Dishonest to downplay pollution's impact PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 26 August 2017 00:00
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It is inexplicable that the government should say there is no conclusive link between death and air pollution

It is odd that the Union environment ministry should claim, in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, that there is “no conclusive data available to establish direct correlation of death exclusively with air pollution”. The Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority had earlier submitted two reports to the apex court as part of the comprehensive action plan to fight air pollution in the national capital region that the SC had ordered. In its Report no. 71, under the section titled “Guiding principles for the comprehensive action plan”, EPCA had noted that “public health risk from air pollution is grave and growing”, citing Global Burden of Disease estimates for 2017 that show that early deaths related to PM2.5 pollution in India are the second highest in the world and ozone-related deaths are the highest in the world. A 2012 study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI), Kolkata, shows that one in three children in Delhi had suboptimal lung function—sputum of Delhi’s children had four times more iron-laden macrophages, indicating pulmonary haemorrhage, than those from cleaner environments. Also, there was higher prevalence of severe lung impairment in Delhi’s school children (7.3%) than in the control group (2.2%).

To be sure, when the environment ministry refutes an “exclusive” link between early deaths and air pollution, that may be true given many other factors do cause lung impairments that result in death. But the evidence is clear and mounting that pollution remains a strong factor, and especially so in the national capital. A 2008 CPCB-CNCI epidemiological study, among adults in Delhi and a control population in West Bengal found that lung function was impaired in 40.3% individuals of Delhi, compared with 20.1% in the control population. Delhi residents showed greater prevalence of all three forms of lung function impairment than the control group. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was nearly five times more common in the national capital compared to the control group regions.

While the conditions themselves can result from both infective (pathoghens like virus or bacteria) or other non-infective factors, a 2014 study by researchers at the Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute shows that environmental pollution accounts for 10% of the cases of acute exacerbation of COPD (AECOPD), while pathogens are behind nearly 75% cases. This means among the non-infective factors of AECOPD, environmental pollution could account for one of the largest number of cases.Although the ministry acknowledges that the “higher the level of air pollution, higher is the risks to lungs”, by contending that linking air pollution to early deaths on the basis of data from international organisations, “without proper validation of data with reference to Indian conditions” portrays the “wrong image of the country”, it displays misplaced priorities in thinking and intellectual dishonesty. With the government itself taking such a stand, chances are the fight against air pollution and the resulting harm to citizens will be lost even before it begins.


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