How catastrophic is the invisible inhalable killer ‘PM2.5’ and why we should care?

Exposure to air pollutants has become a real peril among the developed and developing countries, including giant players like India and China. With the advancements in urbanization, industrialization, and road connectivity, air pollution has become one of the serious environmental concerns. Air pollutants are one of the major threats to human beings, erupting morbidity, and mortality.  The pathogenicity of air pollutants is mainly attributed to gaseous pollutants and particulate matter (PM).  The research studies have reported a close association between particle pollution and health risks, including huge numbers of premature deaths.

What is particle pollution or PM?

The airborne particle pollution also is known as particulate matter or PM, is described as a combination of different chemical species comprising solid particles and liquid droplets called aerosols. The PM’s pathogenicity varies widely with its size, chemical composition, and solubility and may contain inorganic ions, elemental carbon, dust particles, dirt, soot, or smoke. The PM is mainly categorized as PM10 and PM2.5. The particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less are described as PM10, and they are inhalable to the lungs. While the fine inhalable particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less are described as PM2.5, they ferry a portion of PM10.

How hazardous is PM2.5?

Despite being having a smaller diameter of 2.5 microns, PM2.5 poses serious threats to human health owing to the large surface area. It carries different toxic pollutants capable of passing through the nose hair filtration and reaches to respiratory tract to the lungs. In a research study conducted in the USA and Canada, the scientists reported that prolonged exposure to PM2.5 drastically enhanced cardiopulmonary problems and lung cancer mortality. In another report, it was demonstrated that life span could be enhanced by 0.35 years with every 10 µg/m3 reduction in the level of PM2.5. During the smog's outbreaks, the morbidity of influenza, asthma, and other respiratory infections enhances several times.

It poses other health effects, including heart attacks, irritated nose, eyes, and throat. It also worsens asthma, lung diseases, and other respiratory ailments. The anthropogenic activities play a major role in the air pollution of PM2.5.

Source of Origin

The vehicle emissions or heavy traffic renders a higher concentration of sulfate, nitrate, ammonium, and organic matter in the PM2.5 composition.

Farm fires, firecrackers, and dust pollution are other major sources of PM2.5.

PM2.5 as hidden peril in the air: Stance of India

As per the latest World Air Quality Report, 2020, six Indian cities, including the capital region (Delhi), were among the top 10 polluted cities in the world. Among the world's capital cities, New Delhi holds the first place in the worst air quality. And as per the latest report, air pollution takes away the lives of about 1.25 million people every year in India. The haze smog connected with various anthropogenic and burning emissions is a major source carrying hidden danger in the form of PM2.5.

The winters in North India, especially the capital city, New Delhi, experience severe air pollution attributed to several factors. The major factors responsible for aerosol emission in India are vehicles, industries, biomass burning, and home energy requirements. During the second week of November 2020, the level of PM2.5 stood at 331 µg/m3 in the Delhi capital region, which was above the threshold level of 300 µg/m3. While post-Diwali, the PM2.5 level increased to 469.3 µg/m3 in the early morning of Sunday. PM2.5 is the main factor of reduced visibility or haze in the parts of North India during winters.

How can we reduce exposure to PM2.5?

  • We can be aware of the air quality index (AQI) every day to know how clean or polluted is outdoor air, and accordingly, we can stay indoors.
  • The old age people or people with comorbidities must ignore outdoor visits during the high level of PM2.5.
  • Having antioxidant supplements or a nutritious, healthy diet is essential to avoid the ill effects of PM2.5.
  • Installing an air purifier is an appropriate measure to improve air quality while staying indoors.

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