This blog has been written by Dr. Gita Sinha, MD, MPH and has earlier appeared on the website Choosing Wellness on April 17, 2019
I have practiced clinical medicine and public health in India for over 20 years in a number of roles, including academic researcher, educator, corporate medical director, and patient-centered clinician. In 2015, after six years of living and working full-time in New Delhi, I thought I had undertaken every precaution to keep my family healthy: pesticide- and hormone-free food, purified water, mosquito protection… you name it, I had probably investigated it and figured it out.
The one thing I completely neglected to protect against was the air pollution. In fact I was oblivious to India’s air pollution until, in our final month in New Delhi, my then 9-year old daughter required emergency room care for sudden-onset asthma attacks. Coincidentally, in that same month, the World Health Organization announced that New Delhi was the most air polluted city in the world. We had no choice but to move away, not just for an upcoming job transfer, but simply to protect our children.
I was grateful that we were moving to live in clean air, but both professionally and personally, I felt I had left behind a huge problem, affecting everyone I knew and loved there. I could not let it go. I now travel to India every few months, in part to support a non-governmental organization that raises awareness and advocates to mitigate India’s air pollution crisis.
A few days ago, a young New Delhi-based reporter asked me for my “expert opinion” on how air pollution harms children in India. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:
“Children born in air pollution face shorter life expectancies compared to their counterparts born in cleaner air… Children suffer physical health harms, including diminished lung growth and development, and increased prevalence and severity of pneumonia and asthma… [they] risk functional health harms including suboptimal cognitive development and sports performance. Air pollution is associated with depression, anxiety… and contributes to cancer and lifelong chronic diseases in adulthood including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia…”
These health facts are easy to summarize, but they do not convey the whole story. What is more difficult to articulate is the stress and suffering that air pollution has created for millions of Indian people. Including me.
I hate all the coughing. It starts within three days of my landing in New Delhi. Every friend is coughing or suffering some respiratory symptom. The plane is full of coughing passengers when I depart.
I cannot fully enjoy Diwali anymore. I dread the futile arguments my friends and family will have with neighbors who insist it is their “right” to set off illegal firecrackers. I dread the off the charts toxic air my friends and family will breathe in the subsequent weeks. I mourn the loss of elderly neighbors and relatives who have died of respiratory illness in the post-Diwali smog.
I hate that I discouraged my 75-year old father from visiting India for his elementary school reunion last November, because I was worried that the toxic air and ill-equipped health care system would seriously harm him.
I feel sad for scheduling my children’s India visits only during the monsoon season, when the heavy rain reduces the air pollution. I feel guilty for limiting if and how long my children can play outside for those few weeks, knowing that their friends practice sports in worse air, every day.
Air pollution is not just a health problem harming our bodies. Air pollution compromises our moods, how we celebrate weddings and holidays, and how we live, work, play and travel. It is a crisis, affecting families just like mine, every single day.
Ultimately, for me, the only marker of success in this fight is India achieving clean air, for every person, every day.
I now know many of the experts and activists in India engaged in this fight, and I join forces with them. We lack a sure path to clean air. Yet, we know that solving this crisis is entirely possible. Other countries have successfully cleaned up their air. And Indian history has proven the country’s will and capacity to dramatically change.
India can and must overcome its air pollution crisis. We have to believe it is possible, bring our skills to it, and keep at it. Not just life, but more importantly quality of life, is at stake, and worth fighting for.
Dr. Gita Sinha is a consultant in medical education and public health and divides her time between
the US and India. She is an core member of Care For Air India which works in raising awareness and building advocacy around India’s air pollution crisis, and a member of citizen activist group #MyRightToBreathe
This past week someone on my anti-air pollution WhatsApp group forwarded a Facebook Event
post for a residential community in Gurugram hosting an event to raise awareness against air
pollution on the 18th November. The highlight of the event? A 5K Fun Run, with prize
categories for children, adults, and elderly adults age 60 and older. Knowing most of my friends
and family are suffering the ill effects of choking air pollution, it seemed obviously absurd to see
an event announcement like this.
But what in fact caught my eye were the logos of the two companies co-sponsoring the event,
Decathlon and CrossFit. I decided to write to Decathlon and CrossFit leadership, and try to
persuade them to cancel or otherwise alter the event, in the interest of health and safety in
heavy air pollution.
In my letter, I highlighted my disappointment, the fact that vigorous activities like running are not
considered safe in the current air pollution, and that children and elderly adults are particularly
at risk and should not be expected to run in such conditions. I included the U.S. policies for
outdoor physical activity. This week, those policies have led wildfire smoke-ridden California
schools to shut down and to postpone a major intercollegiate American football game (one that
generates millions of dollars annually). If these guidelines were in effect in India, the current
Gurugram PM2.5 levels of 180-200+ mcg/m3 would indicate canceling rigorous outdoor activity
and sports events and/or moving them indoors.
