Mumbai’s Air Pollution: A Ticking Time Bomb for Public Health

February 2, 2024
2 mins read
Mumbai's air pollution crisis is escalating
Mumbai's air pollution crisis is escalating. Image Credit: Shriraj (Twitter)

A healthy person has no problem with his/her lungs. But being exposed to air pollution over a long period of time can cause lung conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If you are exposed to high levels of pollution when you are pregnant, whether you have asthma yourself or not, your baby could be more likely to develop asthma. Air pollution is raising the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers. 

As an expert in this field, Dr. Aravind Kumar says that the poor air quality index affects not only smokers but non-smokers too. Owing to high levels of air pollution, the lungs become black. Soon the patients are unable to breathe normally. This is a medical emergency. It calls for immediate action. Even my great-granddaughter, who is 6 years old, coughs. So a nebuliser is used to help her.

Dr. Arvind Kumar says that he operates on the lungs of over 600 patients every year for diseases ranging from tuberculosis to lung cancer. Even more disturbing is the change in the demography of his lung cancer patients. At the start of his career in the late 1980s, he always saw pink lungs, except in smokers. Sadly, the high levels of air pollution in the air we all breathe means he rarely sees normal pink lungs in any patient these days. What shocks and scares him even more is that he regularly sees children as young as 14-16 with no history of active or passive smoking, with black deposits on their lungs. In the late 1980s, more than 90% of lung cancer patients were smokers, typically men in their 50s or 60s. But a 2018 study found that 50% of lung cancer patients in North India are non-smokers. More than 21% of these patients are below the age of 50. Dr. Kumar’s most disturbing experience was to break the news of stage four lung cancer to a 28-year-old girl from a non-smoking family—a family that was preparing for her marriage. According to him, this trend is observed all over the country in varied degrees.

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Polluted air damages not only the lungs but every organ in our body, including the heart, blood vessels, brain, pancreas, kidneys, urinary bladder, and even reproductive organs. Shockingly, this damage does not have to wait for us to be born; it strikes us first inside our mother’s wombs. Unequivocal evidence is available that pregnant mothers exposed to high levels of air pollution have toxic chemicals in the placenta (the link between the mother’s womb and the growing baby). The result is lower brain and physical development of the newborn babies. 

According to the WHO, air pollution causes 1.8 million deaths due to lung cancer every year. Today an entire generation is facing this hidden ‘chemical warfare’ which can cause permanent and serious damage. As a matter of fact, as per a 2020 study by IIT Bombay and NEERI, around 70% of the air pollution in Mumbai is caused by construction work. However, we haven’t seen any reduction or any changes in the construction work in the city or Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Citizens from Thane district, Navi-Mumbai, Raigad District or Palghar District, which make up the Mumbai Metropolitan Region face the same wrath of air pollution.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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