June 5 is marked around the world as World Environment Day and it was celebrated by over 100 countries. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment) annually organises events on this day, encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment. It is a big annual event started by the United Nations General Assembly to engage millions of people from divergent countries across the globe as well as to draw the attention of politicians and health institutions to execute some effective actions. This year, the celebration on behalf of the UN was hosted by China on the theme, ‘Air Pollution’.
Air pollution is an issue at both micro and macro scales. From the perspective of cities and neighbourhoods, it is important to ensure that the air quality is maintained free from excessive particulate matter (PM). As part of the Swachh Bharat campaign, the National Air Quality Index portal produces an Air Quality Index (AQI) value for around 15 cities. These numbers are available daily on the website for major cities. The monitoring stations measure the concentration of six different pollutants — PM2.5 (particulate matter of diameter less than 2.5 micrometres), PM10, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone. In Chennai, the prominent pollutant is PM2.5.
So what exactly is PM2.5? And does reducing the amount of particulate matter in the air improve the health of your home?
Particulate Matter PM) are harmful exhaust pollutants or tiny airborne particles. Typically, smaller the particle, the higher its potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream. PM2.5 refers to all particles under 2.5 micrometers in diameter (0.00025 mm). These micro particles can get lodged deep into the lungs and cause major health problems. There are simple and cumulative ways you can reduce the amount of particulate matter produced by smoke and vehicle emissions. Here are a few easy tips to keep in mind.
The first and possibly most impactful way to reduce PM damage to health is by stopping smoking cigarettes. A study comparing air pollution of a city to cigarette smoking became wildly popular as people were able to relate this better than citing the numbers of yearly deaths due to bad air. A quick comparison states that air pollution on a particularly bad day in Beijing is equivalent to smoking 1.5 cigarettes every hour! Many non-smokers living with a smoker inhale a similar mass of PM2.5 as a non-smoker living in a heavily polluted city such as Beijing. The next tip is in treating garden waste and garbage – do not burn these, rather turn the leaves into mulch to save the air from heavy pollutants. Also, limiting the usage of wood fires, for both fireplaces and stoves, will help improve the quality of the air and keep it from being high on PM. The components of wood and cigarette smoke are similar, and many are carcinogenic.
The last tip towards a lower PM lifestyle is by reducing diesel emissions as far as possible. Replacing older engines with newer and cleaner ones help in reducing the black carbon which forms a significant proportion of particulate matter. In addition to its adverse health impact, it also affects our climate. In the most polluted locations, diesel vehicles are usually the main source of particulate pollution.So, go ahead and be a part of the global World Environment Day – improving the air quality in your homes, garages, yard or neighbourhood are all an easy lifestyle change away.
The writer is an architect,urban designer, dancer and chief designer at Shilpa Architects