New Delhi: With rising incidences of disruptive dust storms across North India and increased abnormal weather phenomena, many cities and suburbs are facing a potent threat to life and activity in a manner that is nothing short of an epidemic.
Air pollution is a major cause of life threatening diseases such as stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic and acute respiratory syndromes such as asthma.
Ironically, major metropolitan centers such as Mumbai and Delhi, which are the most populous in the country, are also the world's most polluted.
"World Health Organisation (WHO) data shows that Delhi recorded Particulate Matter 2.5 levels at 143 micrograms per cubic meter, which is 14 times higher than the recommended safe limit. Surrounding areas such as Jaipur and Chandigarh also have PM 2.5 levels well above safe limits. These smaller air particles are particularly dangerous for health because they can enter the lungs more deeply, resulting in asthma, respiratory system inflammation, lung cancers and other breathing issues", said Dr. Goutam Sadhu, IIHMR University, Jaipur.
Common air pollutants such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide and nitrogen compounds have a direct impact on water bodies including rivers like the Ganga.
Most of these pollutants arise from industrial pollution and burning of carbon fuels. Meteorologists explain that the recent dust storms were caused by an unusually strong thunderstorm condition that formed overnight, generating high speed winds that may have picked up dust and smog from already high levels in northern India's atmosphere.
Air pollution worsens during cooler temperatures because cold air tends to settle down and reduce ambient air quality.
Globally, 91 percent of the population lives in areas where air pollution standards are unsafe. 23 percent of all deaths can be traced to some preventable environmental risk factor.
Young children, women, outdoor workers and the elderly are the vulnerable groups to be impacted by decelerating air quality. In India, indoor smoke through animal waste fuels or firewood is a serious factor affecting the lives of a significant chunk of the population in India's rural hinterlands.
"People can be seen covering their nose and mouth with ordinary surgical masks in the belief that they would stay protected from air pollution. Having an air particle filter or, in lieu, indoor plants is advisable. It is also advisable that you quit smoking during this season. Lots of vegetables, legumes, nuts and lean fats help one counter the effects of particulate matter. Asthma patients and susceptible individuals should avoid going out", said Veena Nair Sarkar, IIHMR University, Jaipur.