I identified email addresses for the India-based leadership as well as the global leadership for
Decathlon and CrossFit. My email went out on Tuesday 13th November.
On Wednesday, 14th November, I received one reply, from the Decathlon India customer care
team in Bangalore. They acknowledged my “inconvenience” and stated they would forward my
letter to the Decathlon store manager in Gurugram. I was thankful for their response and hoped
the letter would find its way to the appropriate decision maker from this company.
On Friday 16th November, I received an email from the French gentleman who represents
Decathlon in Gurugram. Initially, the letter was encouraging: it stated that Decathlon had
already canceled some other running events due to heavy air pollution. Further, that Decathlon
cares about their customers’ and community safety and health, and the upcoming Gurugram
event was meant to promote awareness for the environment and safe sport. How would they
promote health and safety on Sunday the 18th November? According to the Decathlon
representative, by providing a mask to each participant, and by having an ambulance on
standby during the event.
After I read the reply, I remember thinking, is this going anywhere? Am I the only one who is
going to look at this and say this is not right? Can this be made right? My WhatsApp anti-air
pollution group again retorted that this was not an appropriate response. My children laughed at
the reply, saying, “How ridiculous.” As a doctor, I felt an ethical need to respond and push for
this event to be canceled or changed in the interest of safety and health. So I wrote back.
In my reply, I stated the facts as best I could. 1) Children and elderly individuals are most at risk
when they engage in prolonged vigorous activity in levels of high air pollution. 2) Masks are not
likely to be fitted appropriately for, nor protect participants for, the duration of a 5K running race.
3) For a company like Decathlon, the optics of handing out masks and inviting children and
elderly adults to run in smoke-like air, appears absurd and negative for their brand image. 4)
Staging an ambulance seems counter to ensuring a preventive, health-minded event, and in any
case, one may not be enough. 5) Most episodes of illness would likely occur hours and even a
few days after running in such an event - Decathlon would not even know what the harmful
outcomes would be.
With a prayer for thinking leadership to prevail, I sent the letter out on the 16th November, within
hours of Decathlon’s reply to me.
It is now the night of the 17th November, and I have yet to receive a response. I have no
indication that this event will be cancelled nor, as I strongly recommended, moved indoors.
The current PM2.5 in Gurugram ranges from 180 to over 200 mcg/m3, a state of Very Unhealthy
air. In other parts of the world, all outdoor activities for children and vulnerable groups would be
and in the case of California, are being cancelled and/or moved indoors.
Gurugram has no mandated outdoor activity restrictions in high levels of air pollution. It is up to
responsible organizers and sponsors to decide if and how to stage sporting events.
Can I expect more from Decathlon, an international company, now established in India, and now
sponsoring a sporting event for an Indian community? Are the internationally established
sponsors of this event doing the best they can?
I know I cannot stop anyone from running; it is an individual choice. But sanctioning an event
that invites children and elderly people to run a race, in heavy air pollution, seems like the wrong
thing to do, and inappropriate for an international company to sponsor. Would they do it in
California this week? Or in France? Are runners in India different from runners in London? Are
the children different? I would love to hear their perspective, but I am still awaiting a reply to my
Speaking up about and against air pollution and its health harms is so important. Yet it feels like
even when you get a response, it is half-baked - and you know it would not fly anywhere else
where these companies operate.
In the meantime, I pray that people will wake up Sunday morning and simply say, “Why would I/
my children/my elderly relatives run? The air is too highly polluted to run. And my/their health is
more important than winning a gift certificate from Decathlon.”
Dr. Gita Sinha is a consultant in medical education and public health and divides her time between
the US and India. She is an core member of Care For Air India
(careforair.org) which works in raising awareness and building
advocacy around India’s air pollution crisis, and a member of citizen activist group #MyRightToBreathe
As an environmental activist and entrepreneur, I’ve made my passion for clean air my business. Protecting family and friends from the toxic and now, well-known negative impact of air pollution led me to create Nirvana Being as a one-stop shop for all personal and enterprise protective gear to safeguard from the perils of air pollution.
But through this journey, I always felt conflicted about air purifiers.
This is because the key element of an air purifier is its HEPA-filter, which, while it filters out the microscopic particulate matter from the air we breathe, allowing us to breathe cleaner air, gets choked in the process and requires replacement. Dirty filters go to landfills annually, adding the the collective problem of air pollution. Air purifiers also increase energy costs and can create a problem of excess carbon dioxide, in a confined space. So I never felt this was the best solution.
