Air pollution killed over 1 lakh in Maharashtra in 2017

Swapnil Mishra

Mumbai: The progressive state of Maharashtra ranks second in the country when it comes to air quality. Yet over a lakh people in the state died in 2017 due to air pollution. Mumbai, Pune and Chandrapur have the worst air quality as compared to other cities in the state. These are the findings of a study on the impact of air pollution across the states of India, published in The Lancet Planetary Health on December 6.

According to the report, alarmingly, around 77 per cent of India’s population  is exposed to outdoor air pollution levels above the National Ambient Air Quality Standards safe limits, with the northern states having particularly high levels. Professor Balram Bhargava, secretary to the government of India, ministry of health and family welfare, and director general, ICMR, said that it was important to have robust estimates of the health impact of outdoor and household air pollution in the states.

“There is increasing evidence globally and from Indian states about the association between air pollution, premature death and disease burden. The findings in this paper are based on all available data on air pollution,” said Professor Kalpana Balakrishnan, director, department of environmental health engineering.

It was found that levels of pollutant particulate matter 2.5 (pollutants that are 2.5 microns in size and small enough to easily enter the lungs and cause ailments) in Maharashtra was between 40-59 (ug/m3) micrograms per cubic metre, as against the standard of World Health Organisation of 10 (ug/m3) and national standards of 40 ug/m3.  The ambient air pollution alone has caused about 62,677 deaths in the state last year, almost 60 per cent of the total deaths due to air pollution.

Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said the upsurge in respiratory problems in winter months with peak air pollution is well-known, but what is now also becoming better understood is that air pollution is a year-round phenomenon, particularly in north India, which impacts health far beyond the seasonal rise of respiratory illnesses.

“Air pollution is now the leading risk factor for chronic obstructive lung disease in India, and a major contributor to pneumonia and lung cancer. With 18 per cent of the global population, India suffered 26 per cent of premature mortality and health loss attributable to air pollution globally,” said Guleria.The study did not underline factors leading to air pollution, but experts said that multiple factors, including coal burning, combustion, industrial construction, road dust, agricultural burning and waste burning have contributed to the pollution levels.

Over half of the deaths due to air pollution were in persons less than 70 years of age.  Air pollution now contributes to more disease burden in India than tobacco use, primarily through causing respiratory infections, chronic obstructive lung disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and lung cancer, the report said.

“We are undertaking a number of initiatives to develop strategies that would increase awareness among communities on what each one of us could do to reduce the adverse impact of air pollution on health, which would benefit from the state-specific findings reported by this study,” said S Venkatesh, director-general of health services, union health ministry.Dr Sundeep Salvi, director of the Chest Research Foundation, said deaths in Maharashtra have increased due to lack of awareness on the detrimental effects of air pollution on human health.