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An invisible threat

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All Indian cities face the brunt of air pollution and this can lead to visible and adverse long-term health effects, says PKSV Sagar

Air knows no frontier, flowing freely across the planet, carrying pollutants across countries and cities, worsening the environment we live in. Latest studies suggest that up to 3.3 million people die every year due to air pollution, which has deteriorated the atmospheric quality in major cities.

Recent reports are not wrong; all Indian metropolitan cities are facing the brunt of air pollution, including a coastal city like Mumbai. Redevelopment activities such as demolition and transportation of waste, and unchecked emissions are a major source of air pollution in Mumbai.

Outdoor meets indoor
While air pollution is invisible, it continues to have visible and adverse long-term health effects. Moreover, the outdoor pollution seeps indoors into our homes, offices, malls and buildings, where we spend 90% of our time.

On an average, six out of 10 homes are hazardous to their occupants’ well-being, exposing them to countless health-endangering particles and gases. In fact, the indoor environment can be 50 times more polluted than air outdoors. In addition to the particulate matter, certain gases like Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur dioxide, Hydrogen Sulphide and ozone can be equally detrimental to an individual’s health if inhaled in large quantities.

To put this into context, we breathe every four seconds and take around 22,000 breaths a day. We inhale fine dust, toxic particulate matter, viruses and bacteria that exposes us to countless diseases and illnesses.  

The greatest risk to human health from air pollution is related to breathing PM1 (particulate matter of 1micron diameter). This is the smallest and most dangerous particulate matter, which is predominantly composed of nano and ultrafine particles. PM1 is largely linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart diseases. Further, pollutants such as airborne particulate matter and ground-level ozone emissions are increasing respiratory and cardiovascular mortality rates and hospital admissions, and are also the cause for several million premature deaths worldwide, annually.  

Apart from the toxic environment outdoors, ambient indoor air pollution is also a problem that adversely affects health and productivity in the workplace. In 2016, Assocham released a survey suggesting 5-10% of the national capital’s office-goers had called in sick due to respiratory problems. Taking this into consideration, a call centre replaced its old filters with a higher outdoor air supply rate and found that it has increased its operators’ productivity by 10%. Likewise, a private corporate house managed to reduce sick leaves by 35% by upgrading the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system. This shows that the rising awareness has helped institutions introduce efficient and improved air filters to facilitate a better employee environment.

Moreover, air pollution is one of the top priorities of political agendas today. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that exposure to air pollution is considered the biggest single environmental risk to human health. Other large institutions like the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) and the World Bank have also joined the movement to combat air pollution and kickstart air quality management programmes. In India the government has recently rolled out National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to counter air pollution with a long-term strategy.

A possible solution
Public awareness about pollutants and moving towards clean air solutions will help combat atmospheric contamination. Indoor air pollution can be countered with good ventilation and efficient, effective and sustainable filtration solutions providing a clean and healthy environment.

It’s recommended to use ISO 16890 certified, PM1 and PM2.5 efficient air filters in HVAC systems. In addition to this, air purifiers can be installed in each room to remove up to 99.9% of airborne contaminants.

Use of the right type and exclusive chemical filters to keep the hazardous gases away would be a big step in protecting oneself from these gases.

Another important tip will be to buy the right kind of filter as there are multiple HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters in the market. They are designed to work as a supplement to existing ventilation systems that deliver reduced energy costs, are more efficient and maintain a healthier work environment with less dust and fewer harmful particles.

Though people are aware about the adversities of air pollution outdoors, attention towards indoor-air pollution needs to be addressed. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) needs to be put on the political agenda as it should be a public health concern. Clean air is a human right but the government and citizens will have to understand the shared responsibility to highlight the need for fresh and healthy air around to make this vision a reality.

PKSV Sagar is Managing Director, Camfil India

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