Air Pollution

  • IASbaba
  • November 2, 2022
  • 0
Environment & Ecology
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Context: As the winter approaches the public discourse in India shifts towards air pollution in Indian metros, with a focus on Delhi.

  • Various studies estimate that a significant chunk of Indians would die early due to air pollution and many will have to set aside a large part of their health budget to take care of diseases arising due to air pollution.

About Air Pollution:

  • Air pollution is the presence of substances in the atmosphere that are harmful to the health of humans and other living beings, or cause damage to the climate or materials.
  • Different types of air pollutants include
    • Gases: such as ammonia, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, methane, carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons.
    • Particulates: both organic and inorganic.
    • Biological molecules.

Impact of Air Pollution:

  • It may cause diseases, allergies and even death in humans.
  • It can cause harm to other living organisms such as animals and food crops.
  • Can lead to climate change and may damage the natural environment
    • Ozone depletion or habitat degradation
    • Built hazardous environments (for example, acid rain).
  • Productivity losses and degraded quality of life caused by air pollution are estimated to cost the world economy $5 trillion per year.

Economic Impact of Air pollution:

  • The rising impact of air pollution leads to increased government health expenditure in two ways-
  • Reimbursement of costs incurred by people with insurance cover under Ayushman Bharat.
  • Expenditure occurred in government/public hospitals for treatment of diseases due to air pollution.


About Nano particles:

  • Nanoparticles (NPs) are tiny particles which range from 1nm to 100nm in size.
  • Due to their ultrafine size, they can be suspended in the atmosphere for a long time and can travel longer distances.
  • Nanoparticles are hard to detect
    • They possess very little mass but are many in number.
    • Therefore, the current mass-based, ambient air quality regulations for particulate matter are ineffective in dealing with nanoparticle concentrations in cities.

Source of Nanoparticles:

  • They are arising from both natural and man-made processes:
    • Soil erosion
    • Dust storms
    • Burning of unprocessed fuel.
    • Industrial, and mechanical processes.

Nanoparticles as pollutants:

  • There are pollutants which are more harmful than PM10/PM2.5 in the case of air pollution which are not talked about much.
  • The common discourse about air pollution in India Centres on mean concentration of particulate matter PM10 and PM2.5.
  • This is because the Central Pollution Control Board has the facility to monitor only PM2.5/PM10 pollutants in Delhi or elsewhere.
  • As a result, it is evident that we are underestimating the deleterious effects of air pollution by a big margin.

The gravity of Nanoparticle pollution is huge:

  • Inhalation is the most common route through which people get exposed to nanoparticles.
  • Ingestions and dermal contact of engineered nanoparticles are also popular transmission mechanisms.
  • Inhaled particles can enter the blood circulation from where they can be carried to different organs such as the heart, kidney and liver.
  • Occupational exposure to these toxic elements can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Suggestive evidence shows that nanoparticles accumulated in the vascular sites can clot blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
  • For patients with pre-existing heart or pulmonary conditions, the situation can get worse when exposed to elevated particle concentrations.
  • Infant mortality, neonatal complications, and birth defects are also likely to increase with ever-increasing concentrations of matters smaller than 10 µm.

Measures needed to improve air quality:

  • Improving public transport and limiting the number of polluting vehicles on the road.
  • Introducing less polluting fuel and strict emission regulations.
  • Improved efficiency for thermal power plants and industries.
  • Increased use of clean renewable energy and moving from diesel generators to rooftop solar.
  • Promote electric vehicles and invest in electric vehicle infrastructure.
  • Removing dust from roads and regulating construction activities need to be stressed.
  • Stopping biomass burning and using biomass from agriculture to generate Biogas etc.

Various stakeholders role to counter Air pollution:

WHO’s 4 Pillar Strategy:

  • WHO adopted a resolution (2015) to address the adverse health effects of air pollution.
  • This 4-pillar strategy calls for an enhanced global response to the adverse health effects of air pollution. Those four pillars are:
    • Expanding the knowledge base
    • Monitoring and reporting
    • Global leadership and coordination
    • Institutional capacity strengthening

Initiatives by the Government of India and Various state government’s:

  • Constitution of Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) in National Capital Region (NCR) and adjoining areas.
  • The introduction of BS-VI vehicles and push for electric vehicles (EVs).
  • Subsidy to farmers for buying Turbo Happy Seeder (THS) which is a machine mounted on a tractor that cuts and uproots the stubble, in order to reduce stubble burning.
  • Implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP)
    • It is a set of curbs triggered in phases as the air quality deteriorates, which is typical of the October-November period.
  • Development of the National Air Quality Index (AQI) for public information under the aegis of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • Construction of the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways to reduce vehicular pollution.

Way ahead:

  • Immediate need for extensive research related to the toxic effects of nanoparticles on human health.
  • Include protection against the nanoparticles in addition to PM10/PM2.5 in face masks.
  • There should be a mechanism in place to record the extent of air pollution arising from nanoparticles and the risk arising from the same.
  • There is a need for the government to raise awareness on the dangers of nanoparticles.
  • Monitoring stations should try to measure the nanoparticles; without quantifiable statistics, we cannot highlight the dangers involved.

Nanoparticles are more deleterious pollutants than the recognized pollutants and the chemically reactive nature of nanoparticles makes the risk assessment highly uncertain.

Therefore, this calls for an interdisciplinary research team of scientists, health professionals, and epidemiological researchers to be convinced of the scientific composition, transmission and exclusive effects of nanoparticles on human health.

Source:  The Hindu

Previous Year Questions

Q.1) In the Guidelines, statements: context of WHO consider the Air Quality following

  1. The 24-hour mean of PM2.5 should not exceed 15 ug/m³ and annual mean of PM 2.5 should not exceed 5 µg/m³.
  2. In a year, the highest levels of ozone pollution occur during the periods of inclement weather.
  3. PM10 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream.
  4. Excessive ozone in the air can trigger asthma.

Which of the statements given above are correct?  (2022)

  1. 1, 3 and 4 only
  2. 1 and 4 only
  3. 2, 3 and 4 only
  4. 1 and 2 only


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