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Smog In The Air: How To Safeguard You And Your Family

Reduction in pollution levels takes time, however, reducing the level of contaminants that are inhaled every minute can be controlled

Air pollution has become a phenomenon generalized to an extent that is neglected to be believed as a natural occurrence. But the fact is, in urban areas, people are suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses and the overall wellness quotient is depleting at a frightening rate. Delhi, in recent times is experiencing the worst smog seen in years. In November 2016, government data shows that the smog that enveloped Delhi was the worst in the last 17 years. Tiny particulate pollution that can clog lungs, averaged close to 700 micrograms per cubic meter which is 12 times the Indian government norm and a whopping 70 times the WHO standards.

According to a WHO survey of 1600 cities in 91 countries, air quality of Delhi is the worst of any major city in the world. In Delhi, poor quality air damages irreversibly the lungs of 2.2 million or 50 percent of all children. In addition, research shows that pollution can lower children's intelligence quotient and increase the risks of autism, epilepsy, diabetes and even adult-onset diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Chronic pollutants in the air causing pollution

Particulate Matter (PM) affects people the most than any other pollutant. The major components of PM are sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. Chronic exposure to these micro particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.

Ozone at ground level - not to be confused with the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere - is one of the major constituents of smog. Pollutants such as nitrogen oxides from vehicle and industry emissions and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by vehicles and industrial activity are formed by the reaction with sunlight. Another threatening pollutant looming in the air we breathe is Sulphur dioxide which exists as a result of burning of sulfur-containing fossil fuels for domestic heating, power generation and motor vehicles.

In light of such a health crisis, leveraging technology for solutions to decontaminate the air is one of the most feasible for immediate action. Reduction in pollution levels takes time, however, reducing the level of contaminants that are inhaled every minute can be controlled.

Breathing cleaner air is a matter of smart choice

Outdoor pollution is different from indoor pollution, the level of pollutants are definitely in higher and in denser proportions, but believing that homes and workplaces are secure by the virtue of being sheltered is a myth. However, when the outdoor pollution is very high, it is advisable to reduce the exposure by restricting the outdoor activities and using appropriate mask when stepping out. Improvement in outdoor air quality can be done by collective efforts of people, industry and government. Hence, improving the quality of indoor air has the potential to decrease the rate of susceptibility to respiratory ailments. The three best approaches to improve indoor air quality are:

" Source Control: The first and the easiest step to improve the indoor air quality is to control the source of pollution. If you live next to a busy road or near ongoing construction site, please ensure that the dust and pollutants do not enter your home with ease. Fight mold, mildew, and pollution-causing pests such as cockroaches and dust mites by keeping the humidity of your home low.

" Improved Ventilation: It is essential to facilitate a flow of fresh air inside the house and expel the indoor air. It is critical to decide when we keep the windows open, if it is cloudy and smoggy outside, do not try to get the ventilation from outside. It is advisable to open the window when you see good sun outside. If you have exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchens, use them regularly with full fan speed

" Air Purifiers: The effectiveness of an air purifier depends on how well it collects pollutants from indoor air and how much air it draws through the cleaning or filtering element. An efficient collector with a low air-circulation rate will not be effective, nor will a cleaner with a high air-circulation rate but a less efficient collector. The long-term performance of any air cleaner depends on maintaining it according to the manufacturer's directions. Another important factor in determining the effectiveness of an air cleaner is the strength of the pollutant source. Table-top air cleaners, in particular, may not remove satisfactory amounts of pollutants from strong nearby sources.

Air purification with nature's help
Adoption of air cleaning strategies is a must, however, if you are financially not yet ready for the commercial air purifiers, natural plants with air purifying characteristics can be brought into homes that help in diminishing household pollutants to a large extent. Through studies conducted by NASA, scientists have identified 50 houseplants that remove many of the pollutants and gases mentioned above. We are describing few of the common houseplants found in India below.

1. Snake Plant Snake Plant removes at least 107 known air pollutants, including carbon monoxide and nitrogen monoxide, formaldehyde, chloroform, benzene, xylene, and trichloroethylene among many others. The Plant also produces copious amounts of oxygen throughout the night, making it an excellent plant to keep indoors.

2. Money Plant Money plant is a powerful air purifying plant that absorbs toxic vapors, working to remove volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) including paint fumes, solvents, and petroleum fuels.

3. Peace Lily Peace lily a great general cleanser and air purifying plant that effectively removes all common indoor pollutants generated by furniture, electronics and cleaning products.

4. Bamboo/Areca Palm Palm effectively filters benzene and trichloroethylene and is the good choice to be in places around furniture emitting formaldehyde and filtering trichloroethylene, benzene and carbon monoxide.

5. Aloe Vera: It is easy to grow and used in many consumer products including juice, skin lotion, or ointments for minor burns and sunburns. Apart from all other usage, this plant also helps clearing formaldehyde and benzene from the air.

Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks. We need to implement the combination of air purification strategies to control or eliminate the pollutants from our home environment. These techniques are small steps towards a better air condition, tackling air pollution is an issue that needs to be addressed on a larger, more serious scale. Creating solutions for a better environment on an individual level, is perhaps the starting point of bigger measures, but until then, a city like Delhi must invest in protecting themselves in all pragmatic ways possible.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr. Pankaj Jaiminy

The author is Assistant Vice President (Food, Health and Cosmetics), Testing, Certification & Inspection - TUV SUD South Asia

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