Air pollution might not seem to be an immediate concern with the only issues being a cough and perhaps burning eyes. But what most of us fail to realize is that air pollution health effects range from losing your mental faculties to even increasing your chances of getting diabetes, one of the biggest killers in India.
From our mental faculties and the reproductive cycle to even hiking chances of diabetes, air pollution has a head-to-toe negative effect on human health.
How bad is air pollution?
We often ask ourselves – How bad is air pollution really?
Here, we have for you a list of air pollution health effects as per the official WHO website.
Ambient air pollution health effects:
- In children and adults, both short- and long-term exposure to ambient air pollution can lead to reduced lung function, respiratory infections and aggravated asthma
- Maternal exposure to ambient air pollution is associated with adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, pre-term birth and small gestational age births
- Emerging evidence also suggests ambient air pollution may affect diabetes and neurological development in children
Household air pollution health effects:
- Exposure to indoor air pollutants can lead to a wide range of adverse health outcomes in both children and adults, from respiratory illnesses to cancer to eye problems
- Members of households that rely on polluting fuels and devices also suffer a higher risk of burns, poisonings, musculoskeletal injuries and accidents
What is the Air Quality Index?
The air quantity index is a way to measure air pollution levels. It takes into account five chief pollutants including PM10 and PM2.5.
An AQI between 401 and 500 is considered ‘severe’ and anything beyond 500 is ‘severe-plus emergency’.
Delhi air pollution
The Delhi air quality has been the talk of the town for weeks now and with good reason. On Friday, the Delhi air pollution AQI moved from its fourth consecutive day of severe’ ratings into severe plus’ which also means hazardous’ or emergency’.
The air pollution levels had increased overnight by around 50 points, taking the overall air quality index to 459.
If the Delhi air pollution remains this severe for more than 48 hours, emergency measures would need to be started off.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal shut all schools in the capital till Tuesday to ensure young children don’t need to move of their house and face the brunt of air pollution. Meanwhile, the effective stubble burning counts of Northwest India (Haryana and Punjab) has increased from the previous day’s count of 1057 to 2396, as evident from SAFAR-multi-satellite fire product.
The grim situation is expected to see an improvement by November 2, Saturday.
How does air pollution affect your health: These 9 studies show the grim picture
1. Air pollution kills 600,000 children per year: WHO
A 2018 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that breathing in toxic air kills about 600,000 children every year under the age of 15 years. That is how many children died from lower respiratory infections caused by air pollution in 2016 alone.
Data shows that every day, about 93 percent children under the age of 15, 1.8 billion youngsters, and 630 million children under the age of five breathe dangerously polluted air which is a full of pollutants.
The WHO report found that nine out of 10 people are breathing polluted air which is causing pre-mature deaths each year. This toxic air is the most dangerous for children — in every 10 deaths, one is below the age of five.
The WHO study examined that the health hazard level takes a toll on children’s health both due to outdoor and indoor air pollution.
The polluted air includes toxins like sulphate and black carbon. These toxins can go deep into your lungs and/or cardiovascular system and may cause asthma — a major way air pollution affects our health.
2. Air pollution in India is responsible for 30 percent premature deaths, cancer and mental diseases: CSE report
A 2017 report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found that 30 percent of all premature deaths in India are caused due to air pollution.
The report titled ‘Body Burden: Lifestyle Diseases’ also noted that a crucial link exists between environment and health, some of them yet-unexplored such as the connection between air pollution and mental health. It said that by the year 2020, more than 1.73 million new cancer cases will most likely be recorded where the ‘primary triggers’ would be air pollution, tobacco, alcohol and diet change.
The report also stated that every third child in Delhi has impaired lungs due to the high level of pollutants that are present in the city’s air.
3. Indians are dying four years early, thanks to air pollution
As per a 2018 study, particulate pollution is so severe that it shortens the average Indian’s life expectancy by more than four years relative to what it would be if WHO air quality guidelines were met.
This is up from about two years in the late 1990s due to a 69 per cent increase in particulate pollution, the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) said. EPIC stated that India is currently the world’s second most polluted country. The only country more polluted than India is its Himalayan neighbour Nepal.
Concentrations in Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and the National Capital Territory of Delhi are substantially higher. The study shows that the impact on life expectancy is greater in these areas, with a shortage of six years in the average lifespan of residents.
