Pollution, now a days a very common term that we can hear everywhere; it is in schools, colleges, offices, and media like newspapers, and journals in general. It happens when pollutants contaminate our nature, leading to changes that affect our normal lifestyles adversely.With the modernization and development in our lives, pollution has reached its peak, leading to global warming and human illness. Out of all the types of pollution, air pollution is now the most alarming type as it has both acute and chronic effects on human health. It has a long range from minor respiratory tract irritation to chronic respiratory and heart disease, and lung cancer.Further to it, long-term exposures can be leads to increasing mortality. A study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, finds that breathing more polluted air over many years may itself deteriorate the effects of COVID-19 globally.
Hazardous chemicals escape to nature through a number of natural and/or anthropogenic activities and may cause adverse effects on our health and the environment. Increased combustion of fossil fuels in the last century is responsible for the progressive change in the atmospheric composition. Pollutants like carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx),volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ozone (O3), heavy metals, and particulate matter like PM2.5 and PM10, differ in their chemical composition, reaction properties, emission, time of disintegration and ability to diffuse in long or short distances.Pollutants are the key elements or components of pollution, which are generally waste materials of different forms, which is leads to Global warming and other environmental pollution.
Types of Pollution : Pollution occurs in different forms; air, water, soil, noise, heat/ thermal, etc.Every form of pollution has two sources of occurrence; the point and the non-point sources. The point sources are easy to detect, monitor, and control, whereas the non-point sources are hard to control. Here we are discussing briefly of different types of Pollution that evidently destroy our earth.
Air Pollution : Air Pollution is probably the most prominent and dangerous form of pollution. It may occur due to many reasons.
Excessive burning of fuel, which is a necessity of our daily, lives for cooking, driving, and other industrial activities; releases a huge amount of chemical substances in the air. Over time, these substances pollute the air.
Another common cause of air pollution may be attributed to the smoke from factories, vehicles, or the burning of wood. These activities, individually and collectively release sulfur dioxide into the air thereby making it toxic.
Water Pollution : Water Pollution has taken a toll on all the surviving species of the earth. Almost 60% of the species live in water bodies and when the water is polluted, it severely affects their lives and hinders their health in general.
Water pollution may occur due to multiple factors. One of the biggest instances may be industrial water pollution where the industrial wastes are dumped into the rivers and other water bodies thereby causing an imbalance in the water. Over time, it leads to severe contamination thereby resulting in the death of aquatic species.
Water pollution may also be caused when insecticides and pesticides like DDT are sprayed on plants. While this may not seem much, over time, this simple activity pollutes the groundwater system which most of us use. If left unchecked for long, the same groundwater will turn out to be hazardous, leading to a range of health issues in the long run.
Oil spills in the oceans too have caused pollution to the water bodies. Oil spills are usually caused due to accidents from large ships, tankers, or any other form of an oil pipeline.
Eutrophication is another big reason of water pollution, it occurs due to daily activities like washing clothes, utensils near lakes, ponds, or rivers; this forces detergents to go into the water which blocks sunlight from penetrating, thus reducing oxygen and making it inhabitable.
Soil Pollution : Soil pollution occurs due to the incorporation of unwanted chemicals in the soil. The use of insecticides and pesticides absorbs the nitrogen compounds from the soil making it unfit for plants to derive nutrition from.The release of industrial waste, mining, and deforestation also exploits the soil. Since plants can’t grow properly, they can’t hold the soil which in turn leads to soil erosion.
Noise Pollution : Noise pollution is caused when noise, which is an unpleasant sound, affects our ears and leads to psychological problems like stress, hypertension, hearing impairment, etc. It is caused by machines in industries, loud music, noise from traffic and many more.It affects our overall well-being, sleep, and rest. It may also adversely impact the development of kids and create an imbalance in the blood pressure and heart rate of elderly individuals.
It can be considered as by-product of air pollution. It is due to the excess heat in the environment creating unwanted changes over long time periods; due to the huge number of industrial plants, deforestation and air pollution. It increases the earth’s temperature, causing drastic climatic changes and extinction of wildlife.Thermal pollution can result in an increase in temperature and can prove to be disastrous for animals. It can make wildlife vulnerable and they may never be able to recover.
Serious Effects of Pollution on Our Humans and Environment:
WHO’s new estimates show that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Polluted air penetrates deep into their lungs and cardiovascular system. Among the 2.2 million air pollution-related deaths in this Region in 2016, 29% were due to heart disease, 27% stroke, 22% chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 14% lung cancer and 8% pneumonia.
