“TRY TO CONTAIN DHUL AND DHUAN (DUST AND SMOKE), THE TWO CONTRIBUTORS TO AIR POLLUTION, AT HOME, IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD OR OUTSIDE. THAT’S THE ONLY WAY TO SAVE YOURSELF”
DR ARVIND KUMAR Pulmonologist and thoracic surgeon, Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery & Lung Transplantation & Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi
India has the dubious distinction of being the country with the highest number of deaths due to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. Yet, most Indians are unaware of the enormity of the problem. Such is the level of air pollution in our country that everyone in India can be called a smoker now. Think about it: we have 52 newborn smokers every minute. And every Delhiite has smoked 10 cigarettes every day in the past year.
What can people do to save themselves? We breathe 25,000 times a day, inhaling 10,000 litres of air on average every day, and inhaling thousands of kilograms of toxins in each breath. About 99.99 per cent of those toxins come out, but a minuscule portion does not. As we keep breathing, 25,000 times a day, that tiny portion becomes a chunk, gets deposited in our lungs, absorbed by body and
damages brain, heart, kidneys, reproductive system and every organ of the body.
In children, it can lead to neuroinflammation which, it has been proved, leads to cognitive underdevelopment, or low IQ. In adults, air pollution leads to five to 10 times higher brain attacks (paralytic); hypertension in people in their 20s and 30s; five to 10 times higher heart attacks in people living in polluted cities. Numerous studies show rise in hospitalisation from heart attacks following spikes in particulate matter. Similar correlation has been shown with asthma, COPD and pneumonia. Such is the level of air pollution in India that neonates develop bronchial problems. The number of lung cancer patients is zooming. The past 20 years belonged to heart disease, the next 20 will see a lung disease epidemic.
Effectively, there is no remedy. Air is a continuous flow, it goes across boundaries. So when it is highly polluted outside, don’t go out. Normally, we breathe 12-14 times a minute. But when we do outdoor activities—running, jogging, exercising—we breathe about 45 times a minute. You will inhale more toxins every minute. That is why we have been opposing marathons, which are supposed to be good for your health but actually kill by poisoning your body. Medically, it’s suicide. Masks do not help: those sold in pharmacies can’t keep out particulate matter and the N95 or N99 masks are effective if worn tight across the nose. Even these can only prevent large particles from getting into the lungs. Finer particles like P2.5 or harmful sulphates and nitrates can pass right through.
Indoor air pollution is also a big issue in India. Air purifiers do no good, because they are effective over limited space. You can do yoga, but it only helps enhance your lung capacity, it can’t remove the particulate deposits that line your lungs. The real remedy is taking small individual efforts to contain two things, dhul and dhuan (dust and smoke)—the two contributors to air pollution—at home, in your neighbourhood or outside. You as a citizen need to take the initiative, to curb pollution, to improve the air you breath. That’s the only way.