By Kapil Kajal
The common white-collar worker is largely indifferent about pollution, presuming they remain unaffected by it since they work in an air-conditioned office, live in a nice locality, travel by cabs. However, an increasing number of studies show that white-collar workers are more prone to diseases from air pollution.
According to a report by a California-based university, pollutant levels are often higher inside cars because they take in emissions from the vehicles immediately ahead or surrounding vehicles, especially if those vehicles are highly polluting, such as heavy-duty diesel trucks and recirculate them.
The levels of some pollutants and toxic compounds can be as much as 10 times higher inside vehicles than outside, highlighted the study. The pollutants largely come from gasoline and diesel exhaust fumes and include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde (known or suspected carcinogens), carbon monoxide (which interferes with the blood’s ability to transport oxygen), nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, the study added.
Dr TV Ramachandra, a professor in the Centre of Ecological Science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), stated that people continuously inhale the dust particles present in a closed setting, like a car or a badly ventilated room.
Moreover, if the AC is not maintained properly, the fungi and bacteria in the room will increase, he added.
According to a recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), indoor air pollution in cars can induce severe diseases such as increased cardiovascular risks, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and respiratory tract infections, including pneumonia.
AC rooms, not so clean
The air-conditioned offices are also not safe from the impact of pollution. Poor air quality in the workplace results in the death of nearly 8 lakh people every year, according to a report by The Lancet.
Dr Shashidhara Gangaiah, a pulmonologist with an independent practice, advised ensuring good ventilation and checking the air quality inside the house, car and office by cleaning them, removing dust and pollen, which makes it difficult to breathe. Apart from carpeting and rugs which attract all the irritants, Dr Gangaiah advised using tile, laminate and hardwood which are a more lung-friendly option.
According to a study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, upto 30% of new and remodelled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality.
When a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures, the indoor air quality worsens, it added.
The report explained that the causes of indoor air pollution included inadequate or poor ventilation, chemical contaminants from indoor sources like adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds, chemical contaminants from outdoor sources like pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts, plumbing vents, and building exhausts which can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings, and biological contaminants such as bacteria, mold, pollen, and viruses as the major culprit.
Dr H Paramesh, a paediatric pulmonologist, environmentalist and a professor with the Divecha Center for Climate Change at the IISc, stated that even if a person stays inside the car, house and office for 90% of the time, they get diseases related to air pollution.
He informed that while carrying out a study regarding the rise of diseases in Bengaluru, the majority of the people were suffering owing to indoor air pollution.
No one is really spared from the ill impacts of air pollution and this is a big misconception that the people who travel in AC cars or work in AC offices are safe from it, he commented.
Dr Yellapa Reddy, the Governing Council Member of the Foundation for Ecological Security of India, said that the pollution inside the car and office is directly linked to outdoor air pollution.
He added that planting more trees and ensuring affordable public transport will end most of the air pollution problems in the city.
(Author is Bengaluru – based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)