1. Environment Deprivation: The environment is the first casualty for the increase in pollution. The increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere leads to smog, which can restrict sunlight from reaching the earth.This incident affects the photosynthesis in plants, thereby hindering their growth. Gases like Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide can also cause acid rain. Again, water pollution in terms of the oil spill may lead to the death of several wildlife species.
2.Human Health:The decrease in the quality of air leads to several respiratory problems like chest pain, congestion, throat inflammation, cardiovascular disease including cancer.
Water pollution may creates skin related problems including skin irritations and rashes. Similarly, noise pollution leads to hearing loss, stress, and sleep disturbance.
It is worth noting that while the results of pollution tend to vary, it has one specific impact to degrading the quality of human life.
3.Global Warming:The emission of greenhouse gases particularly CO2 is leading to global warming. Day by day new industries are being set up, new vehicles come on roads and trees are cut to make development.All of them, in a direct or indirect way, lead to an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. This leads to the melting of polar ice caps, which increases the sea level, which makes threat for the people living near coastal areas.It is worth mentioning that Global Warming is almost entirely caused by humans and unless we check our pollution levels, it can completely destroy the world.
4.Ozone Layer depletion:The ozone layer is the thin shield high up in the sky that stops ultraviolet rays from reaching the earth. As a result of human activities, chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), are released into the atmosphere thereby contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer.
Countries taking action : While the latest data show ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in the WHO Western Pacific Region, they also show some progress. The estimated number of air pollution deaths in the Region has come down from 2.8 million in 2012 to 2.2 million in 2016.
WHO air quality recommendations call for countries to reduce annual mean values of air pollution to 20 μg/m3 for PM10 and 10 μg/m3 for PM2.5. Countries are taking measures to reduce air pollution from particulate matter. For example, the annual median exposure to ambient PM2.5 in China was 48.8 μg/m3 in 2016—a 17% reduction from the estimate for 2012, but still almost five times higher than WHO recommendations.Improving air quality demands sustained, coordinated government action at all levels. Countries need to work together on solutions.
Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific : Science-based Solutions :
1. Using public transports
Using public transport is a sure short way of contributing to less air pollution as it provides with less gas and energy. In addition to less release of fuels and gas, using a public transport can also help in saving money. Lesser vehicles on roads will contribute to lesser emissions. Using public transport will help in:
• Reducing the overall emissions
• Number of vehicles reduced on the roads
• Lesser traffic congestion episodes
• It is pocket friendly alternative
2. Recycle and Reuse :
The concept of recycle and reuse is not just conserve resources and use them judicially but also is helpful for air pollution as it helps in reducing pollution emissions. The recycled products also take less power to make other products.
3. Say No to plastics
The use of plastic products could be very detrimental to the environment as they take a very long time to decompose, due to their material made up of oil. The use of paper bags instead is a better alternative as they decompose easily and are recyclable.
4. Reduction of forest fires and smoking
The collection of garbage and getting it on fire in dry seasons or dry leaves catching fires is another factor for causing air pollution; also, smoking detoriate the air quality along with obviously damaging one’s health.
5. Fans over AC
The usage of AC’s takes a lot of energy and emits a lot of heat which is bad for the environment. AC’s also take a lot of power and energy to work as compared to fans.
6. Avoid using crackers
The use of crackers during festivals and weddings is sadly one of the biggest contributors to air pollution, leading to a layer of smog, which is extremely harmful for health.
7. Afforestation over deforestation
Last but not the least, plant more trees as possible. The practice of planting trees provides many benefits to the nature and helps with the release of oxygen.
Status of Air Pollution with reference to Asia Pacific : The World Health Organization advises that a mean annual PM2.5 reading of 10 micrograms per cubic meter is safe, but less than 8% of the world's population has such clean air. Of the world's cities with the worst air pollution last year, ranked by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir, the top 148 are all in the Asia-Pacific region. Bawshar, Oman, ranking 149 on the PM2.5 list, was the first non-Asia-Pacific entry.Health authorities have been sounding the alarm about Asia's air quality for year. China's so-called airpocalypse began a decade of alarm about the health effects of pollution, but has slowly improved by Beijing with some stringent measure. Meanwhile, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan replaced China to have the world's worst air.
Indonesia emits huge amounts of pollution from fires lit to clear land for plantations. In a report last year, Greenpeace, the environmental pressure group, said seven out of 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are affected by haze generated by fires in Indonesia, with Singapore and Malaysia worst affected.The culprits are the pulp, paper and palm oil industries. Small farmers also burn off forest and peatland.
