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Addressing Health Effects Induced by Air Pollution

  • Dr Matiur Rahman
  • 6th October, 2022 05:40:54 PM
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Addressing Health Effects Induced by Air Pollution

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One of the elements of the natural environment is wind or air. Air is essential for life. But natural and man-made causes are polluting the air constantly. According to the World Health Organization, "Air pollution is the accumulation of harmful substances in the Earth's atmosphere that harm people and their environment." Air pollution is more extensive and prevalent than other pollutants because wind can spread pollutants around in a short time.

Several gases and substances have been identified as air pollutants. Major air pollutants are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide; ozone; oxides of nitrogen; hydrocarbon gas; sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, aerosols and various particles, and radioactive gas.

Causes of air pollution are divided into two categories, namely man-made causes and natural causes. Among man-made causes, burning of fossil fuels is a major cause of air pollution. Due to the burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, petrol, kerosene oil etc., small and large particles mix in the air and cause air pollution. Black smoke from vehicles contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, etc., which are very harmful to humans.

Various gases and metal particles, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide etc., are smelly toxic substances that mix with the air and pollute the air. On the other hand, abandoned wastes are incinerated to eliminate garbage, especially in urban areas. The smoke emits carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, etc., which pollute the air.

Deforestation is another cause of air pollution. Unplanned cutting of trees pollutes the air by increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the air. It destroys the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide used in the respiration of animals and plants. Besides, air is contaminated by releasing radioactive material due to war or accidents in nuclear reactors.

Burning wood and coal in brick kilns emit a lot of smoke which mixes with the air causing pollution. In agriculture, weeds, pesticides, organic phosphates and chlorinated hydrocarbons cause air pollution. In addition to the above man-made causes of air pollution, the air is polluted by the construction of buildings, open garbage, smoking, burning of iron, tires etc.

Natural causes like volcanic eruption cause air pollution: sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulphide gas released from previous volcanic eruption pollutes the air. On the other hand, gases produced by the natural decomposition of various organic and inorganic matters pollute the air. Fires in extensive forest areas spread over large areas and pollute the air. Besides, dust storms in desert areas also cause air pollution. Gases released due to gas field explosions or accidents pollute the air. Air pollution is the most harmful to human health. Not only breathing but also life can be endangered by inhaling polluted air. Air pollution can cause airway irritation, coughing and choking. Sulphur oxides, in particular, are the leading cause of various lung diseases. The toxic concentration of oxides of nitrogen causes swelling of the lungs, and the accumulation of fluid in the lungs can lead to death. Excessive air pollution can cause chronic asthma, airway inflammation and hoarseness.

Besides these, other effects of air pollution on human health are asthma; bronchitis; headache;  eye problems; hypertension; decreased oxygen-carrying capacity of blood; heart disease;  restlessness; ulcers; vomiting, nausea; convulsions, etc.

According to the recently published global report on air pollution, the average life expectancy of a Bangladeshi is reduced by almost three years due to polluted air. The report also revealed that "air pollution shortens life expectancy almost as much as tobacco use. Being one of the worst affected countries in the world in terms of air pollution, Bangladesh must take these findings seriously and try to reduce the factors behind air pollution.

Bangladesh and its capital Dhaka have repeatedly been in the news for some of the worst weather in recent years. In February this year, Dhaka's air was found to be the second most polluted in the world, recording an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 194, which is considered "bad" or "very unhealthy". According to the World Air Quality Report 2020, the country's average annual PM 2.5 concentration was 77.1 micrograms per cubic meter, more than double the WHO recommended level.

Naturally, this polluted air will affect human health as exposure to hazardous air can cause many short-term health problems. Several studies have shown that air pollution is directly linked to heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, lung infections and cancer. It is one of the top-risk factors for death and disability worldwide.

Air pollution can be controlled in different ways, such as applying modern technology, fuel purification, public awareness of motor vehicle driving, control of smoke emissions from vehicles, etc.

To reduce factory smoke to control air pollution using modern technology: Filters or other technology should filter particulate matter from factory smoke exhaust pipes and chimneys, separating the pollutants before they enter the air.

Adsorption of pollutants is a modern method of preventing air pollution, and this method separates the contaminants by unique means before they are released into the open air. Application of alternative energy, i.e. the amount of conventional fossil fuel should be reduced, and non-conventional energy such as solar energy, biogas etc. should be increased. As a result, air pollution will be significantly reduced.

Abandoned waste management can reduce air pollution. Different types of abandoned wastes that are of no use can be buried underground without burning. The use of pesticides should be controlled as much as possible, and pesticides should be used in moderation as well as alternative disease control methods.

Rotten or perishable goods should be removed quickly from bazaars, shops, houses etc. Apart from this, the city's garbage should not be kept for a long time and should be sent to the treatment plant as soon as possible or incinerated in the ground to prevent air pollution. In big cities, residential, industrial, commercial, office-court, etc., should be planned. In this, the polluted air of industries will not be able to harm human life and other animals.

Florae maintain the balance of nature. Plants give off oxygen to the ecosystem, and the ecosystem maintains balance by taking in exhaled carbon dioxide. So there is a need to plant trees in large numbers and encourage others to do the same. Moreover, people should be aware of the ill effects of air pollution, and in this case, public awareness programme should be taken.

Since the root causes of air pollution have already been identified, it is time for the authorities to formulate a concrete action plan to tackle this menace. Emergency mitigation measures must be prepared to save people from exposure to polluted air. Experts believe that through public and private efforts and increasing awareness, it is possible to reduce the diseases caused by air pollution.

The writer is a researcher and development worker.

Source: Sun Editorial