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‘Ambient air Quality’ is a term used to describe the air quality of outdoor environments within a radius of a few kilometres. A poor ambient air quality corresponds to a high amount of pollutants in the air. The presence of a substantial amount of air pollutants can cause a variety of adverse health conditions and is responsible for approximately 1.67 million premature deaths in India annually, with around 54,000 annual premature deaths being recorded in Delhi alone. Other health effects include respiratory and cardiovascular disease and cancer. The people most affected by poor air quality are the elderly, those living in poverty, and children with pre-existing respiratory diseases. Countries with the poorest air quality are those of low and middle income. India being a lower-middle-income country, we are at a higher risk of developing illnesses related to the cardiovascular system. WHO states that deaths related to lung cancer could be prevented if the ambient air quality is improved. If we strive toward improving ambient air quality, millions of premature deaths can be averted, public health will be protected, and strain on the environment can be greatly reduced.
Photo Source: ResearchGate
Currently, a large majority of us use fossil fuels to fulfil our energy demands, such as electricity, fuel for transport, cooking, etc. The burning of fossil fuels releases pollutants like nitrogen and sulfur dioxide. If you plan on buying a new car, consider buying an electric one rather than one that runs on fossils fuel such as diesel and petrol. Start off by using solar energy to supply a small part of your home’s energy requirements, such as a solar water heater, and slowly but gradually increase the supply of solar energy in your home. The Indian government offers subsidy schemes to people wanting to install solar systems on rooftops. If you live in a building society, speak to members of your society and work together to get solar panels installed on the rooftop. Switching to renewable sources of energy can make a tremendous positive impact on the local air quality.
Most of the products that you buy from supermarkets are produced in factories and industries that release a huge amount of chemicals and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. Before you buy a product, ask yourself, “What processes were involved in its manufacture?” and “Am I willing to have luxury and convenience at the expense of the environment?” Most of the products you buy are sometimes products you don’t even need or products that can easily be made at home. For example, household surface cleaners contain harsh chemicals that continuous exposure to can be hazardous to health. Apart from that, even the manufacturing process of the cleaners in factories releases pollutants into the air. Swap your store-bought surface cleaners for bio-enzyme cleaners. They’re eco-friendly and sustainable, and their manufacturing process does not pollute the air.
To meet increasing food demands, farmers utilize chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides that release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere and into the plant. Farmers also employ the method of ‘stubble burning’ to clear large tracts of land for the next crop. Stubble burning causes the release of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and sulphur oxides into the local air. These can have a significant detrimental impact on human health and the environment. When you buy groceries, ensure that you buy produce that is organically grown, i.e. grown without the use of chemical fertilizers. You can also choose to buy produce that is grown using the process of ‘natural farming’. Natural farming ensures that stubble isn’t burnt and that the ground is covered with vegetation all year round, helping draw down large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing demand for organically and naturally produced food will compel more and more farmers to stop using chemicals and thus significantly improve the air quality.
When wet waste is not segregated and is mixed with metal, glass, biomedical and other waste in a landfill, its decomposition releases methane into the surrounding air. Methane causes more pollution and heat entrapment than carbon dioxide. The microorganisms that decompose the waste in landfills also release highly flammable gases. This puts landfills at a high risk of catching fire. If landfills do catch fire, the smoke from the burning waste can cause even more air pollution. Composting is a safe process for disposing of wet waste. The composting of wet and organic waste greatly draws down emissions of carbon dioxide, which in turn can cause a profound improvement in ambient air quality.
Of course, we do not have a solution to every air pollution problem yet, and some activities that release pollutants just cannot be curtailed. But small changes like the ones listed above can go a long way in improving ambient air quality, human health, and the health of the environment.