Bangladesh is 15 times more densely populated than neighbouring Myanmar. According to the World Air Quality Index 2020, released in March by IQAir, the Swiss air quality technology company, it is the most polluted country in the world, with an annual mean PM2.5 of 77.1 micrograms per cubic meter. Dhaka, meanwhile, is the world's second most polluted capital.
India, according to AQI 2020, Delhi pips Dhaka being the world's most polluted capital for the third straight year. A measure of Delhi's situation in terms of PM2.5 levels, air quality actually improved by about 15% from 2019 because of the nationwide lockdown against COVID-19, but even then remained the worst in the world.
Air pollution claimed an estimated 54,000 lives in the Indian capital in 2020, with related economic losses of $8.1 billion about 13% of Delhi's annual gross domestic product, according to a recent joint study by Greenpeace and IQAir. "Avoidable deaths" elsewhere last year included 25,000 in Mumbai and 12,000 in Bangalore.
Pakistan has significant reserves of low-grade coal, but in 2016 had only one coal-fired power station. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a 50 billion USD flagship component in China's Belt and Road Initiative includes 10 coal-powered stations worth 10.8 billion USD. Half are already operating, but the two planned for Muzaffargarh and Rahim have been wrestled.
In Vietnam, recognised to be a fast growing economy in ASEAN, with real GDP growth of 8.5%, but it comes with unprecedented awareness of the environmental toll.PM2.5 levels around Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City reached particularly high levels.
IQAir ranked China's air 14th dirtiest among 106 countries in its 2020 world air quality report, but it is going in the right direction. China reduced its PM2.5 level from 41.2 micrograms per cubic meter in 2018 to 34.7 last year, still three times more than WHO's advised mean level.China began to address air pollution seriously in 2013, when coal satisfied two-thirds of its power needs. China now leads the world in solar power development and has intensely reduced its cost to the world. Its electric vehicle and battery sectors are also world leaders, but not all its solutions are environment friendly. China has promoted hydropower as an alternative, raising serious environmental concerns in Southeast Asia where it has dammed countless rivers, including the Mekong.
Suggested Medication : Some sources have suggested avenues for prevention and relief of symptoms caused by air pollution, with most proposing avoidance as the best strategy. However, existing treatments for allergic and non-allergic rhinitis may provide relief of nasal irritation, while health supplements could enhance the body’s own natural defence mechanisms against pollutants. In a survey of allergic rhinitis sufferers, 93.4% of patients were advised by physicians to avoid exposure to irritants and allergens. Although it may not be possible for families based in cities to move to less polluted areas, this strategy has been shown to be effective. Asthmatic children from a polluted city experienced a four-fold decrease in nasal eosinophil concentration after spending a week living in a rural environment.
Nasal irrigation and nasal sprays (often available as over-the-counter [OTC] medications) are two approaches used to treat the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis associated with air pollution, including nasal congestion and runny nose. For relieving nasal irritation and removing excess mucus, a nasal saline rinse can be considered for both non-allergic and allergic forms of rhinitis. No specific studies evaluating treatments for relief of cough or throat symptoms caused by air pollution were identified in the literature; however, options are available to treat cough of a variety of origins. Traditional OTC treatments include cough suppressants, decongestants and expectorants.
Dietary supplements may help reduce and prevent the effects of air pollution. Children given formula supplemented with the polyunsaturated fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid in the first year of life were found to have a lower incidence of upper respiratory tract infection, wheezing, asthma and allergy at 3 years of age compared to those fed non-supplemented formula.66 Other studies have suggested that dietary antioxidants could represent a potential treatment option to reduce oxidative stress caused by air pollution and attenuate the inflammatory response in asthma.
Masks are recommended for protection against environmental pollutants, especially for people commuting on roads. An Indonesian study compared three types of mask (surgical masks, bandanas and motorcycle masks) in road users and found that surgical masks were able to reduce exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 by 71% and 30%, respectively. Conversely, both motorcycle masks and bandanas reduced PM10 but led to an increase in PM2.5.
Pollution is an unintended but harmful consequence of human endeavours aimed at thriving in the modern world, and the health effects of pollution will continue to worsen without decisive action. Considering the significant health burden and the multiple potential benefits of interventions, WHO supports countries by providing evidence, building institutional capacity and leveraging the health argument to convene sectors to tackle air pollution. Our intention to write this article is just to update and give the proper awareness to our readers .
MPharm (Nat. Chem.); MBA(Mkt.)
Associate Vice President
Global Regulatory Affairs,
Chandra Mohan Nandi
MSc. (Organic Chem.)
Global Regulatory Affairs,
Dr. Ishaan Thassu
MBBS (Calcutta National Medical College)
Kolkata, West Bengal