Mumbai: We all remember watching those illustrations in our childhood days, depicting the future of our earth, where children are going to school with air masks. But little did we know that it will soon turn into a reality. The world has now moved to ‘Bad Air Days’.
Today, we are living in the era of rapid urban growth, it is important that India embraces the idea of building sustainable cities – to ensure an enhanced quality of life for its growing urban population and continued sustainable economic growth
United Nation’s World Urbanization Prospects report states that the world’s urban population is expanding rapidly – today, 54% of the world’s population is urban, and urbanisation is expected to grow to over 70% by 2050. In emerging markets, urban dwellers account for approximately 2.6 billion people and this will grow to nearly 3.9 billion people by 2030.
India however, is still in early stages of urbanisation compared to other parts of the world – only about 31% of the country’s population lives in cities, while globally; this number is nearly 54%. As urbanization increases, pollution in all forms, Air, Water, Noise levels will become worse in our country.
The air quality guidelines of World Health Organization (WHO) are regularly being exceeded in Indian mega cities in some cases, to a great extent and are paying heavy health and economic price for it. Unfortunately, people in metros are not the only Indians exposed to hazardous levels of air pollution.
Recent data from the National Air Quality Index, reflects that Patna, Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Muzaffarpur, and Faridabad had even higher levels of some important pollutants, on average, than Delhi did. Interestingly, research states that Air pollution is not only caused due to external elements but also a result of indoor elements.
Are We Safe Indoors?
People almost spend 90 percent of their time indoors be it home or office. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to indoor air pollution than outdoors. As quoted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Bulletin, a pollutant released indoors is one thousand times more likely to reach and affect people’s lungs than a pollutant released outdoors.
More than 1.6 million people, mainly women and children, die prematurely each year after breathing high levels of indoor smoke/air. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization have concluded that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals mostly found in household cleaning products.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
Some indoor air pollutants come from the outside, but most are released inside the building, for example when cleaning or when burning fuel for cooking and heating. Furniture and construction materials can also emit pollutants. The source of pollution could be in many forms including particulates, Gases, VOCs, Virus, Bacteria, Smell and Chemicals.
While pollutant levels from individual sources may not pose a significant health risk by themselves, most homes have more than one source that contributes to indoor air pollution, there can be a serious risk from the cumulative effects of these sources. Some of the common reasons for these sources of Indoor pollution are:
Inadequate ventilation: Sometimes bad indoor air is just not the cause of respiratory diseases, it is lack of fresh air that causes health hazards. Inadequate ventilation is a primary cause of indoor air pollution and in highly urbanized and industrial areas, lack of air conditioning and high levels of humidity can increase concentrations of pollutants inside.
Cooking habits: In modern residences, cooking and space-heating needs are usually met by fossil fuels such as natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, heating oil (petroleum product) and electricity which emit occasional carbon monoxide. Concerns have also been reported about exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emitted from gas stoves. In India, 2.8 billion people still use firewood, dung and coal for cooking and to keep warm
Household products: The average home contains about 10 gallons of synthetic chemical products. Indoor use of pesticides, cleansers, paints and varnishes. Brooming is still the preferred option than using a vacuum cleaner. Use of synthetic fragrances in rooms also emit dozens of different toxic chemicals into the sir.
Other reasons for Indoor pollution could also be pet dander, dust from shoes and carpet, new electronics, other plastic products, drainage in proximity and even broken compact fluorescent lights.
Breathe Fresh & Clean Air
To quantify the relationship between indoor air pollution and health, we must strengthen our understanding of the key risk factors and effects of poor air quality indoors. We need to take steps to battle Indoor pollution and improve air quality, as sources of indoor pollution grow every day. Here are a few ways to improve indoor air quality– and breathe easy.
Plantation: NASA research shows that indoor plants such as Aloe Vera, ferns act as living air purifiers by absorbing chemical pollutants released by synthetic materials. They help eliminate toxic agents from indoor air such as benzene, trichlorethylene and formaldehyde.
Using natural cleansers: Use fragrance free or naturally scented laundry products. Lemon and baking soda are excellent scented products for kitchens. If you’re addicted to candles, avoid petroleum-based ones such as gel and paraffin. Go for beeswax or soy candles.
Natural ventilations: Let natural air sweep indoors. Keep rooms ventilated with a filtered air conditioning system. Clean air conditioner, air ducts and furnace filters regularly.
Air purifiers: One can always resort to air purifiers for fresh air. Today, purifiers come with much advanced technology such as humidifiers, multi stage filtration technology that includes Pre-filter, Anti-bacterial filter, HEPA Filter, Activated Carbon Filter, Photo Catalyst Oxidization, UV Light and Ionizer.
It not only helps you keep indoor air free from dust, gases, smoke, bad odour, allergens and air-borne infectants but also generates negative ions, which helps in vitalizing your mind and body.
Regular cleaning: Bedding, carpets and furniture should be cleaned regularly to keep them dust free. Also, one should consider removing shoes at the door to minimize dust
Air pollution is still an aspect that people to tend to ignore, although deaths due to respiratory diseases have seen a significant growth. The need of the hour in this era of urbanisation is to recognize the importance of taking steps to reduce pollution. People, especially children and asthma patients can resort to Facemasks to protect against the damaging effects of pollution especially during outdoor activities, cooking, dusting and cleaning. One of the most important steps in prevention of indoor air pollution is education as it will help people in finding different ways of reducing exposures with better home management and protection of children at home.
(This article is authored by Vibhor Jain, CEO, Atlanta Healthcare)...