The new air pollution index, known as the Air Quality Life Index (AQLI), finds that air pollution reduces global life expectancy by nearly two years, making it the single greatest threat to human health.
What makes AQLI unique is that it converts pollution into perhaps the most important metric that exists — life expectancy.
4. Life expectancy in India goes down by 2.6 years
Yet another study in 2019 by environment think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) revealed that outdoor and household air pollution together are causing deadly diseases causing the life expectancy in India to go down by 2.6 years.
Air pollution affects health to such an extent that it is now the third highest cause of death among all health risks ranking just above smoking in India.
This is a combined effect of outdoor particulate matter (PM) 2.5, ozone and household air pollution, they study noted.
As per the study, the deadly tally broken up by diseases shows that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to air pollution at 49 percent is responsible for close to half of the deaths, followed by lung cancer deaths at 33 percent, diabetes and ischaemic heart disease at 22 percent each and stroke at 15 percent. The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, from liver problems, brain, intelligence, abdominal organs, reproduction, and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin.
Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, it said.
5. Air pollution may increase the risk of developing diabetes
As if air pollution’s link to respiratory diseases was not enough to worry about, a 2018 study suggested that outdoor air pollution, even at deemed safe levels, increased the risk of diabetes globally.
Primarily diabetes has been associated with lifestyle choices like junk food diet and a sedentary lifestyle, but Washington University in USA said pollution also plays a major role. The study found that one out of seven new cases of diabetes, in 2016, were caused due to air pollution.
In the study, the team analysed data from more than one million participants who did not have any history of diabetes.
If pollution levels come down in either heavily polluted country like India or lesser polluted USA, in both cases it may lead to a decrease in diabetes cases, according to the research.
6. Exposure to outdoor air pollution may increase the risk of intellectual in children
The UK’s Millennium Cohort Study from 2018 for the first time quantified the extent to which children with intellectual disability (ID) may be exposed to outdoor air pollution, which furthers their risk to have poorer health and die earlier than they should.
Intellectual disability is an extremely common condition — more than 10 million cases per year in India — which was earlier called mental retardation. In simpler words, it is a case of below-average intelligence and set of life skills present in a person.
The findings come from an analysis of data from a sample of over 18,000 children born between 2000 and 2002. The researchers, including those from the Lancaster University, UK, noted that intellectual disability is more common among children living in more socio-economically deprived areas, which tend to have higher levels of air pollution.
Averaging across ages, children with intellectual disabilities were 33 per cent more likely to live in areas with high levels of diesel particulate matter, and 30 per cent more likely to live in areas with high levels of nitrogen dioxide.
7. Air pollution might be increasing newborn ICU admissions
Infants born to women exposed to high levels of air pollution in the week before delivery are more likely to be admitted to a newborn intensive care unit (NICU), suggest recent findings. The 2019 study found that depending on the type of pollution, chances for NICU admission increased from about 4 percent to as much as 147 percent, as compared to infants whose mothers did not encounter high levels of air pollution during the week before delivery.
As part of the study, researchers analysed data from the Consortium on Safe Labor, which compiled information on more than 223,000 births at 12 clinical sites in the United States from 2002 to 2008.
Researchers however do not know why exposure to air pollution might increase the chances for NICU admission.
They theorise that pollutants increase inflammation, leading to impaired blood vessel growth, particularly in the placenta, which supplies oxygen and nutrients to the developing fetus.
8. Air pollution may lead to mental health issues in kids
Exposure to air pollution during early life may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in adolescence, suggested three new studies by the University of Cincinnati in the US. A study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that short-term exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with exacerbations of psychiatric disorders in children one to two days later.
A second study, published in the journal Environmental Research, found an association between recent high traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) exposure and higher generalised anxiety.
Another study, published in the journal Environmental Research, found that exposure to TRAP during early life and across childhood was significantly associated with self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms in 12-year-olds.
9. Air pollution leads to irregular periods and menstrual health problems
This 2019 study showed that the air young women breathe may be causing irregular menstrual cycles, as negative health effects from air pollution exposure include infertility, metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome. This study is the first to show that exposure to air pollution among teen girls (ages 14-18) is associated with slightly increased chances of menstrual irregularity and longer time to achieve such regularity in high school and early adulthood.
While air pollution exposures have been linked to cardiovascular and pulmonary disease, this study suggests there may be other systems, such as the reproductive endocrine system, that are affected as well.