Outdoor air pollution in India is one of the biggest threats to the nation. Analysis presented by the Boston-based Health Effect Institute in New Delhi released figures that indicate an increase of more than six times over the past decade.
Aaron Cohen, the principal epidemiologist at the institute, pointed out that the resulting health problems can be severe and very often irreversible or fatal. Diseases commonly associated with air pollution in India include cardiovascular diseases that lead to heart attacks and strokes, respiratory infections and lung cancer.
The analysis was based on a report published in December, which summarizes findings by 450 experts in air pollution. They noted that in 2010, the number of deaths caused by fine particles in the air was 3.2 million, compared to 800,000 in year 2000.
Around 30% of the air pollution in India is due to emissions from vehicles. These are closely followed by gases from factories and power plants, the burning of biomass like wood and plant matter, and dust, according to Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute. In winter, burning of wood and coal for heating adds the picture.
Kalpana Balakrishnan, director of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Center for Advanced Research on Environmental Health, in Chennai in southern India, is worried that it will be difficult to point out the issue to the national policy.
Strict air quality standards for vehicle emissions in India should become legally binding as it is in the EU, according to the Center for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based nongovernmental organization. The group is also trying to push for better public transport, and bans for trucks during working hours.
The ministry of environment and forests has already established recommendations for upgrading the vehicles to low-sulfur diesel and are now working on drafts for cleaner construction methods.
Unfortunately, the enforcement of such new rules is very weak, although in 2001 more than 50,000 autorickshaws converted to cleaner-burning compressed natural gas.
The problem is the increasing number of old and highly-polluting vehicles that get brought to the city of New Delhi. Sunita Narain, director general of the Center for Science and Environment, hopes that the new analysis will raise attention and the government will begin an aggressive campaign towards protecting public health.