Did the headline scare you? Wait until you find out if your city has made it to the list. According to a report by World Health Organisation, Delhi and Varanasi are among the 14 Indian cities to make it to the list of 20 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM2.5 levels. To add to that, the top 10 cities on this list are all from India.
Here's a list of all the Indian cities with dangerously high levels of pollution with PM2.5 pollutants (not in order):
The WHO report also states that nine out of 10 people in the world breathe this polluted air, and it kills seven million people each year, almost all of them in Asian and African countries. It has called upon member-countries in this region to aggressively address the double burden of household and ambient (outdoor) air pollution, saying that the region, which comprises India, accounts for 34% or 2.4 million of the seven million premature deaths caused by household and ambient air pollution together globally every year.
So, here's what it means for you.
PM means Particulate Matter (in micrometre) present in the air. PM2.5 means that the particulate matter is 2.5 micrometres or less in diameter - described as fine particles. By way of comparison, a human hair is about 100 micrometres, so roughly 40 fine particles could be placed on its width. That is, the pollutants in the air are 40 times finer than one single strand of your hair. It is this fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that is present in the air on high levels currently.
The standard PM10 level microns are categories as 'inhalable particles', BTW!
The PM2.5 includes pollutants like sulfate, nitrate and black carbon, which pose the greatest risk to human health.
1. Toxic effects by absorption of the toxic material into the blood (e.g. lead, cadmium, zinc)
2. Allergy or hypersensitivity
3. Bacterial and fungal infections
4. Fibrosis (e.g. asbestos, quartz)
6. Increased respiratory symptoms like aggravation of asthma
7. Premature death.
The risks are highest for sensitive groups such as the elderly and children.
Of course, there are global environmental risks of global warming, acid rain and ozone layer depletion that need no introduction.
The report noted that the countries such as India, China, and Pakistan which scored badly on air quality front, "face a public health crisis that demands urgent attention".
WHO's database measured the levels of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) from more than 4,300 cities in 108 countries, according to which ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period. The situation might have gotten worse now, two years later.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to increased pollutants in the air that we've grown up reading about in textbooks. Some of the main factors:
1. Burning or fossil fuels
2. Agricultural activities like use of insecticides, pesticides, and fertilizers.
3. Exhaust from factories, industries, automobiles
4. Mining operations
5. Indoor pollutants like chimneys, ACs, household cleaning products, painting supplies. They all emit toxic chemicals into the air and cause air pollution. Have you ever noticed that once you paint walls of your house, it creates some sort of smell which makes it literally impossible for you to breathe?
Remember how we were taught about the scarcity of resources like water and air and the importance to preserve these before it's too late. Well, maybe it's too late now!