Tasked with the need to find an Indoor Air Quality solution for PVR Cinemas in India, we decided that we were going to stick to our sustainable and environmental values and find a green solution.
We recommended a filterless solution from a company that works on the concept of electrostatic precipitation – which means so no filter replacements for the 10-year life of the equipment. So, thats one problem solved.
It gets better though. As this filter replaces the pre/media filter on the existing HVACinfrastructure, it has a significantly lower pressure drop. This implies that the motor needs lesser energy to pull in the same amount of air. So, a simple retrofit allowed us not only to improve the Air Quality Index (AQI) by 90% or better, but also lower energy usage and costs. For our clients, this means a company like PVR will recover the initial cost of the Honeywell filters we are using within 2 years, through energy savings. Also, since you are filtering the air at-source, it is easy to regulate and maintain safe levels of carbon dioxide. All problems addressed. Sounds utopic? Actually, it is!!
Another goal we established with the PVR team is to develop loyalty through transparency. We have installed a monitor in each auditorium, which ensures that real-time AQI will be displayed on the movie screen, the PVR App and the Website. Sharing information about the ambient outdoor AQI vs. the indoor air quality is really a shot in the arm for awareness about air pollution.
I feel this is a landmark project for corporate India and we want to make a big statement about not just the state of our indoor air, but making the shift to comply with Occupational Health and Safety standards (Jai - what are these? One line here, pls)
I must also applaud the thought leadership of the PVR team to elevate the cinematic experience in India and actually re-brand their Auditoriums as Audit-Air- Iums. The end goal is providing a holistic experience and peace of mind with a promise that the 3 hours spent watching a movie at PVR will increase your lifespan by 15 minutes.
I see this as a landmark initiative to compel Corporate India to comply – living where we live, and knowing what we know now, Indoor Air Quality is not a “nice to have,” this is simply “Responsible Business.”
Time to binge watch, don't you think?
Jai Dhar Gupta
Jai is a serial entrepreneur and Founder, Nirvana Being. He is a clean energy enthusiast believes "awareness precedes change." Together with concerned citizens and NGOs, Jai has initiated two different citizen movements - My Right to Breathe and Help Delhi Breathe - to raise awareness about air pollution and garner support for change. Jai has also worked with the Delhi Government air pollution task force, chaired by Delhi Health Minister, Mr. Satyendra Jain. He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Business and is on the South Asia Board for the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO).
I wonder how many of us in the general public were aware of the recent Clean Air Campaign, launched on 10th February by the Centre and Delhi governments. We do know that a recent article in The Hindu reported that it was so successful, that in fact, Delhi’s air quality apparently significantly improved.
It’s funny, because I always thought that if Delhi’s air quality were to significantly improve, that 1.) we would all notice, with great joy and excitement, and 2.) we would clearly see what led to that very sudden and wonderful onset of clean air. Yet the only thing I noticed during the campaign was that the wind speed picked up for a few days. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, Holi is around the corner, and the winds are changing.” I didn’t think the air was clean, but it certainly felt slightly better. I knew from my daily AQI checks that the air quality was still unhealthy - and worse - every single day of the campaign. It was therefore quite surprising to read that a 2 week campaign that I knew nothing about was being attributed to 2 days of “Moderate” quality air.
So I decided to dig into some weather data - and guess what I found? That in the few days before the “Moderate” onset AQI, not only had wind speeds indeed increased, but that wind direction had also changed. In fact, that change in air quality had already been predicted by meteorological scientists, days before the campaign started. Some of that severe pollution simply got blown away.
Did the campaign do it? I seriously doubt it.
So what can we actually take away from this recent Clean Air Campaign?
First, a plea to government officials. Please tell us, the public and the actual stakeholders (and sufferers) more in advance that a campaign is going to take place, and tell us what it will specifically comprise. So that we can not only monitor it for its intended effects, but also help support it! Amongst us and our civil society partners, little to nothing was known about what was happening over that fortnight, nor what the goals of the campaign were. We could have, from the outset, done much better, with advance notice and understanding of the campaign’s intent.
Second, it seems that the crux of the campaign was to issue challans to those who were violating existing air pollution regulations. And in fact, thousands and thousands of challans were issued. This is a laudable accomplishment, and we are grateful for this enforcement, and hopeful that it helped raise awareness of the laws among those who violate them. Yet, is this what makes a clean air campaign a true campaign? Surely, we should expect this kind of enforcement all year-round, not just for a fortnight long demonstration.
