Warning that no amount of exposure to air pollution is safe and that a child born in the Indo-Gangetic Plain today is “taking in smoke equivalent to 20-25 cigarettes a day”, doctors have advised that it is best to stay indoors for the next few days “during peak pollution levels”.
“This applies especially for the vulnerable population including children, pregnant women, older people, and those with compromised immunity. Going outside during early mornings and evenings should be avoided and noon would be relatively safe,’’ said former All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Director Dr. Randeep Guleria.
Hospitals in the region have confirmed that out-patient departments are seeing a three-fold rise in patients with pollution-related complaints. Most parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain remained engulfed in “severe” category air on Friday with the Delhi-NCR’s air quality levels deteriorating rapidly and impacting daily life.
An analysis by the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) Tracker noted that as the first winter month (October) of the year came to an end, average PM 2.5 levels were higher when compared to October 2021 in the capital cities of Delhi, Chandigarh, Lucknow, and Patna. PM 2.5 levels in October 2022 surpassed previous year’s figures despite the delayed withdrawal of monsoon and a cleaner Deepavali in comparison to the past five years. The rain had also delayed the stubble-burning season this year. The only exception was Kolkata which saw a decrease in levels compared to last year.
The analysis also included PM 2.5 levels for seven days before and after Deepavali since 2017. While this year’s festival was cleaner compared to the past few years, all the cities saw a spike in PM 2.5 levels the day after Deepavali.
Highlighting the long lasting and dangerous effects of air pollution on health of people, especially children, Dr. Arvind Kumar, thoracic surgeon, explained that Delhi has been battling the onslaught of bad air quality for the past eight years. “Air pollution doesn’t allow children to reach their maximum capacity in terms of mental and physical development. It reduces the quality of life and exposes us to multi-ailments including cancer,’’ he explained.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that breathing in pollutants leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, immunosuppression, and mutagenicity in cells throughout our body, impacting the lungs, heart, brain among other organs and ultimately leading to disease.
“Almost every organ in the body can be impacted by air pollution. Due to their small size, some air pollutants can penetrate the bloodstream via the lungs and circulate throughout the entire body leading to systemic inflammation and carcinogenicity,” WHO warned. “A growing body of evidence also suggests that air pollution may affect diabetes and neurological development in children.’’