightly. Do you know that an open 4.5 litre can of paint emits up to a kilogram of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds which can be toxic) by the time all the paint has dried up
  • Regulate your heaters, keep your water heater at 50°C and turn of electricity where it is not being used.

From complicated to simple there are various solutions that are available to us. We have to think about our lives and those of our children. We are sprinting into the future without a thought of the impact that we have on our environment. It doesn’t take much to change the world, just the will to do something. So come and join the fight today and do your bit!

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Dr Arvind Kuamr

Comments for “Air Pollution in Delhi – Can we do our share for cleaner air?”

  1. Reply

    बिलकुल सत्य कहा है सर आपने ……….. प्रदुषण अगर इसी तरह बढ़ता रहा तो लोगो को कर में ओक्सीजन किट रखना पड सकता है और पेट्रोल पम्प की तरह ओक्सीजन पम्प से रिफिलिंग करवानी पड़ेगी ………………. सच …………. वर्तमान और भावी पीढ़ी के वरुणो को बचाना है तो पर्यावरण को अशुद्ध होने से रोकना होगा ………. व पर्यावरण को शुद्ध बनाने वाले साधनों को अपनाना होगा …………………..

    बलदेव ढाका,
  2. Pingback: Air Pollution in Delhi: Current Status and its Disastrous Effects on Health A Doctor’s Perspective |

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