660 million Indians lose 3.2 years of life due to air pollution

  • Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 21, 2015 12:40 IST

A new study says that high particulate matter (PM) pollution reduces life expectancy by 3.2 years for 660 million Indians in polluted urban conglomerates, including Delhi, and it meant loss of 2.1 billion life years.

"The loss of more than two billion life years is substantial price to pay for air pollution," says the study done by researchers at Chicago University, Yale University and Harvard University."This may still be an underestimate of the costs of air pollution, because we do not account for the impact of other air pollutants."

The impact of particulate matter pollution on people from the lower economic strata is higher as they don't have capability to deal with the growing hazard. And it is because of their inability, they suffer higher on account of the fall in life expectancy, said Micheal Greenstone of Chicago University, the lead author of the study.

This inference is important considering that air pollution in India is considered a problem created by elite with the governments not willing to take harsh decisions that can impact business as usual way of living of the middle-class and the poor.

The study says it makes economic sense to combat air pollution as it "increases productivity due to reduced rate of sickness". High exposure to particulate of 2.5 microns penetrate deep inside the lungs and can cause cardiovascular problems apart from enhancing breathing ailments. Extremely high exposure for a long time can also cause lung cancer. One of every third child in Delhi had visited a doctor this winter due to high air pollution, a a recent sample study done by All India Institute of Medical Sciences had showed.

The study also says that 54.5% of Indians are exposed to high levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) as air quality in their regions don't meet the national ambient air quality standards. The Indian standard of 40 units grams in cubic meter of air (ug/m3) is four times of the one prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Nearly every Indian life in an area with PM 2.5 pollution above the WHO standard," the study said, adding 272 million live in regions have PM pollution more than eight times higher than the WHO standard.

The study also breaks the myth that PM pollution is an urban problem, saying that rural India faces direct PM pollution from local sources such as biomass and combusion. In urban area, emissions from transport and industry are two biggest sources for particulate matter.

The study has also mapped highly polluted areas in India with Delhi and its neighbouring towns as the blackest spot. PM 2.5 pollution is also high in some other northern cities and Kolkatta.

The estimate is based on analysis of Central Pollution Control Board air qualiy data for a decade, satellite measurement of air pollution and relation between high air pollution and mortality. The study done on the lines of a similar one in China also says that on average pollution in Indian cities is higher than in the Chinese cities, where administration has taken steps to make air cleaner.

It has recommended a series of steps for the government to take to clean the air including amendments to outdated Air and Water Act to make environmental compliance workable. The study also recommended emission trading system --- a domestic green trade--- to incentivise cities to clean toxic air.

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