The entire nation rejoiced in festivities over the past weekend but the residents of Chennai didn’t wake up to a bright and sunny day. Rather the first thing they saw was a dense blanket of smog hovering over the city on Saturday morning. We’ve heard and seen how the smog in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Lucknow has affected the health of millions, and it looks like Chennai is following in their footsteps.
The first day of Sankranti/Pongal, called as Bhogi is the day when people burn old and unused things as a sign of letting go of materialistic things and welcoming new beginnings. These celebrations are what caused the Chennai’s air to be thick and heavy with smog.
This smog caused reduced visibility, as low as 50 m, and put road users at risk where multiple cases of accidents were reported. The air traffic also suffered due to this pollution. Between 4 and 8 am, almost 18 flights that were supposed to land on the Chennai airstrip were diverted to Bangalore and Hyderabad airports.
National Air Quality Index measured the PM 2.5 particles in three different parts of the city - IIT Madras, Manali and Alandur Bus depot, and found that the levels were around 400, way beyond the safe limit (60). Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) monitored 15 zones in the city before and after Bhogi for RSPM (Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter) and the PM10 levels were higher than usual. In few areas like Tiruvottiyur, Tondiarpet, and Ambattur, these levels increased by a staggering 5 times compared to the PM10 levels before Bhogi. The air quality was officially categorized as ‘poor’ and the citizens were advised to avoid outdoor activities.
PM 2.5 and PM 10 are the particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers and 10 micrometers or less, respectively. These air pollutants are drawn into the body with every breath and because they are small, light and fine, they get easily lodged in the lungs. The short-term health effects of constant exposure to these particles include throat and lung irritation, sneezing and shortness of breath. In severe cases, it could also result in chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, heart problems and lung cancer. Because of their still-developing immune systems, kids and babies are likely to be more affected by air pollution. Significant behavioral changes and brain structure damage are also linked to the pollutants in the air. If a pregnant woman is exposed to air pollution on a daily basis, the chances of her baby being born with birth defects, low birth weight and abnormal head circumference are very high.
The air you breathe in your house is no better either. According to EPA, indoor air quality is said to be 10x worse than the outdoors. Did you know that the fumes that are emitted due to cooking, usage of air fresheners and sprays, chemical cleaners, detergents, burning lamps and so on contribute towards reducing the air quality of your home? Right about now you might be thinking about how harmful the air your family is inhaling.
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