Photo Courtesy: AP
Photo Courtesy: AP

A new research study published in Geophysical Research Letters has added to the growing body of research indicating that India’s air pollution has become a matter of life and death. The study suggests that outdoor air pollution in the country is contributing to more than half a million premature deaths each year at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.

The deadly power of air pollution is no new finding. Numerous studies have concluded that both outdoor and indoor pollution can cause a variety of serious diseases, including heart disease, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, increased risk of stroke and even lung cancer. One study published last year in Nature magazine estimated that a type of pollution known as “fine particulate matter” — tiny toxic particles that can be released by a variety of sources, including the burning of fossil fuels or organic matter — is responsible for about 3 million deaths worldwide each year.  

In certain parts of the world, particularly India and China, air pollution is an ever-growing public health concern. This may be especially true for India, which reportedly surpassed China earlier this year in the overall amount of fine particulate matter pollution its residents are exposed to. The report found that fine particulate matter levels in New Delhi came to about 128 micrograms per cubic meter, in comparison to Beijing’s 81 and Washington D.C.’s 12.  In contrast, the World Health Organization recommends an annual average of 10 micrograms per cubic meter for people to safely breathe.  

The new study, which focuses specifically on India, suggested that about 570,000 premature deaths in India were caused by exposure to fine particulate matter in 2011, and an additional 12,000 were caused by exposure to ozone. North India is the most severely affected part of the country according to the study.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family from this increasing health hazard?

The most effective way to improve your indoor air quality is to control or eliminate as many sources of pollution as you can.

  • Increase ventilation by opening a few windows every day for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably on opposite sides of the house. This allows for cross ventilation.
  • Get some houseplants. NASA researchers suggest efficient air cleaning is accomplished with at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space. 
  • Take your shoes off as soon as you enter the house, and leave them by the door to prevent tracking in of toxic particles.
  • Discourage tobacco smoking in or around your home.
  • Switch to non-toxic cleaning products (such as baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar) and safer personal care products. Avoid aerosols.

Since it is impossible to eliminate ALL air contaminants, one of the best things you can do is to install a high-quality air purifier in your home.

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