Deteriorating Air Quality The Threat of Particulate Matter

Air quality
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The air quality of Delhi has fallen to the ‘very poor’ category and is likely to deteriorate in the coming days. Being one of the most polluted cities in the world, Delhi experiences several factors that reduce the air quality this time every year.

The Season of Toxic Air

From the burning of crops and vehicular exhaust to burning firecrackers, the air in Delhi turns toxic in winter. Earlier this week, the level of PM 2.5, fine particulate matter that can clog lungs and cause a host of diseases, was 306 in the city, according to the Air Quality Index (AQI).

Levels between 101 and 200 are considered moderate while those between 201 and 300 are categorized poor. Anything over 300 is categorized as “very poor” and a figure higher than 500 is considered “severe”.

How Particulate Matter Affects Your Health

Air pollution can significantly impact life expectancy by causing various health issues. Exposure to pollutants like particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide can lead to respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

Dr. Kuldeep Kumar Grover, Head of Critical Care and Pulmonology at CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram, warns that “Prolonged exposure to high levels of air pollution is associated with decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, and increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Over time, these health effects can reduce life expectancy.”

Understanding the Detrimental Effects of Particulate Matter

Particulate matter (PM), which consists of tiny particles or droplets in the air, can have various detrimental effects on human health. The severity of these effects depends on the size of the particles (PM2.5, PM10, etc.), their composition, concentration, and the duration of exposure.

Respiratory Problems: Particulate matter, especially fine particles like PM2.5, can be inhaled deep into the respiratory system. Prolonged exposure can lead to respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, aggravated asthma, bronchitis, and reduced lung function.

Cardiovascular Effects: PM has been linked to heart problems, including heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, and increased blood pressure. These effects can be particularly harmful to individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions.

Lung Cancer: Long-term exposure to PM, especially PM2.5, is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

Reduced Life Expectancy: Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high levels of particulate matter is associated with a reduced life expectancy, primarily due to the increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Aggravation of Pre-Existing Conditions: Individuals with respiratory diseases (e.g., asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or cardiovascular conditions are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of PM. It can worsen their symptoms and lead to more frequent health crises.

Children and the Elderly: Children and the elderly are at higher risk due to developing respiratory systems in children and weaker immune systems in the elderly.

Reduced Lung Growth in Children: Prolonged exposure to high levels of PM can hinder lung development in children, potentially leading to long-term health problems.

Cognitive Effects: Emerging research suggests that air pollution, including PM, may have cognitive effects, potentially affecting neurological health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), various environmental agencies have set guidelines and standards for acceptable levels of particulate matter to protect public health.

Staying Safe in Polluted Air

Individuals can take steps to protect themselves by staying informed about air quality in their area, avoiding outdoor activities during high pollution days, and using air purifiers or masks if necessary. Reducing personal exposure to particulate matter is essential for maintaining good health, particularly for those living in areas with poor air quality. Taking precautions and advocating for cleaner air is vital in the battle against air pollution’s detrimental health impacts.

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