If anything, it appears that the campaign’s major accomplishment was to show that enforcement teams can in fact do their job - and that they should be encouraged and motivated to continue to do so. But that does not lead to clean air. Stopping the polluting behaviour does. And challans are hardly the cause of clean air.
Third, we would love to hear from people or groups that were truly engaged by the Clean Air Campaign. Let’s say that for lack of time or intention, the general public was not the intended target for this campaign. How about some public testimonials from the clean air teams, themselves? Did they see the importance of what they were doing? Did they learn a lot, to take forward? Positive and accurate reflections from those in the campaign may actually help motivate the public to act for solutions, themselves.
Does the Clean Air Campaign give us hope for better enforcement in the future? If so, how? Answers to questions, like these, communicated in a timely manner, might give us all some hope that these fortnight long efforts are actually leading us somewhere better.
When we hear the words “clean air campaign,” we envision motivated, aware people who are supporting the cause with renewed energy, understanding, and action. But I’m sorry to say that instead, we were unaware of any clean air activities, and instead were subject to a inaccurate, unsubstantiated news article announcing that the campaign helped improve air quality.
Not just as clean air evangelists, but even just as educated and aware civilians, we simply cannot accept misleading statements any longer. In this case, this sort of misinformation undermines our efforts to motivate school children, their families, and others across the public, and undervalues air pollution as a real problem that demands real solutions.
Our plea to the leaders of the Clean Air Campaign: please talk about the Clean Air Campaign for what it really was, and the positive things it did accomplish. But please do not claim that it cleaned up our air because, even for those marginally more pleasant two days, it most certainly did not. It was the wind.
Say "anti-pollution tower' and watch the faces of pollution-weary sufferers light up.
Say "anti-pollution tower" and watch the reaction of skeptics; better still, hear them bring up China's experience.
Say "anti-pollution tower" and hear air pollution scientists tell you it isn't the solution--indeed, nowhere close to the solution--and that filtering outdoor air is inefficient.
Now put all this aside for a moment, and with an open mind, just examine a small, Pune-based startup's filter-less, self-cleaning and maintenance-free anti-pollution tower, 30,000 compact units of which they are ready to install for free all over Delhi in dead spaces like road dividers, pavements and footpaths. Their revenue model? Advertising.
A Care for Air colleague met this company at TieCon, Delhi in November 2017, the annual networking conference of The IndUS Entrepreneurs and vacillated between disbelief and excitement--until several emails and meetings with the inventor and his partner convinced her that this was for real. But it was still a pie in the sky until that magical moment when one of the co-founders and CEO Irfan Pathan called her one smoky January morning with the news that they had finally got the go-ahead to install five such towers in Delhi as a pilot. It still wasn't untill mid-February that the company managed to get all the requisite permissions in place to install the first such tower-in-a-box just a few feet tall--sucking in air pollutants at a jammed intersection. It will run for 24 hours to test its viability, and Pi Green Tech, the startup, has contracted an independent testing company of international repute to measure its air cleaning capability.
“It can remove up to 95% of pollutants--PM10, 2.5 and 1--from the air it sucks in,” says Pathan confidently. The best part about these machines isn't that they are filter-less, or that they are zero-maintenance, or that they remove nano particles that even indoor air purifiers can't remove, or even that they can communicate via SMS alerts with human supervisors. The best part is that once the project scales up, all the particles captured by the machines can be responsibly disposed off via a tie-up with a hazardous waste company, which makes this sustainable.“ It collects particulate matter to the last bit and converts it into something useful. For example, the entire carbon can be fixed--and used to make shoe-polish or black ink,” says Zuber Shaikh, the inventor of this technology, disclosing that they have a potential Maharashtra-based hazardous waste disposal collaborator waiting in the wings, if they get the go-ahead.
Zuber Shaikh and Rizwan Shaikh have also created the company's other product: the Carbon Cutter Machine--an attachment which sucks the PM from vehicle exhaust and has already made some waves at startup product competitions. “We have been slogging for two years to see this through”, says Pathan.
How is their anti-pollution tower different from the one in China? “This one has no filters and requires almost zero maintenance. It can be placed anywhere: footpaths, dividers, parks. When we filed our application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, we discovered that none among 152 countries had used our technology,” revealed Pathan. It takes up to 7 years to be granted a patent in India, which is why they want to keep the technology a secret. However, what they will tell us at this point is that the secret technology enables a snowball effect of sorts, causing bigger pollution particles to latch on to the smaller, more harmful ones. Polluted air enters the inlet, and the pollutants trickle down into a storage box which, when filled, sends authorities an automated message via SMS. An outlet releases clean air into the vicinity. The entire process ‘cleans up’ the air at 2000 cubic feet per minute, using up just 3 units of electricity a day.
