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  • Raghav Sand

Air Quality Index is Not Just a Number!

The Air Quality Index, or AQI, is the system used to warn the public when air pollution is dangerous. The AQI tracks ozone (smog) and particle pollution (tiny particles from ash, power plants and factories, vehicle exhaust, soil dust, pollen, and other pollution), as well as four other widespread air pollutants. Newspapers, radio, television, and websites report AQI levels year-round, while it gets prominent coverage post Diwali and also throughout the winter months.

Why is AQI Important?

The respiratory system is the first point of contact with inhaled pollutants. It is uniquely vulnerable, but air pollution also affects the cardiovascular system and other aspects of health. Several common pollutants are harmful to health. However, ambient particulate matter ─ a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in air ─ is of particular concern. Levels of particulate matter are a key indicator of air quality and health risk.

Ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution cause an estimated 70 lakh (7 million) premature deaths each year, including approximately 6,00,000 deaths per year in children under 5 years of age.

Air pollution can harm anyone. It can be really dangerous for a lot of people, including children and teens, people with asthma and other lung diseases, anyone over 65, anyone who exercises or works outdoors or has diabetes or cardiovascular disease like high blood pressure, or has suffered a heart attack or stroke. Even healthy adults who exercise or work outdoors can be harmed. Changing what you do on these bad air days can reduce your risk of being harmed.

Health Impact of AQI Levels

  1. Good (0-50): Negligible impact;

  2. Satisfactory (51-100): May cause respiratory issues to some;

  3. Moderately Polluted (101-200): May cause breathing issues to people with lung ailments, heart diseases, children and older people;

  4. Poor (201-300): May cause breathing issues to people on long exposure and to those with heart and lung diseases;

  5. Very Poor (301-400): May cause respiratory illness on long exposure; and

  6. Severe (401-500): May cause respiratory issues even in healthy people and serious impact on those suffering from lung and heart disease.

Mindless Merry-Go-Round

Have we become accustomed to bad air days after the festival of Diwali each year? Aren’t we being collectively mindless with our approach towards this ‘burning topic’? Anyone who knowingly bursts crackers in this day and age is silly and selfish at the same time. Which scripture or holy text prescribes to spread venomous gases in the air? We need a new template for celebrating Diwali. Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this problem. We need a long-term plan to rehabilitate people employed in the fireworks industry. Also, we need to sensitize one and all about the mindless methods of celebrations.

Let us not restrict ourselves to numbers and statistics. The number of people who are suffering from respiratory ailments is rising every year. Covid-19 has left many individuals with weakened lungs. Should we make Covid-19 survivors suffer even more after what they have been through? The opportunity to do something this year has been lost.

Impact of Poor AQI on Life

Clean air is a basic human requirement. Air quality and risk to health can affect physical, mental, and social well-being, although further studies are needed to fully explain the impact of air pollution on quality of life. Beyond the physical effects, studies have shown that air quality is an important determinant of subjective well-being, which encompasses individuals’ life satisfaction, happiness and optimism. Exposure to air pollution has been linked to diminished personal well-being.

Air pollution has been associated with reduced productivity, lower daily activity scores and lower social functioning. It may entail avoidance of physical outdoor activity to limit exposure. Pollution-induces intellectual deficits in children and adults and this may further impact quality of life.

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