New Delhi, or let’s say the pollution capital of the world according to the World Health Organisation survey 2014, was reported to have 6 times more PM 2.5s- the most dangerous small particulates, than the recommended maximum.
Deteriorating air quality has become a serious matter of concern for all of us. Medical experts fear that a failure to combat the hazardous air quality could be detrimental to public health in the long run. Air pollution is the worst in urban areas of developing countries, particularly metro cities. One of the underlying factors behind this is that metro cities are densely populated. This means -more cars, industries and household chemicals as compared to smaller cities or rural areas.
There are number of factors which contaminate the air we breathe. These contaminants can be divided into two categories – primary pollutants (directly emitted into the air from sources) and secondary pollutants (formed through chemical reactions in the atmosphere). The major sources of air pollution are:
- Mobile sources- such as cars, trucks, buses, trains and planes
- Stationary sources- such as power plants, factories and oil refineries
- Area sources- such as gasoline stations and small paint shops
- Natural source- such as wind- blown dust, wildfires and volcanoes
Major Constituents Of Air Pollution
- Particulate matter
Particulate matter is composed of tiny objects found in the air including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets. It is one of the primary pollutants emitted from diesel engines.
How does it affect us? Some particles are large enough for our respiratory system to filter out, but the smallest ones pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream. The particles can become embedded in our lungs and damage their functioning. They may trigger or cause significant health problems, such as difficult or painful breathing, aggravated asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, decreased lung function, weakening of the heart, heart attacks and even premature death.
- Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is a product formed by incomplete combustion of fuel such as natural gas, coal or wood. It is an odourless and colourless gas. The main source is motor vehicle exhaust, along with industrial processes and biomass burning.
How does it affect us? Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in red blood cells, sinking their capability to transport and release oxygen throughout the body. Low exposures can aggravate cardiac ailments, while high exposures cause central nervous system impairment or death. It also plays a role in the generation of ground-level ozone.
- Ground-level ozone
Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and other pollutants emitted by cars, trucks, buses, coal-fired power plants and other fossil-fuel burners react with sunlight to form the principal ingredient in smog. Ozone tends to be higher during the summer months.
How does if affect us? Breathing ground-level ozone can result in a number of health effects as decrements in lung function and inflammation of airways. Respiratory symptoms include chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma.
Hydrocarbon pollution results when unburned or partially burned fuel is emitted from the engine as exhaust. A significant fraction of this chemical compound comes from cars, buses, trucks and construction vehicles. Hydrocarbons are also used in plastics, paraffin, waxes, fertilizers, cleaning agents and oils.
How does it affect us? Hydrocarbons include many toxic compounds that can cause cancer and other adverse health effects including a type of pneumonia. They can also affect the central nervous system, the heart, bone marrow, and kidneys.
- Nitrogen oxide
It is one of the most prominent air pollutants, and is now one of the principal acidifying components in our air. Road transport, energy production, combustion, extraction and distribution of fossil fuels are significant sources of emissions of nitrogen oxide. In nature, they are a result of bacterial processes, biological growth and decay, and lightning.
How does it affect us? If inhaled, it can cause collapse, rapid burning and swelling of tissues in the throat and upper respiratory tract, difficult breathing, throat spasms, and fluid build-up in the lungs. Industrial exposure can cause permanent lung damage or even death.
Proper maintenance of vehicles, not burning waste, conserving energy, and choosing cleaner fuels are some of the ways to reduce the emission of such harmful gases and chemicals.
How About The Air Quality Inside Our Homes?
If you think that the air quality is bad only outdoors, for instance-roads, industrial areas and construction sites, and the air inside your home is uncontaminated, then you are highly mistaken. In a study of United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it was found that indoor air pollutants were generally 2 to 5 times greater than the outdoor pollution levels!
Common Sources Of Pollution
- Biological pollutants- It includes mould, bacteria, viruses, animal dander, and particles from dust mites and cockroaches. Ways to control biological pollutants include practicing careful cleaning and controlling moisture that supports mould development.
- Second hand smoke- It refers to the smoke from burning tobacco products. Every year second hand smoke causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths and up to 50,000 heart disease deaths in the U.S. In order to protect the non-smokers, smoking should be eliminated in homes, workplaces and public areas.
- Combustion pollutants- Burning wood, coal or charcoal should be avoided in enclosed spaces. Combustion appliances such as stoves, furnaces, heaters etc., should be properly installed, used and maintained.
- Formaldehyde-Formaldehyde is a chemical which is classified as a volatile organic compound. It is found in many products such as plywood, insulating materials, personal care products, floor coverings, paper products etc. The best control is to avoid using products that emit formaldehyde.
How Does Indoor Air Pollution Affect Us?
Dry eyes, headaches, nasal congestion, fatigue and nausea are common symptoms of indoor air pollution. Severe health problems such as asthma, lung infections and lung cancer can also be caused by such contact to toxicity. Particulate matter, if inhaled can easily pass into the bloodstream and has been associated with stroke and depression in adults, and children have presented amplified systemic inflammation, immune dysfunction and neural distress.
Since we spend most of our time indoors it is necessary to deal with the air quality in our homes, workplaces and public places. Basic strategies to control indoor air quality are source control, ventilation improvements and air cleaning. Source control, the most important and effective step, involves preventing pollutants from adding to the air in the first place. In addition, it is necessary to have proper ventilation in homes and even using air cleaners, if possible. Also look for natural and simple ways to clean up the air indoors.
How To Get Rid Of Air Pollutants From Our Body?
We all face several health hazards as we go about our day-to-day lives. It is not possible for us to evade most of the contaminants in the air. Toxic air pollutants get into the body mainly through breathing. They can also be ingested or absorbed through the skin. Therefore, it becomes imperative to release out all the toxic chemicals and to protect ourselves from the associated ailments. There are many foods and herbs that can help remove the toxins from our body, support the respiratory system and also be beneficial for people with respiratory ailments.
- Rosemary– Herbal practitioners have long used rosemary for alleviating colds, sore throats, flu, coughs, bronchitis and chest infections. It is also believed to possess anti-lung cancer properties.
- Eucalyptus- Eucalyptus essential oil is effective for treating a number of respiratory problems including cold, cough, runny nose, sore throat, asthma, nasal congestion, bronchitis and sinusitis.
- Cruciferous vegetables- Vegetables like kale, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are said to cut the risk of lung cancer in half. They purify blood and are also rich in antioxidants.
- Peppermint- Peppermint acts against the harmful organisms and produces an antioxidant to fight against these foreign bodies. This is how it protects your body from respiratory problems.
- Licorice root- It is an excellent remedy for lung problems. It reduces bronchial congestion and also helps remove build-up of toxic metabolic substances in the body.
- Foods rich in vitamin C- Vitamin C rich foods help your lungs effectively transport oxygen throughout the body and promote lung health.
- Flaxseeds- Ground flaxseeds provide a wonderful source of fibre that helps to bind and flush toxins from the intestinal tract. Some studies have also shown that they prevent lung damage.
Given that it will take some time for government to act and to get the air quality in a state where we would be able to breathe free, we need to understand that there are still small and simple things each one of us can do to contribute to the larger goal, and to ensure we live a healthy life amid the chaos.