Cost of rising air pollution

By Altaf Patel, Mumbai Mirror | March 26, 2019

Unless authorities soon take corrective measures, people will see their quality of life diminish further.

The right to breath clean air is one of the most fundamental rights in the world. Clean air is critical to healthy human life. Pollution affects our health in myriad ways. From respiratory illnesses to damage to sexual organs to cardiovascular problems, the long-term effects of breathing poor quality air are well documented.

According to a new report, seven of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in India. They include Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida and Patna. The study, by the software company AirVisual and NGO Greenpeace, ranked New Delhi at 11, making it the world’s most polluted capital, ahead of Dhaka and Kabul.

A couple of years ago, during a particularly bad week for Delhi, the London Telegraph reported that winter pollution in the state had “hit almost 30 times the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) safe limits, with the concentration of harmful PM 2.5 particles topping 700 micrograms per cubic metre”.

To put that in further context, the newspaper provided the reading in London at the time – 69 – and said “anything above 300 is considered ‘hazardous’”.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) measures readings for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The index itself runs from 0 to 500.


There are several causes of air pollution. Burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum produces sulfur dioxide, a component of the smog hanging over our cities. Vehicle emissions are hazardous to health. Ammonia, a by-product of agricultural activities, is one of the most lethal gases in the atmosphere.

Insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers further emit harmful chemicals. Manufacturing industries and petroleum refineries release large amounts of deadly gases and chemicals. Mining also affects the environment; large amounts of dust and chemicals are released when we dig for minerals.

Global health hazard

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nine out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. Pollution kills seven million people each year, it said last year, adding that a third of all deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be blamed on poor air quality.

Many people think that a lack of visible smoke is an indication that the air is healthy. This is far from true. Many such environments have toxic pollutants far exceeding WHO guidelines. Nearly 93 per cent of all children under the age of 15 breathe polluted air, and hundreds of thousands of kids die of respiratory complications each year, according to various estimates. Pollutants also have an adverse effect on neurodevelopment in children, leading to low scores in cognitive tests.

Sexual health

A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine addressed the issue of the relationship between air pollution and erectile dysfunction. Researchers at Guangzhou University in China tested the effects of vehicle exhaust on erectile performance in rats and came to the conclusion that pollution is not good for erectile function.

The rats were split into groups in the three-month study. The first group was not exposed to exhaust at all, whereas the other three were exposed for two, four, and six hours a day, five days a week, respectively. At the end of the study, the team found that those exposed to the exhaust for four or six hours experienced significant reduction of erectile function.

Studies in Hong Kong and Taiwan also show a strong correlation between exposure to particulate matter and the quality of sperm and male fertility.

Clear choices

The same activities that are destabilising the climate also contribute directly to poor health, the WHO has said. According to Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, benefits of climate change mitigation far outweigh the costs. The health burden of polluting energy sources is now so high, that moving to cleaner and more sustainable choices for energy supply, transport and food systems effectively pays for itself, she says.

In conclusion, in countries like India, unless authorities soon take corrective measures, people will see their quality of life diminish further. The need of the hour is to demand clean air.