By Oge Okafor
Think of it this way, you are driving behind this trailer, truck or even one rickety vehicle (either on a bike or in your car) belching out thick smoke from its exhaust pipes, very bad gaseous fumes that make you uncomfortable. The fumes are so bad that you are choking and even temporarily blinded for as long as you keep driving behind the truck.
Or you just came back home from a hard day’s job to relax only for power supply to be interrupted by the power company. Then this neighbour of yours brings out his ‘I-pass-my-neighbour’ generator he wouldn’t service and trains the exhaust pipe close to your windows (this is common in face-me-I-face-you type of accommodation). Even, when you complain, he feels you are jealous or trying to tell him how educated you are.
From noise pollution of loudspeakers in churches, mosques and music shops to fumes released from generators and machines around and industrial wastes being indiscriminately released into the atmosphere; these and more scenarios daily occur in our environment in big cities and are now extending to our rural communities and call for caution as we embrace the benefits of technology. The question here is what kind of air are you breathing?
Since the outset of the industrial revolution, there has been a steady change in the composition of the atmosphere mainly due to the combustion of fossil fuels used for the generation of energy and transportation.
Air pollution is a major environmental health hazard in developing and the developed countries. The effects on health are very complex as there are many different sources and their individual effects vary. It is not only the ambient air quality in the cities but also the indoor air quality in the rural and urban areas that are causing concern. In fact, in the developing world, the highest air pollution exposures occur indoors.
Air pollutants that are inhaled have serious impact on human health and consist of gaseous pollutants, odours and SPM (suspended particulate matter) such as dust, fumes, mist and smoke. They affect the lungs and the respiratory system and are also taken up by the blood and pumped all round the body. These pollutants are also deposited on soil, plants and in the water further exposing humans to danger.
According to the World Health Organization, 9 out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air therefore calling for dramatic action against pollution as it has been blamed for more than six million deaths annually.
The WHO estimates that more than six million deaths per year are linked to exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution. Data is more solid for outdoor pollution, which is blamed for more than three million fatalities annually. But indoor pollution can be equally as harmful, especially in poorer developing world where cooking often involves burning charcoal. Nearly 90 percent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, WHO said.
Air pollution-related symptoms
Many of us experience some kind of air pollution-related symptoms such as watery eyes, coughing or wheezing according to sparetheair. Headaches, increased fatigue, asthma attack, irregular heartbeat, acute bronchitis, dry throat, nausea, irritation are also noticeable. Even for healthy people, polluted air can cause respiratory irritation or breathing difficulties during exercise or outdoor activities. Your actual risk depends on your current health status, the pollutant and concentration and the length of your exposure to polluted air.
People most susceptible to severe health problems from air pollution include:
■ Individuals with heart diseases such as coronary artery disease or congestive heart failure.
■ Individuals with lungs disease such as asthma, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
■ Pregnant women
■ Outdoor workers
■ Children under age 14, whose lungs are still developing
■ Athletes who exercise vigorously outdoors
High air pollution levels can cause immediate health problems like:
● Aggravated cardiovascular and respiratory illness
● Added stress to heart and lungs, which must work harder to supply the body with oxygen
● Damaged cells in the respiratory system
Long term health effects can include chronic respiratory disease, lung cancer, heart disease and even damage to the brain, nerves, liver or kidneys.
Long term exposure to polluted air can have permanent health effects like:
● Accelerated aging of the lungs
● Loss of lung capacity
● Decreased lung function
*Development of asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and possibly cancer
● Shortened life span
Air pollution has long been blamed for damaging the heart and lungs but of recent,studies suggest it also affects behaviour as researchers have said that exhaust fumes clog motorists’ brains and trigger crashes.
According to Dailymail, an analysis by the London School of Economics found that increases in the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere are linked to an increase in accidents. It is thought that the brown, foul-smelling gas clouds the mind, blunting attention and slowing reaction times.
Produced by the burning of fossil fuels, most of the nitrogen dioxide in the air comes from road transport, with diesel being a particularly primary source of the pollutant. They think that air pollution affects drivers by reducing their mental alertness or reaction time when they breathe in polluted air through open windows or from air conditioning vents.
More than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceeds WHO limits. WHO’s air quality guideline offer global guidance on thresholds and limits for key air pollutants that pose health risks. WHO guidelines indicate that by reducing particulate matter (PM10) pollution from 70 to 20 micrograms per cubic metre, air pollution-related deaths could be reduced by roughly 15 percent
Air pollution is a public health emergency and it is crucial for city and national governments to make urban air quality a health and development priority says WHO’s Dr Carlos Dora.
When air quality improves, healthcare cost from air pollution-related diseases shrink, worker productivity increases and life expectancy rises. Reducing air pollution also brings an added climate bonus which can become a part of countries’ commitment to the Climate Treaty to tackle air pollution and can’t come soon enough. Government should limit the number of vehicles on the road, improve waste management and promote clean cooking fuel.