Trials across Pune have indicated that the Tower is 95% effective in reducing air pollution. Pathan says he would be ready to install 30,000 of these for free all over Delhi if the government gave them the green signal. The towers would double as billboards to generate revenue, a trend that could potentially ‘de-commercialise’ outdoor advertising. “But it isn't the branding space we are looking to disrupt,” says Pathan. “It's the pollution.”
“Everyone asks us by how much our towers can bring down Delhi's pollution and I always say, that's like asking how many Aquaguards you need to clean up the ocean,” says Pathan.
But before getting into that, how about if these are placed inside hospitals, or areas of high footfalls like metro stations, inside rail carriages, inside public buses, inside school classrooms or even corridors? Or areas of high aerobic activity like gymnasiums, playing fields, public parks? Both Pathan and Shaikh nod. “Place it wherever. It will suck out all pollutants.”
As clean air advocates, we still believe it is critical to implement a long-term strategy to stop harmful emissions at source. But as residents of one of the most polluted cities in the world, we are desperately looking for some relief in the interim, wherever we can get it. Even to fight for clean air, one has to first survive pollution. So thank you, Mr Imran Husain and the Delhi government, for keeping an open mind and giving new technologies like this a chance to succeed!
Cleaning up after polluting is by no means the ideal solution, but since it looks like none of the polluters are going to stop emitting or combusting in the immediate future--especially in a country which is following the path of growth over development--this new technology and the confidence of the young inventors deserves every chance that it can get. At least one thing is for sure: relatively speaking, this will be a much better solution than large investments of public money in
buying expensive outdoor vacuum cleaners or using scarce water resources to hose down trees and outdoor dust.
And if nothing else, at least schools, hospitals, malls and large indoor public spaces can use this product, without creating the added burden of disposing filters into our already overflowing landfills...
(Meanwhile, companies with CSR funding: if you don't have clean air in your multi-storied office spaces, please use those funds to get this; buy it for your indoor public spaces, your cafes, libraries and reception areas at least! At Rs 3 lakh - 5 lakh apiece, you will be getting hidden gains with higher productivity and lower illnesses, not to mention the good karma of wellness for your employees!)
Disclaimer: These are the personal views of the authors and not of Care for Air. Directly cleaning outdoor air is a sub-optimal strategy, simply based on mass-balance considerations. A more efficient way of protecting the public is to address high-emitting sources of pollution and it is far more effective to clean indoor air in areas of high footfalls.
Aakriti briefly volunteered as Manager, Community Outreach at Care for Air. It was a dark, smoggy morning in New Delhi when she wrote to us, wanting to help. She soon became responsible for handling content and communication at CFA. We wish her luck in her future pollution-related ventures.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare
Jyoti Pande Lavakare is an independent columnist, financial journalist and writer who has lived and worked in Britain, the United States and India, writing for international and Indian publications. In a past life, she produced youth programs for radio and television and her children's fiction appeared in Hachette anthologies. She has a Masters in Economics and currently lives in New Delhi with her husband, teens and a wilting kitchen garden.
Leading public health experts discussed evidence linking air pollution to cardiovascular diseases and cancer at the Centre for Policy Research on Wednesday, 20 December. Mr Bhargav Krishna, who manages the Centre for Environmental Health at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), emphasised that air pollution is not just a Delhi-NCR problem: over 99% districts in India don’t meet the WHO’s standards for acceptable air quality. Household sources contribute to both indoor and outdoor air pollution, and as a country, making the switch to LPG would require widespread behavioural change.
Contrary to popular belief, effects of air pollution aren't confined to respiratory issues—a large proportion of the burden of disease comes from strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. Air pollution is also the leading risk factor for Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALY), a measure of lost productivity. DALYs attributable to air pollution are heavily distributed among the states of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, spanning most of northern India.
Prof. D. Prabhakaran, who heads the Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions at PHFI, further established the connection between cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and ambient air pollution. He stated that poor air quality increases risk of hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and cardiac arrhythmia. It is a known endocrine disruptor, causing inflammation and metabolic abnormalities. Furthermore, Vitamin D deficiency may be linked to air pollution. The risk of death and disability related to cardiovascular disease is further compounded in people who already suffer from these diseases, increasing by as much as 25%.
