High time govt warned public about perils of pollution: Experts

During the drafting process, experts had discussed the need for issuing advisories or an alert system, but these ideas never took any concrete shape, said sources.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | Delhi | Published: December 6, 2015 2:12 am
delhi, delhi pollution, delhi private vehicle ban, delhi private vehicle, delhi vehicle, delhi cars, delhi car pollution, arvind kejriwal, aap, aam aadmi party, delhi vehicle rule, private car rule As pollution levels continue to soar, a grey haze hung over vehicles on NH 24 Saturday. (Express photo by Prem Nath Pandey )

In a recent directive, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) sought a public health advisory on pollution from the Delhi government, to warn people about deteriorating air quality in the capital and suggest ways to deal with it.

Scientists and environmental experts have highlighted the need for such advisories for years. They have repeatedly pointed out that an exercise to measure poor air quality, without educating people about the health risks associated with breathing it in, was a futile one.
“What is the point of providing data about air quality without an alert system that helps educate people about the necessary steps they should take? How does a layman translate the data into something that affects him,” asked Dr T K Joshi, director of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC).

Dr Joshi and several other experts were part of the central government’s committee to draft the National Air Quality Index (AQI), which was introduced over a year ago.

During the drafting process, experts had discussed the need for issuing advisories or an alert system, but these ideas never took any concrete shape, said sources.

Most global cities struggling with high pollution levels — including Mexico, Beijing, London and Los Angeles — have an effective smog alert system to augment their air quality data.

California was one of the first states to implement such a system in the 1980s after the first alarms were raised about deteriorating air quality in Los Angeles.

Sam Delson, deputy director of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), said most vulnerable groups like children, the elderly and people with asthma and other chronic diseases, “can benefit significantly from avoiding exposure on particularly smoggy days,” from such advisories.

Such advisories are “a basic public health strategy for confronting air pollution,” said Dr Howard Frumkin, Dean at the School of Public Health and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Washington. “Air quality monitoring is important, but if the information generated doesn’t reach those who need to know and motivate protective action, then monitoring does little good,” he said.
According to Dr Joshua Apte, assistant professor at the University of Texas, such advisories would be beneficial for Delhi, due to the rapid real-time changes in air quality. “Pollution levels in Delhi can vary on an hour-to-hour or day-to-day basis. Health advisories can communicate the risks of pollution in a way the public can easily understand,”he said.

There is an “absolute” need for public health advisories, said Dr Bhargav Krishna, research fellow in Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India. “Episodic high air pollution levels have been shown to exacerbate pre-existing respiratory and cardiac conditions. With pollution levels as high as Delhi has experienced over the past few days, exposure can be harmful even for those who don’t have pre-existing conditions,” he said.

The need of the hour seems to be an effective smog alert system, which would be particularly beneficial to children.
“Given the level of particulates in Delhi this month, the outdoor activities of children should definitely have been restricted. Children have bigger lungs in proportion to their body size, and hence inhale more amount of air,” said Dr Joshi. He advised people living near main roads or traffic intersections to avoid keeping their windows open during peak traffic hours.

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  1. A
    Dec 6, 2015 at 1:47 am
    It is an excellent initiative by kejriwal sir...look at the thinking of our citizens...Delhi has worse levels than Beijing and yet people want to travel only in vehicles...I agree if it is emergency....but why many of these rich guys can't travel by metro or walk few days?do they have to showcase their status by only travelling in BMWs? What about the common man then? Should he suffer from pollution created by others? and look at this opposition parties trying to misguide these stupid people for the sake of votes...their education has given them nothing except just to utter nonsense from their mouths
    1. C
      Concerned Indian
      Dec 6, 2015 at 2:51 am
      Sure pollution is dangerous but, why is it always the Aspiring Middle Cl need to take up all the Burden. The rich will keep 2 cars for every family member. The poor already use public transport. Only the aspiring middle cl who study hard, work hard, pay their taxes and finally get to own a car are now restricted from using the vehicle. What should middle cl Indians aspire for? Yesterday AK420 worked for Private School Managements, letting them reduce teacher’s ry & increase School Fee. Today AK420 working for Automobile Manufacturers, forcing Delhiites to buy 2 Cars Another Twisted Logic by Khujali – Higher ry leads to less Corruption. Then every Govt Employee would say they are corrupt because their ry is not sufficient.
      1. R
        Dec 6, 2015 at 6:21 pm
        Shake that sleeping wisdom for vehicle polluting beyond informed acceptable threshold - be it an auto Riksha - out to earn daily bread or any office goer or any public /private transport , including so called ambulances ,regard it as crime on 1st cite - cease of R/C , 2nd cite cease driving licence next adventure 3-days Jail.
        1. Hemen Parekh
          Dec 26, 2015 at 6:20 am
          Is Uma Bharti helpless ? She is Cabinet Minister for Water Resources / River Development / Ganga Rejuvenation Immediately after taking over in May 2014 , she launched " Swatchh Ganga " project After struggling for past 19 months , Ganga continues to be as polluted as before As it flows through the Northern States , thousands of factories continue to dump their untreated chemical effluents into it , despite laws prohibiting this And hundreds of cities / towns , continue to discharge their untreated sewage into it I am sure , if she were to read following news report in Business Line ( 26 Dec 2015 ) , she would want to cry in anguish and even wonder : " Of course , democracy is a wonderful thing - provided * MPs / MLAs server the interests of the people who elected them , whether they are in party of power or sitting in the opposition * And the government officers / police were to enforce whatever laws exist and book the offenders, without fear or favor ( no " parrot in the cage " syndrome ) * And the Courts hear the cases and p orders on the same day ( no dates ) But , if none of this is likely to happen in a democracy , can I have the powers of the Chinese Ministry of Environment Protection , which : # Received 12,369 telephonic complaints # Inspected 14 lakh companies between Jan - Sept ( 5091 per day ) # Ordered 28,600 companies to suspend their operations ( 102 per day ) # Shut down 17,000 polluting industries ( 61 per day ) # Found 46,800 companies discharging pollutants # Discovered 63,700 companies involved in illegal constructions " It is time citizens of India asked themselves : " To 480 million BPL ( below poverty line ) people of India , what matters more , * Right to vote / select , MPs / MLAs , once in 5 years , or * Freedom from hunger and freedom from pollution / diseases ? For a solution , read my blog " ROMP - a panacea ? " at ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- hemen parekh 26 Dec 2015