WHO recently published their latest study which revealed that the 14 most polluted cities in the world are in India. It is clear that air pollution is not just a Delhi problem. It is also clear that the scale of the problem is huge and air pollution may well be the biggest health risk facing India. So here are some myth-busters to help you understand common myths surrounding air pollution and learn to separate them from facts.
MYTH - Breathing polluted air will make you immune to it
FACT - Unfortunately no! Pollutants are toxic substances emitted as a result of fuel burning. These toxins severely impact our immune system, so our body loses its strength to fight infections. So, just as smoking cigarettes will not make you immune to lung cancer and consuming arsenic will not make you immune to poisoning, breathing in polluted air will only make your respiratory organs weaker. This in turn may lead to asthma, lung cancer, COPD and even heart attacks.
MYTH - Indoor air is cleaner than outdoors
FACT - As per the EPA guidebook for indoor air quality, indoor air is often as bad as, and sometimes worse than outdoor air. Multiple sources within homes and work spaces, that may not have a significant impact individually, cumulatively can pose a serious risk, especially considering that we all spend a majority of our time indoors – either at home or at work.
Cooking, burning incense and candles, using perfumed sprays and deodorants and smoking indoors reduce indoor air quality. Work spaces may also have a higher degree of VOC’s from furniture and paints.
Ventilation is also a significant contributor to indoor air quality. Excess ventilation can cause infiltration of outdoor air, bringing in particulate matter and dust. Outside air also leaks in through joints in doors and window panes. Less ventilation on the other hand can cause pollutants to accumulate to high levels that can pose health and comfort problems. If there are several individuals indoors like for example in an office or school, the levels of carbon di-oxide can also increase significantly leading to discomfort and reduced productivity.
MYTH - Poor air quality is only a winter phenomenon
FACT - Air quality in many cities of India (10 out of 20 of the most polluted cities globally are in India - WHO) far exceeds the AQI standards prescribed by the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) throughout the year. A Greenpeace report that studied air quality in every Indian state throughout the year, showed PM, ozone and nitrogen-oxide levels constantly higher than the annual average prescribed by CPCB throughout the year. Grey skies are only more visible in the winter months, owing to the phenomenon of inversion.
MYTH - There is nothing we can do
FACT - Fact is that each of us can make a difference. Changing our own behaviour such as keeping cars and bikes well-tuned, adopting greener fuels like petrol instead of diesel that have lower emissions, segregating and composting our waste, car-pooling and using public transport can help us reduce our own carbon footprint. By reporting waste burning and cars emitting black fumes to authorities, and driving awareness in our own communities we can make wider impact to help reduce air pollution in our neighbourhoods.
In addition, simple actions on our part - like constantly monitoring air quality to manage when we are exercising outdoors, or letting our children go out and play or wearing a fitted mask on very poor air quality days can help reduce our exposure outdoors. Controlling indoor air quality using plants, air purifiers and indoor air quality monitors can significantly reduce our exposure indoors.
MYTH - Only people with respiratory problems need to worry about air pollution
FACT - Air pollution is caused due to toxic substances. These when inhaled enter the blood stream and weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to respiratory and coronary illnesses. So even people who are perfectly healthy can develop respiratory problems when exposed to air pollution for an extended period of time. WHO in its report also highlighted that air pollution is responsible for causing an estimated one-quarter (24%) of all adult deaths from heart disease, 25% from stroke, 43% from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 29% from lung cancer.