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Clearing It Up

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

It’s not surprising that the increasing pollution levels are beginning to take a drastic toll on your body. Pooja Salvi helps you figure out how pollution can harm you

We’ve been lucky enough to have had a few nippy mornings this winter, and while the cool morning air is a blessing, if it is accompanied by smog, beware! While smog isn’t just a winter phenomenon, it can often be mistaken for a picturesque misty morning this time of the year. Smog is a form of pollution that turns hazardous if it lingers in the atmosphere for too long, and since the end of January there has been an increase in Mumbai’s smog levels caused by the fire at the Deonar dumping ground. Since the air is still rife with pollution, read on to know more about smog and its harmful effects on us.

What is smog?
The word smog is basically formed by merging two words — smoke and fog. Smog is also used to describe the type of fog that has soot present in it. It is yellowish or blackish in colour and is mainly composed of a mixture of pollutants in the atmosphere. It consists of fine particles and various gases with dust, water vapour and ground level ozone (although ozone can be good when it’s found in the upper atmosphere, it is quite harmful for your lungs when it occurs near ground level). It is also a mixture of different emissions from industries, cars and other vehicles, open burning grounds
(for instance, the recent Deonar dumping ground open fire) and incinerators.

How is it formed?
Now, we don’t need to get into the specifics of how smog is formed, but there are a few basic facts that can help you get an idea. The atmospheric pollutants or gases that create smog are released when fuel burns. So, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that this is caused almost entirely by pollution. When sunlight and heat react with these pollutants, smog is formed.

The main sources of these pollutants, which play a major role in smog formation, release chemicals directly into the air. These include vehicles, industrial plants, chemical activities and other sources of pollution caused by human activities. Smog is often caused by heavy traffic, high temperatures and almost stagnant winds. There is also a reason why it is so prevalent during the winter months. Since wind speeds are low, the smoke and fog remain still in one place, forming smog and increasing pollution near the ground level. Another factor that contributes to this is temperature. If warm air remains near the ground instead of rising up, and if the wind happens to be calm, smog will get trapped and hover over a particular place for days.

How does smog affect your health?
If you know that pollution of any kind is harmful to your health, you know that smog isn’t going to do you any good either. It is pretty evident from its components that the effects can be harmful. Smog can be responsible for ailments ranging from minor pains to fatal pulmonary diseases such as lung cancer, and it also causes eye irritation.

Continuous exposure to smog can result in inflammation in the tissues of your lungs. Other illnesses such as a cold and the flu as well as pneumonia are also associated with smog. Pollutants present in smog are so harmful that the human body finds it extremely difficult to first defend and then recover from the ill-effects.

Minor exposure to smog can increase the risk of an asthma attack and smog also affects densely populated areas the most, which can lead to fatalities. Smog can seriously damage the health of senior citizens and children suffering from respiratory problems.

How will you know?
Look out for these warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing especially when you’re exercising. This includes shortness of breath.
  • Increased mucus production in the throat and nose.
  • Cough and/or throat irritation.
  • Feeling light-headedness and low on energy.
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