Air pollution is one of the most talked-about topics in recent times with cities like Beijing, New Delhi, and others around the world becoming extremely contaminated. South Asian and East Asian countries are the hardest ones hit by air pollution.
Despite so many discussions, it is essential to understand what air pollution is so that you can assess the root causes and take proper actions. Contamination with particulate matter is the sixth biggest reason for deaths around the world.
The chemical specks that become a part of the air and enter the lungs lead to lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and other types of infections. In 2016, air pollution was the cause of more than four million deaths globally.
Studies also show that toxic air shortens the life expectancy of children by 20 months. Experiments on rats have also shown that air pollution can cause congenital disabilities and even fatalities during pregnancy.
What is Air Quality Index or AQI?
The Air Quality Index or AQI helps in reporting air quality on a daily basis. It gives the health effects of the air around you by telling the pollution levels in the air.
Usually, it is calculated based on five major air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and ground-level ozone. There are standards set for each of the air pollutants.
Depending on the amount of these pollutants in the air, the air quality is divided into six levels. These levels determine how good or bad it is for the people to live with a particular air quality.
Six levels of air quality
For the ease of understanding, the AQI is divided into six categories. These categories let you comprehend the air pollution levels in your area so that you can take proper actions.
All these categories also have color-coding. AQI runs between 0 and 500.
According to the AQI, 300 to 500 is considered the most hazardous signified by maroon color and 0 to 50 is signified by green which is deemed to be good quality air.
Let’s check out these categories in detail!
- When the AQI is 0-50, the air quality can be considered reasonable. This is marked by green and no health effects are expected.
- If the AQI is 50-100, air quality is moderate and acceptable. A yellow color marks it.
- The AQI 101-150 is marked by red and is unhealthy. Usually, it won’t affect a healthy person, but people who already have lung issues, older people and children might develop some respiratory problems. It is marked by orange.
- With 151-200 AQI, the air reaches unhealthy levels. Everyone living in such an area is likely to experience discomfort, and sensitive groups might receive adverse effects. It is categorized with red color.
- When the AQI is 201-300, it is considered very unhealthy and is marked by the color purple. It triggers an important health alert because it is very dangerous for every living being.
- Finally, the AQI 301 to 500 is something that is categorized as hazardous. It is an emergency where the whole population is very likely to have some effects. Warnings are issued by the government when they are in this state.
Major air pollutants
As mentioned above, the primary air pollutants are nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and ground-level ozone. However, the greatest threat to the air is posed by airborne particles and ground-level ozone.
These are perilous for human health and can cause permanent health damage.
PM 2.5 is an important term to note when discussing air pollutants. It is used to describe liquid droplets or solid particles that have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers across.
These are the air pollutants with maximum impact on the health of humans.
PM 2.5 offers a risk of mortality in the short term as well as long term exposure. It can cause cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases leading to regular hospitalization.
What can we do to solve air pollution?
While large-scale policies must be enacted by the state and at corporate levels, as an individual, you can also take smaller steps to protect your health and the environment around you. Some of the solutions are mentioned below:
Plants to purify the air
There are several studies which claim that your garden, balcony, or indoor plants work as natural air purifiers. While there are still debates happening about the significance of plants in improving the indoor air quality, there are evidence-based studies that show the health benefits of house plants.
Research shows that indoor plants can reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing the nervous system in adults. Studies also found that green spaces contribute significantly to neighborhood satisfaction and well-being.
Produce less smoke at home
Many times, you can be exposed to hazardous air at homes too. Research shows that cigarette smoke is a major source of airborne particles in homes with smokers.
Besides, frying food, candles, and cleaning products are also some of the prominent indoor air polluters.
You can control the smoke created at home too by quitting tobacco, and by keeping chimneys, stoves, and heaters in good condition. This can help you avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Use ecological cleaning products
It is also recommended to use conventional chemical-based cleaning products with caution and, above all, do not mix them. The volatile organic compounds (VOC) in cleaning products can affect indoor air quality and can even lead to smog formation in outdoor air.
It would be ideal to replace artificial air fresheners or insecticide products with green cleaners. Choose products that have low VOC content, low toxicity, and are biodegradable. Be careful, however, in interpreting vague claims such as “environmentally friendly”, “eco-safe”, etc.
If possible, ask manufacturers to specify their green claims. Here’s a guide to help you interpret the environmental claims developed by the Federal Trade Commission.
Use the bike more
The use of sustainable means of transport is another right way to contribute to cleaner air. From opting for the bike for short journeys to choosing more public transports can also contribute towards reducing your carbon footprints.
Air pollution is more dangerous and hazardous than you think. The cases of severe lung diseases and cardiovascular diseases are likely to increase in the near future.
It is estimated that air pollution worldwide is responsible for 8.8 million early deaths in a year, and this number is likely to surge if we do nothing about it.