It is no news that with winters as the rest of the country gets ready to embrace the cold winds, the capital gets ready to embrace another problem which is pollution. Every year Delhi makes headlines for the pollution levels rocketing, and the Air Quality Index being off the charts. But a new study has found that it is not just the air outside the home that is unsafe. You may just be at more risk breathing the air indoors!
Why is air pollution in Delhi a major concern?
Stubble burning is carried out in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana and this contributes to Delhi’s poor air quality. The weather and geographical location of the capital do nothing to help. Delhi experiences a phenomenon called winter inversion. This is essentially low wind speeds and combined with the low-temperature results in the pollutants being brought closer to the ground. The result? North India is engulfed in a haze of pollutants and only time improves the situation. In contrast to other states in India, Delhi has a comparatively high percentage of private vehicles and thus pollution due to vehicles continues in spite of the air quality declining.
Is air pollution in Delhi worse indoors or outdoors?
Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) conducted a study where they surveyed a number of households in Delhi between the years 2018 and 2020. An interesting thing to note is that the study surveyed homes of varying socio-economic backgrounds and they found that both the groups were equally affected. This was ironic as high-income households generally own devices such as air purifiers and thus were expected to have a better air quality within the home. The study however found the air pollution levels in these were 10% lower than their counterpart households that did not have these luxuries. The lead author of the study, Dr Kenneth Lee pointed out that "In Delhi, the bottom line is - whether someone is rich or poor, no one gets to breathe clean air. It's a complex vicious cycle."
The results were quantified by measuring the PM which is particulate matter. These are the particles that are microscopic enough to find their way into the lungs and remain there for a long time causing breathlessness and other respiratory disorders. The lungs have cilia that line the airways and continuously move in a sweeping motion that gets rid of any unwanted particles that manage to enter. However, with particles that are of a microscopic size such as the air pollutants found in smog, they manage to escape the cilia’s motion and lodge themselves in the lungs. PM2.5 is almost 29 times the safe limit that has been set by the World Health Organisation.
Why are people in Delhi at risk?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that the level of indoor pollutants can be two to five times higher than that which is found outdoors. In fact, the level of pollution was so intense that CM Arvind Kejriwal even ordered schools to be shut in November.
The decision came after the AQI in Delhi fell to 427, which is under the ‘hazardous’ category. A four-step pollution control plan was put into place. Government offices were asked to work from home for a week, construction activity that contributed to dust and pollutants was shut for four days. These decisions came following the SC asking the Central Government and Delhi State Govt to take long term efforts to tackle the problem of pollution that surfaces every winter.
What can Delhi do to combat the pollution while indoors?
While efforts are being made to control the pollution in the capital, here’s what you can do to ensure you are safe while indoors.
Ventilation helps dilute the pollutants that enter the home. In cases where natural ventilation such as windows etc is not possible, there are filters and humidifiers that can help. The gas stove too should be well ventilated to limit the production of hydrocarbons that accumulate and can worsen respiratory distress.
Living in a place that is polluted with an Air Quality Index that is constantly declining already has an impact on your lungs and breathing. Smoking increases this burden on the lungs and can cause health decline.
Dust the home
Dusting the home ensures that there are no particles that have a chance to settle on surfaces. Proper cleaning is important to combat indoor air pollution.
Carpets act as spaces where the pollutants can collect and can cause breathing problems. In the case of people who have conditions such as asthma, this can cause severe distress.
Include ginger in your diet
Ginger contains certain compounds that have been shown to reduce the inflammation in the airways and thus do help significantly in the case of people who live in polluted areas.
This unclogs the pores and this has a significant effect on the pollutants that have lodged within them. The impurities are drawn out and overall it leads to the lungs being free of the pollutants to some degree.