Breathing clean air or poison?

A city of over 1.2 crore people, Bengaluru becomes more polluted than ever in winter owing to the weather conditions.

A city of over 1.2 crore people, Bengaluru becomes more polluted than ever in winter owing to the weather conditions, and sees many more of its people queuing up at hospitals and clinics with flu, allergies, persistent cough and other respiratory illnesses. But the city still lacks an adequate number of air monitoring stations and has little real time data on its air quality to help guide its policymakers on ways to combat the pollution.

While the smog in Delhi had the nation sitting up in alarm, could Bengaluru be at risk of suffering a similar fate given the steadily rising number of vehicles on its roads?

With its population touching 1.2 crore and the number of vehicles on its roads correspondingly rising to as much as 64 lakh, Bengaluru is seeing its air pollution rising , placing its people at risk of various ailments, which tend to get aggravated in winter, going by doctors. According to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KPSCB), the air quality at ITPL, Peenya, Silk Board and Domlur is a huge concern during winter as the Air Quality Index (AQI) at these spots is high even during summer.

Recently, we came up with five air monitoring stations in different parts of the city. Once they get standardized we will upload real time data
— Lakshman,
chairman of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB)

Although Dr Vivek Anand Padegal, director of respiratory medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta road, maintains that a Delhi- like situation is highly unlikely in the city owing to various factors , he underlines that air pollution is a health hazard in winter.

Read| Guest Column: The problem is threefold in winter

"We see a huge number of viral illnesses, eye irritation and so on during December. And if there is sudden heavy rain there could also be an unseasonal influenza outbreak, " he explains.

While air pollution is a concern in Bengaluru it does not have enough monitoring stations to guide its planners on ways to combat it. Sadly, the latest air quality data on the website of the KSPCB is outdated by two months as it talks only of October.

Traffic increases local emissions and pollutants worsening the air quality in an area. This coupled with a dip in temperature and lesser sunlight stirs up a perfect storm for bad news
— Dr Vivek Anand Padegal,
director of respiratory medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road

Going by the World Health Organisation a city needs an air monitoring station for every 10 lakh people. But Bengaluru currently has only 21 air quality monitoring stations when it needs 24 to cater to its population of well over a crore. There's some hope on this front, however, as on December 6, the BBMP signed an MoU with C40 for installation of 1,000 air monitoring gadgets at various locations in the city.

Currently, real-time air quality data is provided by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which has set up five monitoring stations in the city at BTM Layout, Bellandur, Peenya, Saneguravanahalli, Kadubeesanahalli and City Railway Station.

Ask chairman of the KSPCB , Lakshman, what it intends to do to improve air quality monitoring in the city, and he says, "We recently set up five air monitoring stations in different parts of the city. Once they get standardized we will be able to upload real time data on pollution levels in Bengaluru." He also claims that the board is trying to persuade all stakeholders to control air pollution as the winter could worsen it.

With the board clearly struggling to cope with the rising air pollution in the city is it time to set up a separate agency to monitor it? At the Belagavi legislature session Minister for Forest and Environment, B Ramanath Rai had contended that the state government needed to set up such an agency for Bengaluru. Mr Mahesh Kashyap, a consultant with the Centre for Sustainable Development says he may have a point. "The KSPCB could have a separate section to deal with air pollution alone. The governments of USA and Canada have set up a section to deal exclusively with air quality," he notes.

Koramangala comes together for clean air

As many as 4000 people from Koramangala alone have joined a campaign platform "airalert" that focuses on air pollution in the city , reflecting the growing concern of Bengalureans about the quality of the air they are breathing.

"Breathing clean air is a right. People should be aware of what they're letting into their system. If we can interest ordinary citizens in such matters then the government will take the necessary steps to install more monitors and provide the data in the public domain. Knowing their air quality will help people alter their lifestyles to combat it. They could take measures to protect themselves and their families from its effects and also demand mitigation solutions from the government," points out senior campaigner,, Noah D'Mello.

People 's concerns seem to be growing as the pollution is now beginning to affect their health, especially in winter. It is not just respiratory ailments that rise this season as an offshoot of the increasing air pollution, but also eye infections.

Doctors at Dr Agarwal's Eye Hospital says they see five or six patients a week suffering from eye infections caused by foreign body injury.

"With the onset of winter and the low humidity and falling temperatures, Bengalureans seem to be suffering from many eye problems such as those caused by foreign body injury.Vegetative foreign bodies like dry leaves or dry sticks get crushed and enter the eyes especially during this weather. If left unattended, this can lead to severe conditions like corneal ulcers and scarring," warns Dr Raghu, Senior Consultant, Dr. Agarwal's Eye Hospital.

Ms Kanchan Naikawadi, preventive healthcare specialist, Indus Health Plus, says people also tend to fall more prey to indoor allergies like dust mites, and mold as they spend more time at home in winter to escape the cold outside. "Mold and house dust mites can also trigger asthma, cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. To prevent such allergies you need to keep the house and the surroundings clean and also maintain proper personal hygiene," she advises.

Tips to stay safe in winter

Keep yourself warm
Eat a diet rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and probiotics as these boost our immune system and indirectly help fight viral infections. Good food sources include meat, oysters, eggs, seafood, tofu, black- eyed peas and wheat germ. Diet rich in vitamin C, zinc and garlic may help ease symptoms of cold/flu. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamins

  • Rest and do moderate exercise to help reduce the risk of infections
  • Avoid crowded places as this may ease spread of infection
  • Maintain hand hygiene and cough-etiquette
  • Take annual vaccination
  • Seek medical help if symptoms do not settle in 48 hours
( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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