World Lung Day is here and it’s a reminder to not be casual about the air that we breathe in.
Air quality is an extremely serious issue today. Breathing polluted air costs the world 7 million deaths annually. Most of these are premature deaths. Living with the ill effects of air pollution costs us in many ways – physical ailments and disabilities, underdevelopment in children, compromised productivity, and stunted economic growth. Air pollution is the major killer of our times and has claimed many more lives than COVID has.
Air pollution is not limited to one geographical area. Neither is it limited to the outdoors. Various studies have shown that air pollution indoors can sometimes be much higher than outdoors. Of the 7 million lives claimed by air pollution each year, roughly 3.8 million deaths occur due to indoor air pollution.
What pollutants are most damaging to the lungs?
The most common air pollutants are particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), oxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, etc. All of these have severe effects on the lungs and the human body at large, but the most dangerous of them is perhaps particulate matter.
PM2.5 and PM10 are the most critical pollutants causing respiratory illnesses.
The WHO has recently revised its recommended levels of pollutant concentration in the air. It has restricted the permissible levels of PM2.5 and PM10 concentration. PM2.5 and PM10, in their words, “are of particular health relevance, as they are capable of penetrating deep into the lungs.”
According to the new guidelines, the concentration of PM2.5 in ambient air cannot be more than 15 micrograms per cubic metre. The concentration of PM10, which is slightly larger in size, cannot be more than 45 micrograms per cubic metre. The WHO cites the revision to be in the interest of public health. Adherence to the recommended levels can safeguard millions of lives from the dangers of air pollution.
What are the sources of PM2.5 and PM10?
PM2.5 and PM10 are emitted by combustion from vehicles, factories, transportation activities, mining and foundries. Since they are in the microscopic range, they are invisible to the naked eye. The smaller particles, typically those that fall under PM2.5, are small enough to pass unfiltered via the nostrils to the lungs.
PM2.5 and PM10 can cause significant health issues, both short-term and long term, such as asthma, irritation of eye, nose and throat, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive disease.
Particulate matter air pollution is associated with numerous adverse health effects.
The future of air pollution control
Air pollution control is urgent, important and cannot be stressed enough. The global burden of breathing polluted air has an impact upon health, peace of mind, financial prosperity and both mental and physical abilities. To achieve the emission targets set by countries the world over, we need large-scale technology that can significantly control air pollution over large areas, in a way that is affordable and scalable and benefits the general public.
The shift towards clean air and securing health is a real and favourable movement across industries in India and the world over. Air quality monitoring and air pollution control are set to become a common feature across many Indian cities.
This World Lung Day, start your journey towards securing your lungs. Breathe safe.