Delhi-NCR breathes poison. That’s how you’re slowly dying

Delhi-NCR breathes poison.  That’s how you’re slowly dying

Air pollution can affect brain development in children. Research says it can also cause dementia, strokes, heart attacks, and premature births.

Tirtho Banerjee

New Delhi,UPDATED: November 3, 2022 3:16 PM IST

By Tirtho Banerjee: Seven-year-old Pankaj gasps as he heads to school. Little Suman is made to masquerade even though she feels stifled by it. She has had a severe asthma attack recently. Ritesh, who will turn 26 in January, continues to suffer from a sore throat, a burning sensation in his nose and watery eyes. Debashish, an executive in his mid-40s, has been suffering from nasal energy and wheezing lately and can’t concentrate on his work.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and these cases cannot be taken in isolation. They are all linked to the deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR which has assumed monstrous levels of toxicity.

Apart from sore throat, wheezing, asthma and burning eyes, more and more people are complaining of chest infections and pneumonia. Several people have also reportedly been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of hospitals. Breathing difficulty and other pollution-related problems in children are increasing by 70%, according to some reports. And as the air quality index reaches an all-time high, health experts are warning of a “medical emergency.”

“People are affected by the short-term and long-term impacts of pollution. One is immediately affected when the lungs are exposed to this air,” Dr. Arvind Kumar, chairman of the Institute of Thoracic Surgery at Medanta Hospital, told ANI.

“As the smoke enters the chest, it causes immediate acute inflammation in the trachea and lungs, followed by these toxic chemicals being absorbed from the lungs and into the blood,” he noted.

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“Those with medical conditions are at high risk. Respiratory and heart problems, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), etc., are the short-term impacts. However, those affected may suffer from long-term metabolic diseases and cancer,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

Some experts say that prolonged exposure to air pollution affects children’s brains and causes hyperirritability. Toxins cause neuroinflammation. Some warn of restricted organ growth and impaired brain development. The elderly can also have a stroke if they continue to inhale the stale air for a long time. Researchers have found many cases of heart attacks in the recent past related to air pollution. It has been established that dirty air can cause obstruction in arteries and veins.

A recent survey by LocalCircles revealed that a whopping 70% of people have one or more family members, or themselves, facing the impact of poor air quality in Delhi-NCR.

“The elderly at home are the most affected along with those who have a medical condition and of course children who go to school,” said Sachin Taparia, founder of the community social media platform.

An alarming investigation by the WHO in 2018 said that pregnant women are vulnerable to polluted air. Exposure to it can cause premature labor. Air pollution also affects neurological development and cognitive ability and can trigger childhood asthma and cancer. Another risk is having a baby with a low birth weight and weak immunity. Exposure to high levels of air pollution puts a child at a higher risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular ailments, later in life, experts say.

One study noted that the risk of dementia increases by 3% for every microgram per cubic meter (ug/m3) of increase in fine particles.

Fine particulate air pollution caused 6.4 million premature deaths and 93 billion days lived with illness in 2019, according to the Global Burden of Disease study. The global cost of health damage associated with exposure to air pollution is $8.1 trillion, equivalent to 6.1% of global GDP, it added.

Even when the anti-smog guns are put into service and the Delhi Government Graduated Response Action Plan (GRAP) is implementedno relief from the toxic air as the ‘silent killer’ continues to prowl.

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