Dr C Arden Pope III, a Mary Lou Fulton Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University, and an expert on environmental health, on Tuesday spoke to Hindustan Times about the adverse health impacts of air pollution, the odd-even policy in Delhi, measures required to fight pollution and how experts from the US can help Indian scientists and policymakers.
Where are we going wrong in terms of air pollution? What can we do?
A lot of circumstances add up to create very high pollution levels. High emissions, number of geographic issues, very large population and increasing number of automobiles together contribute to a city’s worsening air quality.
We need to quit treating air as a free space to put in your pollution. Industrial sources need to be cleaned up. Clean up vehicles. Use cleaner fuel. Do away with coal-powered plants. Look for cleaner fuel. It won’t be easy. You have to go to the various polluting sources and clean them up. For example, one old truck can emit as much pollution as 100 clean ones. It needs to be off the road. You have to identify these sources of high emission and clean them up.
What do you think of the recent odd-even exercises in Delhi?
Odd-even has been tried elsewhere too. But it hasn’t work. One thing many people do is they get two cars — one nice one and the other a junk one — to drive on both the days. The result is more pollution instead of less. More effective strategy is to go after the emission sources that are really, really high.
How can experts, like you, from the US help?
My expertise is health impacts of air pollution. It is very important to make good policies to combat pollution. I can give information to policymakers to make rational choices on how much pollution they want and how much effort they have to put to clean the air up.
What are the health impacts of the foul air we breathe?
Primary health impacts of air pollution are respiratory diseases, which include lung cancer, and cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks. However, the good news is that there is ample evidence that when you reduce air pollution, there is improvement in health. Medicines are always looking for preventable cause of diseases. Once you are aware, you address these issues. What we eat, what we drink and what we breathe matters a lot.