Air pollution in India kills 500,000 people a year

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It’s no secret that air pollution can kill you. There is an immense body of evidence suggesting that both indoor and outdoor air pollution can play a significant role in creating health problems affecting everything from your lungs to your brain. Stroke, lung cancers, heart problems, all can result from prolonged exposure to air pollution.

It is also no secret that the pollution in some of India’s largest cities is among the worst in the world. In fact, in New Delhi, the capital city, particulate matter in the air recently surpassed even Beijing, making the province the area with the absolute worst air pollution in the world.

Of primary concern is a substance called PM 2.5, which is a designation for airborne substances with a diameter larger than 2.5 microns, a category including soot, smoke, and smog. Because of the size of these substances, they are able to lodge themselves in the lungs, creating long-term health problems. In Dehli, there is an abundant supply of PM 2.5 due to the constant, heavy traffic and nearby factories which constantly spew smog and dust into the air.

In fact, the problem has gotten so bad, that recent estimates suggest that up to half a million people a year in the province die from preventable health problems related to this pollution. This number is the result of computer modeling measuring the expected effects of air pollution compared to the total population of the city. It is an imprecise method, but the only way to get a figure for the total numbers of deaths related to air pollution.

It is an alarming statistic that highlights the human crisis that continues to grip the city. The life expectancy for the average Indian is already low at a mere 64 years. It is also an economic crisis as estimates of the amount of money in lost labor and productivity due to health problems run into the billions.

The government has made a few half-hearted stabs at tackling the problem. It has repeatedly announced car banning schemes which restrict drivers to using their cars every other day depending on their license plate, but the measures are difficult to enforce and very unpopular. It is also far from enough for a city with pollution levels 20 times the level considered “safe” and in which every third child has impaired lungs from simply breathing in the air.

Of course, this is far from a problem exclusive to India. Air pollution is estimated to cause the premature deaths of up to 3 million people worldwide.

A recent study by MIT suggests that up to 200,000 a year in the U.S. die from diseases related to air pollution, primarily from electricity production and vehicle traffic and particularly affecting the east and west coast. You can check the daily level of air pollution in your area here.

Wyatt is a writer and your friend. You can follow him on Twitter @WyattRedd.

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