Dr. Preet Dhillon, associate professor at PHFI’s Centre for Control of Chronic Conditions, gave an overview of the link between air pollution and cancer. For men and women, lung cancer is the most common type worldwide. Studies have consistently attributed lung cancer to air pollution—in terms of mechanism, and in both animals and humans. Outdoor air pollution, a group 1 carcinogen, triggers a cascade of events that result in tumour formation. Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer has also been linked to nitrogen dioxide and PM2.5. Dr. Dhillon mentioned the methodological challenges with respect to studying cancer and air pollution, such as the typically long latency period for cancer outcomes and the need to study thousands of people.
Concluding the two-hour seminar, Prof. Prabhakaran spoke about the ‘uphill task’ of creating pollution-related awareness in the medical community—particularly among cardiologists—and addressing caveats in research. The panel agreed that instead of fatalism, the right approach to solving the air crisis would involve cost-effective solutions, setting time frames, holding authorities accountable, protecting vulnerable individuals and packaging all information in accessible formats.
Aakriti briefly volunteered as Manager, Community Outreach at Care for Air. It was a dark, smoggy morning in New Delhi when she wrote to us, wanting to help. She soon became responsible for handling content and communication at CFA. Aakriti has a postgraduate diploma in Communication for Development from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai, and a bachelor's degree in Mass Media and Mass Communication from Indraprastha College, University of Delhi. We wish her luck in her future air-pollution related ventures.
No one leaves home unless
Home is the mouth of a shark
You only run for the border
When you see the whole city running as well
Delhi was, and always will be, home to me. It was a city that I grew up in for the most part and that I loved. While I may have travelled, worked and lived abroad, it was the one city that beckoned me back time and time again until finally my husband and I decided to return to it. Our beautiful son arrived soon after our return and our cheeky monkey of a daughter followed a few years later.
My childhood was full of long lazy days spent outdoors – my weekends were for climbing hills and swimming in the sea. My love of nature has been the bedrock of who I am and I wanted to pass this on to my children. An ideal childhood for me meant long lazy hours of the day spent outdoors and weekends at Lodhi Garden. We did this for as long as we could till I finally accepted (or realised) that being outdoors was doing my little ones more harm than good.
Last year, we made a difficult decision – to leave home so that our children could breathe a little easier. Delhi is ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world and the number of times my children fell frighteningly ill was too difficult for me to bear. So we moved to a place with cleaner air so that they could live a healthier life with lungs that let them dive down to explore corals and meet obscure fish. Or those that let them run marathons.
We left behind our families, our friends, our local sabjiwallahs and kirana stores, the comfort of grandparents, uncles and aunties and our favourite haunts to rebuild our family and roots in a different part of the world. On some days, I look across the sky of this new city I love and am overwhelmed by what I have left behind. I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. To breathe in. Breathe out. And smell the freshness of the air. To know that we have made the right decision for our family. We continue from afar to try and do our bit to improve Delhi's air. My husband is a member for Care for Air, and our daughter was one of the three young petitioners of
the Supreme Court seeking a ban on firecrackers.
I live in hope that the air quality in Delhi will improve over time and that one day it will
be safer to come home again. Till then, I discover new ways of helping from afar, falling in love with the city I am currently in and spending the entire weekend playing outdoors.
Gauri relocated away from India mainly in the pursuit of clean air. When she isn't getting praise from the Legal500™ for her work as a Securities attorney at one of the world’s leading law firms, she is a doting mother to Aveer (6) and Zoya (2), hoping she can come home soon once the air is better for them.
Introduction: Care for Air launched its first Student Ambassador Programme in 2016. As part of the programme, we asked the young ambassadors (anywhere between 14 and 17 years old) to blog about their learning experience. Here are some of their voices.
A Problematic Pledge
Not too many years ago,
We made a tryst with destiny.
And the time has come for us to redeem that pledge.
Not wholly, or full in measure
But very substantially.
And redeem it we shall,
The preparations are underway!
With plumes of toxic smoke,
We welcome the dirty air!
Match by match we light the fire,
To ignite Earth's funeral pyre.
The young and old celebrate,
With sulphurous fumes and nitrates!
What a noble pledge indeed,
Upheld by every caste and creed.
To mark glorious celebrations,
With death, disaster and desolation
Masked under bright lights and smoke-
Isn't it time you awoke?
When you picked up your first firecracker,
You pledged to the cause.
When you lit your first cigarette,
You pledged to the cause.
When you switched to diesel,
You pledged to the cause.
And when you burned plastic on Lohri,
You pledged to the cause.
You also pledged to the cause,
When you didn't stop the kabaadi-wala
From burning the trash he collected.
Or when you let maali-bhaiya
Burn the leaves, unaffected.
Oh, what a noble pledge indeed,
Upheld by every caste and creed!
Time and again,
Your allegiance was upheld.
