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Tamil Nadu: Pollution puts Ennore locals at risk of COVID-19 pandemic?

‘People in polluted areas suffer from compromised lung function and are prone to infections like COVID-19’

Published: 12th April 2020 06:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th April 2020 11:42 AM   |  A+A-

Fishing boats stranded at Ennore, following the lockdown, in Chennai on Saturday | R Satish Babu

Express News Service

CHENNAI: People with compromised lung function are prone to infections like COVID-19, and there’s a high prevalence of respiratory illnesses in severely polluted areas such as Ennore, say experts.

A study done by the National Institute of Epidemiology (NIE) in Ennore -- which is a pollution hotspot due to the presence of a cluster of thermal power plants -- indicates ‘a serious threat’ of COVID-19 spread in the area. The NIE final results have not been made public.

The study was conducted last year simultaneously in Ennore, Korba in Chhattisgarh, Udupi in Karnataka and Ropar in Punjab - by different institutions, and coordinated by the New Delhi-based Centre for Chronic Disease Control.

When contacted, Poornima Prabhakaran, an epidemiologist and consultant with the CCDC, said the report was ready and is currently under review.

“The sampling was done in mid-2019. So, it has no direct connection with COVID-19 outbreak. But yes, people in these clusters where a large population is suffering from compromised lung function, are prone to infections like COVID-19,” she said. 

“The preliminary analysis shows a high prevalence of respiratory illnesses in people of Ennore.”

The health study conducted by Chhattisgarh State Health Resource Centre in Korba found that asthma symptoms and bronchitis were 11.79 per cent and 2.96 per cent among the exposed group. Chhattisgarh government issues official order recognising vulnerability to coronavirus and directed departments to take action to control emissions in Korba.

Officials in Thiruvallur district health department told Express that Block Development Officers were instructed to keep a watch over possible spike in asthma and pneumonia cases in areas in Ennore like Kattukuppam, Mughathwara Kuppam, Athipattu, Ernavur and Seppakkam villages.

“People in these areas have respiratory illnesses, but we haven’t see major COVID-19 scare.”

The major problem in Ennore is pollution from coal ash, which contains trace quantities of several toxic heavy metals, and also contains respiratory irritants including silica.

A phenomenological study conducted in 2018 by Healthy Energy Initiative (India) in Seppakkam village highlight health crisis in Ennore.

In Kuruvimedu, chest X-ray results of 19.2 per cent of people examined by Huma Health Foundation showed abnormalities.

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