Thursday, October 29, 2020

Silent killers

Our environment is in a continuous stress due to innumerable threats posed by natural and anthropogenic pressures. The air we breathe is noxious due to toxic pollutants and tobacco smoke and is one of the greatest recognised environmental problems poisoning human and other life forms. The burning of fossil fuels, wood and environmental waste, tobacco smoke, vehicular pollution, industrial emissions, dusty roads, agricultural activities, biological molecules, and air conditioner gases are other important sources of air pollutants. Nagaland is not an exception to these sources and air quality here has also deteriorated to a large extent putting people at a greater risk of pollution related and tobacco consumption diseases and deaths. Air pollution either outdoor (ambient air pollution) or indoor (household air pollution) is a global health hazard and a silent (invisible) killer declared by WHO. Evidences have accumulated over a period of time that air pollution may be damaging every cell, tissue and organ in the human body. The various air pollutants in ultra-filter form are an ultimate cause of severe systemic inflammations and disorders while being transported by the blood stream through the body. Some of the prominent disorders reported are brain diseases (dementia, strokes, reduced intelligence), poor sleep, type 2 diabetes, liver problems, brittle bones, heart ailments (mainly heart attacks due to narrowing of arteries and weakening of muscles), lung diseases (asthma, emphysema, lung cancer), severe fertility problems, miscarriage, teratogenic effects, skin damage, allergies, etc. However, it is not only humans which are susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollutants, but plants and animals are equally affected by the air pollution. Overall, the direct and indirect effects on all ecosystems by air pollutants ultimately influences the functioning of whole flora and fauna although man is concerned only for himself. Let us know how air pollution including tobacco smoke are an invisible and silent killers. Every year air pollution causes 1.4 million deaths from stroke, 2.4 million deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, and 1.8 million deaths due to lung diseases and cancer. As per WHO statistics, nine out of ten people breathe polluted air, is the major cause of non-communicable deaths in human (fifth leading cause of human death) and has shortened life expectancy on an average by 20 months around the globe. Worldwide 4.2 million deaths per year result alone due to outdoor air pollution. The indoor pollution (household exposure to smoke due to burning of wood, coal, charcoal, biomass etc) causes 3.8 million deaths every year. Further, tobacco smoke is the worst form of indoor air pollution in recreational areas, work places and residential areas and on average causes around 8 million deaths/year. It contains thousands of chemicals, significant number of them are toxic, cause chronic respiratory diseases and some are known cause of lung cancer in human. Undoubtedly smoking kills but not everyone who smoke. There is evidence that half of the users of tobacco get killed and three fourths of these deaths happen in low and middle income countries alone. So what we need or what can we do to breathe healthy air. We need best policies, regular public awareness programmes, timely action plans, working initiatives and positive follow ups to reduce or minimise air pollution and discourage tobacco use at every level. We should shift to more use of renewable sources of energy, prefer walking and cycling over fossil fuel burning transport to lessen the burden of toxic air pollutants. Our roads badly need green muffler (rows of trees on sides) to safeguard our environment from dangerous effects of pollutants. Further, our responsibility should also be to plant more trees in residential areas and open fields to improve the air quality for a better health and balanced ecosystem functioning. In this direction, everyone has a role and responsibility to ensure clean, fresh and disease free air for every living organism.