Not just toxic air, harmful rays from sun also lethal for children

  • Ritam Halder, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 05, 2015 10:32 IST

Five year old Ankur is happy. His summer vacations have started and he doesn’t have to brave the extreme heat to reach his play school.

And little Ankur is not the only one who is relived.

Thousands of children across the city have been breathing easy ever since their vacations started. They won’t have to expose themselves and (unknowingly) breathe in the heavily polluted air. Staying indoors will also ensure they stay protected from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV (ultaviolet) rays.

Dr TK Joshi, director of occupational & environmental health programme at the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Maulana Azad Medical College, said children were indeed more vulnerable to UV rays than adults.

“Children and elderly are more vulnerable and should be more careful. Exposure to UV rays causes skin cancer, keratoconjunctivitis (inflammation occurred by irritation) and reduces immunity,” Joshi said.

Last week, a forecast of 12 on the UV index - effectively a rough measure of the amount of harmful ultraviolet radiation in the sunlight reaching the earth’s surface at a given location - was given out by a UK-based weather website.

A one to four range on the UV index is considered as no risk, a range of four to five and five to seven are considered as low and medium risk, respectively. But UV radiations between a seven and 10 range is classified as high risk.

Anything beyond the range of 10 is termed as “critical” or “extremely risky”.

Because of ozone depletion as well as seasonal and weather variations, various amounts of UV radiation reached the earth at any given time.

Gufran Beig, project director of SAFAR (System of Air Quality & Weather Forecasting & Research) at ministry of earth sciences, says the unseen threat from UV rays is serious.

“The maximum risk is from noon to 3pm, with 1pm being the peak time for exposure. Worldwide, some 12 to 15 million people become blind from cataract annually, of which up to 20 per cent may be caused or enhanced by sun exposure according to WHO estimates. Furthermore, environmental levels of UV radiation may suppress cell-mediated immunity and thereby enhance the risk of infectious diseases and limit the efficacy of vaccinations. Both of these act against the health of poor and vulnerable groups, especially children.Delhi and Pune are located in the tropics and hence, people are often exposed to the high levels of UV radiation during summer and monsoon,” Beig said.

Scientists of SAFAR at IITM Pune are working to provide one-day advance forecast for the UV index, which may be ready in a couple of months.

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