By Yashvardhan Sharma
Owing to the extreme pollution levels in India, especially in Northern India, you must’ve come across something known as PM 2.5. Most of the pollution in cities such as New Delhi, Kanpur, and Lucknow, is caused by this substance. Rise in the PM 2.5 in the air degrades the air quality.
The World Health Organization (WHO) assesses the air pollution in India at close to 1.8 million yearly deaths. The greater part of these unexpected losses happen because of the consistent exposure to little particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in width (PM2.5), which causes cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, and worse, tumors.
The WHO points to the fact that 91% (of the 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide) occur in low- and middle-income countries. The public health emergency declared recently in New Delhi is a short term consequence of a problem that will affect a much greater number of people. It is the manifestation of our collective failure as a society and not just of the government.
What is PM 2.5?
PM 2.5 refers to Particulate Matter 2.5 i.e. the tiny droplets or particles in the air that are two and one-half microns or less in width. They are the finest particles consisting of pollens, haze, and allergens. Due to the fine nature of these particles, it is easy to inhale them, which might lead to serious health issues. They are able to bypass the nose and throat and penetrate deep into the lungs and some may even enter the circulatory system.
Where do they come from?
These harmful particles stem from a variety of different sources. There is one very important thing to note here, man-made sources like airplanes, burning of coal, wood-burning, are much more harmful as compared to the natural sources such as volcanic eruptions. Specifically speaking of Northern India, the large-scale bursting of firecrackers at the end of October along with the burning of excess agricultural production seems to be the most immediate reason for this sudden increase in pollution.
Why should you care?
The inhalation of these particles is detrimental to us.
The American Heart Association has warned about the impact of PM2.5 on heart health and mortality, “Exposure to PM <2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) over a few hours to weeks can trigger cardiovascular disease-related mortality and nonfatal events; longer-term exposure (e.g., a few years) increasing the risk for cardiovascular mortality to an even greater extent than exposures over a few days and reduces life expectancy within more highly exposed segments of the population by several months to a few years.”
Depending on how sensitive you are, the severity of the haze and the time of exposure, you may experience the following short-term adverse effects:
Irritated eyes, watering eyes, and/or conjunctivitis (a type of eye inflammation);
Running nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, and/or post-nasal drip;
Throat irritation, dry throat, sore throat and/or coughing;
Headache, dizziness and/or fatigue;
Decreased lung function, depressed respiratory immune defenses, chest pain, and/or bronchitis (lung inflammation);
Diarrhea and/or stomach upset, if drinking water sources are contaminated by dense haze and the water is consumed without further treatment;
Anxiety, stress and/or depression-like symptoms such as insomnia, feelings of helplessness, loss of interest in daily activities and irritability.
What can you do about it?
Short Term Measures:
Stay indoors and close all windows and openings that allow polluted air to enter, when possible.
In case you do go out in the open for prolonged times, make sure to wear an N95 or N99 face mask.
Turn on an air purifier that is equipped with a HEPA filter. Only a HEPA filter can effectively remove fine particles from the air.
Take supplements such as fish oil, vitamin B, C and E which are known to help resist the pollutants in the air.
Reduce electricity consumption since most of the electricity generated in India is done via thermal plants which burn a lot of coal and thus contribute to the pollution in the environment.
Plant trees in your house, balcony, garden or anywhere you can. Plants such as the money plant, peace lily, and bamboo palm are known to be effective air-purifying plants.
Avoid outdoor activities, especially outdoor sports. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic illnesses, especially heart and respiratory disease, should remain indoors when haze hits unhealthy levels. Healthy adults should avoid unnecessary outdoor activities. If you must exercise outdoors, avoid exercising in highly congested areas near busy roads and freeways, particularly during rush hours.
Take your medication regularly if you are suffering from existing disease, especially heart disease and respiratory disease. If you feel breathless at any point in time, seek medical attention immediately.
Drink more water and increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. They help the body to flush out toxins absorbed through the skin and lungs and improve the immune system.
Apart from all this, start speaking about climate change and such environmental issues to spread awareness about them. Start by taking action yourself and then influence those around you to do the same. If all of us take action and follow these short-term measures, then in the long term, we might have a chance to a sustainable future.
It is imperative for all of us to take immediate action. The air quality is deteriorating and shall remain to do so unless we take a collective stand against it.