1. It's invisible. Apart from the obviously visible smog and haze in the Delhi air that most of us regard as indicators of air pollution, the most harmful toxins and gasses are completely invisible and hidden in what may seem like completely clean air.
2.Our ability to perceive it diminishes. The human bodies sense of smell tends to numb out and get desensitised pretty quickly . The burning of paddy fields around Delhi has lead to high levels of smoke in the air, but due to constant exposure we cannot smell it and think of it as normal.
3. The dreamy and romantic fog that we see is actually toxic smog. The haze that we see in Delhi during this time of the year is often taken to be fog, such as that found in hill stations and resorts . This gives us a false sense of security . Most of it is however is smog, with high concentrations of Nanoparticles, which causes respiratory and other health problems.
4.We are more at risk in the safety of our homes. Indoor air pollution is five to ten times worse then outdoor air pollution. This is due to VOCs (volatile organic compounds) emitted from the materials used in our homes. A huge source of indoor pollution is our kitchen. Oil based particles which are suspended in the air due to cooking processes are extremely harmful for our lungs. A powerful exhaust system is imperative to protect us against this.
5. A busy road or a highway is equivalent to Hitler's gas chamber! Our exposure to VOCs, Sulphur di oxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and ground level ozone while on the road is well past any tangible safety levels. Being in a closed vehicle doesn't help, as basic car filters and air conditioners are not equipped to filter out any of this.
6. The coming of Spring only makes things worse. As the season turns to March and the sun comes out, the smog clears and the air starts to look clearer. At this point we tend to let our guard down, but this is when the worst pollutant is created - Sunlight combines with nitrogen dioxide and VOCs to create ground level ozone, exposure to which is equivalent to rubbing sand paper on the insides of our lungs.
7.Pollutants are evolving. With smart fuels such as CNG, LPG etc. we have created a smart pollutant called PM 2.5 which consists of particles under 2.5 Microns in size. To put it into perspective, one strand of human hair has a width of 70 microns. These particles are 1/30th the width of a hair and completely invisible. Our body's nasal hair, mucus and membranes cannot filter particles under 2.5 microns. These particles go deep into our lungs. In fact, exercise sends them even deeper. These particles under 2.5 microns are carcinogenic and effect our cardio-vascular, respiratory, neuro, urinary and reproductive systems, in addition to weakening our eyesight.The safe concentration of these particles according to WHO is 25 micrograms per cubic meter, a standard Delhi has met for only seven days in the last two years(730 days).
8.We are all chain smokers. Living in Delhi equals to smoking twenty plus cigarettes every single day just by breathing the air around us.
9.We are at greater risk of premature mortality. According to a study by RICE university there is a direct link between a combination of ground level ozone and PM 2.5 and an increase in premature death rates.
10.Filtering our drinking water could be futile in comparison. We drink two to four liters of water a day and spend a vast amount of time, energy and money on filtering it. In comparison, we are breathing twelve to sixteen thousand liters of toxic air daily and doing absolutely nothing about it.
The 5 biggest myths about air pollution:
1. The worse it gets the stronger our resistance will build. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger: the human body can develop immunity to allergens, not toxins.
2. Our respiratory problems are due to allergens in the air. It is the toxins in the air causing our problems,an anti-allergy pill will not help us.
3. We will become more susceptible if we protect ourselves. Masks and air purifiers make us weak protecting us temporarily: taking these measures will only help to protect the health of us and our families.
4. If we plant more trees air pollution will go away. The particulate concentrations in the air are so high at this time of the year that stomata on the plants and trees gets blocked and they become virtually ineffective.
5."This is so sad and I feel so helpless - what can I do?" Take measures to reduce your carbon footprint. Carpooling, buying local, not buying disposable products, recycling, composting, not buying diesel vehicles and not burning rubbish are amongst the many steps we can take on a personal level.
What is the one thing we can change to make a big difference?
Stop buying disposable products, especially plastic mineral water bottles which are carcinogenic along with being extremely harmful and detrimental to the environment. In India, we throw two crore empty bottles into our landfills every day. Just making a small effort to carry your own bottled water from home can make a big difference .
Think about that !
By Jai Dhar Gupta
Jai is an activist and environmental entrepreneur. After suffering due to air pollution for 11 months, he started testing and adopting various solutions. Some of the more credible solutions have been shared through his environmental products company, Nirvana Being. Nirvana Being's offerings include Vogmask – the World's highest filtering pollution mask, Airgle – a medical grade air purifier for our tough conditions, Puracar 11 – the highest performing car air purifier, Laser Egg – a handheld air quality monitor that gives you real time PM2.5 readings and Bobble – a water bottle that filters water as you drink.
Nirvana Being aims to protect its customers from air and water pollution and create awareness of a more sustainable path.