Air pollution has become a major health hazard, killing more than 6.5 million people across the world every year.
According to WHO, over 1.5 million people in India lose their lives to air pollution. But indoor air pollution alone claims the lives of almost a million people in the country, the highest in the world. While there are prescribed norms for outdoor pollution, and regulatory bodies and agencies to bring down its levels, there is no norm for indoor pollution in India. Statistics reveal that over 18,000 people everyday succumb to a variety of serious diseases and ailments such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, asthma, strokes, bronchial disorders, heart disease, mental disorders and even cancer.
Recent studies have established that the increase in the fine particulate toxic matter, known as PM2.5, created by burning fossil fuels or organic matter, is so minute that it can even enter our blood stream through the linings in the lungs and cause severe complications. WHO has prescribed 20 micrograms in a cubic metre of air for particulate matter as a norm for indoor pollution. The average indoor air pollution in India is 375 unit grams per cubic metre of air.
A report published by Greenpeace shows that fine particulate matter in New Delhi is around 128 micrograms per cubic metre, compared to Beijing’s 81 and Washington’s 12. Policy makers have woken up to the high levels of indoor pollution but concrete action seems a distant dream.
The Central Pollution Control Board, along with the public health body the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and environmentalists, has made several attempts to persuade the Central government to prescribe national indoor air pollution norms on the lines of national ambient air norms. But there has been no positive response. The concerned panel wanted more epidemiological studies done to confirm the adverse health impact of indoor pollution before agreeing to a national indoor pollution norm.
There is no dearth of information and statistics. Many detailed studies, conducted by ICMR, TERI and other agencies on the adverse effect of indoor pollution on health, are available and have been provided to policy makers.
The situation in urban India is not much different from rural India. According to experts, indoor pollution is five times the outdoor pollution. While we spend long hours at home, we cannot see the pollutants. Poor air circulation, poorly maintained household appliances, construction activities and gases from waste dumping grounds compound the problem. Most major city offices are being turned into glass box towers. Limited circulation of fresh air or sunlight in such buildings may proliferate bacteria.
A few precautions can go a long way. Ensure fresh air circulation and let sunlight filter in for a few hours into your homes everyday. Indoor plants help absorb toxic air and release oxygen. Keep your air conditioners regularly maintained. Avoid keeping electrical components, especially mobile phones, on standby mode when not in use as these emit harmful radiations.
A home is where we all feel safe... keep it smoke-free as much as possible. Do not smoke indoors or burn waste. Dispose of dead leaves safely; turn it into compost. However small, these actions when taken would definitely make a difference, not only to you and your family but to the health of the planet.