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What will happen if the level of air pollution continues to increase?

While it may seem that skies are blue and it’s a bright and shiny day out there, the future of the environment and in turn, we humans is Gloomy. Seven million people are believed to be killed every year globally because of Air Pollution Air pollution - Outdoor or Indoor, causes more than 6 million premature deaths every year. Outdoor air pollution alone caused about 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution (related to cooking) caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period. Air pollution in India caused approximately 1.2 million deaths in 2017. The situation is so alarming that no individual State in India meets the air quality index suggested by WHO.

Increased death rates from stroke, heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections is a very common affair now. It is believed that if air pollution is not controlled, by the year 2030, people may need oxygen kits to breathe. Humans will be prone to airborne toxins and diseases. Air Pollution has an identifiable impact on the environment and a role in the damage to important balance in the biological food web.

An analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data suggests that fine particulate pollution increased by 5.5 per cent between 2016 and 2018. Emerging studies have highlighted, with the speed of increase in air pollution, there is the likelihood of increased disorders like impaired judgement, mental health problems, poorer performance at schools, respiratory diseases, Cardiovascular damage, Fatigue, headaches and anxiety, Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, damage to reproductive organs, Harm to the liver, spleen and blood.

Air pollution can be analysed on three levels - global, regional and local. The global pollution is like stratospheric ozone depletion; greenhouse effect - emission of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, CFCs, etc.); formation of aerosols (pollutant clouds which suspended particles and chemical compounds). The regional pollution is caused by local engines. The local pollutants (smog) is caused by water precipitating on smoke particles, like burning coal.

By now it has been established that living in a polluted area and breathing toxic air increases the risk of cancer. Even a kid can concur to the fact that Air pollution weakens the immune system. Photochemical smog is another concern especially in the low-lying areas like the metros. It is the combined product of chemical reaction by sunlight and NO x and VOCs. Another common concern is Acid rain which is caused by oxides of sulphur and nitrogen that cause damage to vegetation and buildings.

Global warming is also one of the serious issues associated or rather caused by air pollution. It is predicted by the IPCC, there will be an increase in the average temperature of 1 degree Celsius by 2025 and 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st Century.

The main air pollutants are represented by gases forms, particles in suspension, different ionizing radiation and noise. The gases forms are CO2, CO, CH4, NO2, NO, N2O4, NH3, NH4+, SO2, O3, C6H6 vapours, Hg, volatile phenols, Cl2, etc. The particulate forms are: PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter, heavy metals - Pb, Ni, Cd, As, PAHs, etc.

The EPA has flagged few common pollutants present in the air. Particle Pollution and Ground level-ozone pollution - also known as particulate matter (PM5) can cause cardiovascular problems and can lead to premature death. This becomes a major health hazard. An unhealthy level of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are proven to be hazardous for human health. During rush hour Nitrogen dioxide levels can be as high as 200 ppb (400 µgm-3) and 600 ppb (1200 µgm-3) respectively. Even sulphur dioxide levels can reach up to 400-750 ppb (1000-2000 µgm-3) during rush hours. Airborne lead pollution can cause behavioural problems, lower IQs and even learning disability, and various other neurological problems amongst children. More research and development are underway for better and enriched living. The need of the hour is to create better engineering and construction options that are more in keeping with environmental sustainable goals specifically developing nations like India. In the end, no one can afford to lose sight of the fact that as technology improves itself, so should the health of humans, and not the other way around.

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