It is time it is broken,
Crushed, and quelled.
For your forefathers swore an oath
To let us awaken
To life and freedom.
But you see, I am bound.
The strings of my mask tie me down to my,
Air purifier, which my mother insisted I bought,
Because my nebuliser has gone for repair,
And my inhaler won't help with Delhi air;
And this is why, you need to care,
Because the city now has to bear
With allegiance you swore
To a slow, painful death.
Lusha Jetley: I'm a 15 year old Sanskriti School student. When I am not been whisked away at parliamentary debates and MUNs, I'm writing poetry and clicking photographs, in attempts to encapsulate my thoughts about the world we live in today. My best friends include my violin, my dog Pepper and a good book. My student initiative, Art for Sale aims to increase public awareness through the medium of art. This Diwali, we urged people to not burst crackers by sharing handmade diyas and posters in small gift packages.
Introduction: Care for Air launched its first Student Ambassador Programme in 2016. As part of the programme, we asked the young ambassadors (anywhere between 14 and 17 years old) to blog about their learning experience. Here are some of their voices.
In the first session of the Care For Air Student Ambassador Program, we discussed the various problems air pollution causes in our city, our country and some of the solutions to these problems. One of the problems discussed was indoor pollution and how it’s caused by the use of ‘chulhas’. I learned that efforts have been made by the Government to reduce indoor pollution with the provision of bio-stoves in rural parts of the country, and people use ‘air purifiers’ in more urban areas. Most of these methods are costly to the state and to the individuals, while some methods are not easily accepted by the section of our society that believes in traditional methods.
When I went home, I decided to do some research and brainstorm other effective yet inexpensive alternatives that will reduce indoor pollution and would be accepted by rural households. Air-purifying plants (more specifically herbs) was one of the eco-friendly and effective methods I came across.
It is quite well known that herbs have several uses in the kitchen and has medicinal properties. Certain herbs, as it has been discovered, reduce carbon-dioxide and increase the oxygen in the air when grown indoors or on a windowsill.
Herbs like Jasmine, Basil and Mint are relatively easy to grow and care for in a country like India, and they also purify the air. While there are other benefits. Jasmine gives out a nice fragrance, can be used in herbal tea, Basil can be used as seasoning in food as can mint, which also keeps away mosquitoes and prevents respiratory ailments.
Therefore I decided to grow a small mint plant on my windowsill as an experiment to see how easily it would grow if I were to incorporate it into a large scale project. I did not germinate the seed, but grew it from a cutting. I also kept another mint plant next to it to see how easily it would be to maintain. I found that mint is one of the easiest plants to grow and maintain. It requires next to no care and has many alternative uses other than purifying the air. While the difference in air quality is not evident as the plant has been kept indoors, the more I researched, the more I realized that the little plant by my windowsill is actually doing a lot more good than one can see, feel or measure.
This was just a small, easy step that I took to improve the air quality in my house. It might make a small difference, but to me, it’s a constructive difference that might on a larger-scale help my school or community.
Dayawanti Punj: I am a 15 year old Shri Ram School Moulsari student. I have been passionate about the environment since a very young age and am the Grade Representative of Environmental Initiatives at my school. I have managed paper waste and tetra pack recycling initiatives, silent protests (anti-crackers, anti-water wastage during Holi etc. ) at the school-level. The cause for clean air is something I relate to on a personal level and wish to positively impact. Apart from working on environmental initiatives, I am a pianist and enjoy reading economics and politics.
At a time when we know the PM2.5 in the air is getting worse, it seems there is one more thing that we need to worry about. Of course we know there are other pollutants in the air - and the Diwali firecrackers are going to make all of this multiplier times worse! But there is one aerosol that we are also injecting into the air, one that we probably need to, to protect ourselves from mosquito-borne diseases like chikanguniya and dengue. Here is one of CFA's founding members' thoughtful viewpoint on fogging. Reprinted by permission by the author.
The billowing white smoke brings relief. It shows we are on the offensive against the dreaded mosquito-borne viral menaces. But should we be a tad bit worried too? This opaque, odorless cloud is not a result of Mother Nature. How many times have you instinctively held your breath as you walked through it? I know I do every time I encounter anti-mosquito fogging. I don’t walk, I rush through it wondering how many more steps to go before I clear the cloud. It is a test of my lung capacity, how long can I hold my breath before the next inhale and exhale?
The clouds from fogging machines are pervasive in New Delhi right now. And rightly so. With cases of chikungunya and dengue skyrocketing – at epidemic proportions this year, we should be happy to see government agencies and neighborhoods taking such a proactive role to reduce mosquito populations.
