Clean Air Summit discusses health impacts of air pollution

Air pollution can contribute to premature death from cardiovascular and other diseases. But how these health impacts can be communicated effectively to the public, and how pollution can be studied better, were among the topics discussed at the Clean Air Summit

There are indications that air pollution is contributing to premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in people under 40, said Dr Rahul Patil, interventional cardiologist at the Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research. Dr Patil was speaking at the India Clean Air Summit 2019 (ICAS19). “Inhalation of particulate matter is leading to thickening of blood, with patients often showing clinical behaviours of a smoker although they are non-smokers,” he said.

ICAS19 was hosted by the Centre for Air Pollution Studies, CSTEP, in partnership with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the state government’s Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment. The two-day summit was held on August 22-23.

“Cases of cardiovascular disease and diabetes are increasing, and India is extremely vulnerable,” said Dr D Prabhakaran, Vice President (Research and Policy) at the Public Health Foundation of India. He was speaking at a training session on the health impacts of air pollution at the summit.

“While most studies have confirmed the effects of bigger particulate matter, more data is required on the health impact of smaller particulate matter such as PM2.5. Maintaining the medical reports of patients is essential to collect data and track the health impacts of pollution. Both indoor and outdoor studies, particularly exposure studies, should be conducted, especially with vulnerable populations,” Dr Prabhakaran said.

There were also discussions on how the seriousness of air pollution and its health impacts can be communicated effectively. According to Avijit Michael of Jhatkaa.org, more than data and numbers, something tangible is what would convince citizens to be proactive.

He was sharing Jhatkaa.org’s experience of installing lung-shaped air filters in major Indian cities, including Bengaluru. “When the lungs turned opaque black within just three days in Bengaluru, citizens and administrative officials were convinced about the state of the air here, and its impact on their lungs. Following this, traffic police began wearing air masks while managing signals in the city,” Michael said.

“It is important to reach out to people in a way they can relate to. To reach more policymakers, it would be interesting to have policy recommendations in vernacular languages,” said Nitin Sethi, Associate Editor at the Business Standard.

K Sudhakar, Chairman of KSPCB, lamented, “Till a few years ago, Bengaluru was known as the garden city, but it is increasingly becoming a concrete jungle. Urbanisation is costing us dear, and this is reflected in the quality of the environment we live in,” he said, adding, “To solve this, different government departments and policymakers not only need to work continuously, but in collaboration with each other.”

He said that the funding currently available to study air pollution was inadequate, given that the equipments for monitoring and measurement were expensive. However, “technology can be a game changer in this case; developing efficient low-cost sensors can significantly expand monitoring and measurement capabilities across the country. Industrial units (pharma, cement etc), should invest in monitoring equipment to track air quality levels in their premises,” he said.

The two-day summit brought together scientists, experts and policymakers to discuss the challenges and opportunities in achieving India’s targeted reductions in air pollution. Experts from IIT Madras, IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi, TERI, JNU and IITM, and officials from state transport and forest departments, participated.

Welcoming participants at the summit on Thursday, Padma Vibhushan Dr V S Arunachalam,
Founder-Chairman of CSTEP and former Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, said, “Numerous
cities in India do not fall within acceptable standards of air quality. But it is never too late. Our history shows that we have taken responsibility for our actions and contributed towards environmental well-being.” He stressed on the need for science and technology to solve complex, global issues including air pollution.

[This article is based on a press release from CSTEP, and has been republished here with minimal edits]

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