Death by air: When just breathing is an effort

The effects of air pollution and its immediate and prolonged health hazards are as severe across the city

mumbai Updated: Nov 29, 2016 09:40 IST
Sadaguru Pandit
Sadaguru Pandit
Hindustan Times

“We mostly sleep outside our homes; we are worried that smoke from these fires at Deonar will choke us if we sleep inside our homes.”

For 90-year-old Shabina Khan, who stays opposite the municipal Deonar dumping ground with her family of four, and other senior citizens living in Deonar, Chembur and Mankhurd, just breathing has become an effort after a fire at the dump enveloped the area in a thick haze of toxic smoke for days.

But the effects of air pollution and its immediate and prolonged health hazards are as severe across the city, as it is next to a dumping ground. Medical experts and researchers have warned the problem will bring down the quality of life and increase cases of breathing ailments.

Pollution is also leading to more deaths. Consider this study by the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay (IIT-B) earlier this year: it found air pollution was the root cause of 12,000 excess deaths in the city every year — excess death is the difference between actual deaths and expected deaths to a population at risk by inhaling poor quality air. Done over a decade, the study looked at mortality data between 2004 and 2013 across 10 cities in Maharashtra, analysed excess deaths caused by air pollution, from heart and respiratory diseases.

They estimated that 91%-97% excess deaths in Mumbai were because of inhaling fine harmful solid and liquid particles floating in the air.

Ambient and indoor air pollution is listed as one of the leading causes in the global burden of diseases project, a list made by medical specialists every year to check the changes in ailments that affect the health of the global population. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), breathlessness, respiratory problems, Tuberculosis and other major allergic issues have increased in Southeast Asia, especially in mega cities such as Bangkok, Delhi and Mumbai.

And the effects are showing.

Andheri resident Shahnawaz Khan says he keeps his windows closed and wraps handkerchiefs when he and his family have to travel outside. “The amount of pollution, it just does not feel healthy to breathe anymore.”

“Toxic fumes can reduce immunity of residents over a period of time. It will affect lung capacity and make them prone to pulmonary diseases,” said Nanaware. A senior official from BMC confirmed there was a considerable increase in patients visiting primary health care centres complaining of air pollution-induced ailments.

“The local health posts are reporting at least 300-400 patients, under treatment every year, that is of course different than the OPD patients coming every day. There is also a sizable increase in the number of COPD and tuberculosis patients,” said the official.

First Published: Nov 29, 2016 09:40 IST