This misty fog means death to all mosquitos right? Yet I can’t help but worry whatever is in a fog that can kill mosquitos en masse, can’t be good for me, right? And that is the thing with fogging.
What is in it? Will it harm me, my children? And really, how effective is it in killing mosquitos?
Well, experts agree the answers are complex sometimes leading to more questions and unease. First off, it’s fair to say fogging is very, very widely used around the world in developed and developing countries to help combat mosquito populations. But fogging is one step of many that should be taken. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends an integrated approach to mosquito control to tackle all life stages of the mosquito. Fogging only targets one stage. It paralyzes and kills, sometimes but not always, adult mosquitos. Yet perhaps the biggest advantage of fogging is one of public relations.
Mosquito fogging provides the most visible and ongoing evidence of that a government or community is taking action against the problem. The effectiveness of fogging, though, is limited and short term.
I took a deeper look at mosquito fogging, it’s effectiveness and impact on our health. Here’s what I discovered.
5 Questions Answered on Mosquito Control:
1. Why isn’t fogging the silver bullet, the best way to tackle mosquitos?
First let’s consider the innovative, adaptive and opportunistic animal at the root of mosquito-borne disease:
The Aedes aegypti mosquito has a complex life cycle. They are container breeders and make full use of the urban setting to breed. Female mosquitos lay their eggs on the wet walls of containers, small or large, with even miniscule amounts of water. Discarded bottle caps, your pet’s water bowl, clogged rain gutters, used tires, discarded rubbish, toilet tanks are all breeding venues for this insect. The eggs can survive for a long time in a dry state, even up to a year!
Once they submerge in water, they hatch and over a very short period of time emerge as a newly formed and biting adult. Then 8-10 days later they are dead. But not before the female mosquitos have dined on human blood, her preferred meal, and produced eggs. Up to 100-200 eggs are produced after every blood meal! She can produce as many as 5 mega batches of eggs that she lays at different locations, smartly ensuring some will survive.
The problem with fogging is it only targets adult mosquitos, not the eggs or larvae. Also, consider the timing and location of fogging. If done midday, it will be less effective than being done at dawn and dusk. Fogging also will not reach the many, many indoor mosquitos who have made their way into our homes, creating whole reproductive ecosystems right under our nose!
2. What’s in the fog?
There is no one easy answer to this. There are many chemical options used in mosquito fogging. At least 10 different chemicals are widely used such as permethrin also known as pyrethroid, piperonyl butoxide (PBO), S-Bioalletrin, melathion, fenthion, BTI, and the banned abroad but widely used in Asia and Africa – DDT, which accumulates and remains in our bodies over years and is very harmful. To make it more complex, the chemicals used in fogging aren’t effective on mosquitos beyond the immediate dispersal. And skilled evolutionary warriors, mosquitos quickly develop resistance to the chemicals used requiring new pesticide variations to be effective!
3. Will fogging harm me, my children, my pets?
Pediatricians and public health agencies say mosquito fogging is safe for human exposure. That said in a contradictory turn, most also advise avoiding exposure all together, remaining inside when fogging occurs with windows and doors closed. Local Delhi pediatricians report increased cases of asthma, allergic reactions, and upper respiratory issues, especially in those more sensitive and prone to respiratory difficulties.
4. What else can be done? How do we get rid of mosquitos?
WHO stresses the urgency in eliminating mosquito breeding sites - that means small and large containers and areas where water collects. As an emergency measure only, fogging is best timed at dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is most intense. Some countries are introducing biological methods to control mosquitos such as mosquito larvae-devouring fish into water sources.
5. What can we do at home?
Prevent and protect! For years, we have slept under mosquito nets. My children love it, comparing their beds to mini forts. If you do not have screens on your window’s consider having them made to allow air circulation without letting these flying predators in. Wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and trousers and use natural anti-mosquito creams. Lastly, be vigilant about your garden, barsati, driveway and colony gardens to ensure these do not have breeding opportunities with standing water containers.
Considering worldwide cases of dengue alone have risen 30-fold compared to 50 years ago, this problem is not going away anytime soon. So be informed and be proactive. If you live in an area that fogs, protect yourself and your family by finding out when community fogging takes place and stay inside with the windows shut during this time. If possible, remain indoors for about 12 hours, possible only when evening fogging takes place perhaps, but at the very least for several hours.
Tina is a founding member of Care For Air. In 2009, she relocated to New Delhi, India. Within her own family, she has felt the impact of India’s air pollution problem. She believes the air we breathe is the ultimate democratizer and that clean air must be accessible to all.
Tell us your personal stories on how you battle air pollution in your daily life and in your community.