Air pollution may have caused 8K deaths in Hyderabad in 2023: Report

Hyderabad: The city recorded an estimated 8,000 deaths and suffered economic loss worth Rs 100 crore due to air pollution in 2023 so far. The data was revealed by the ‘Greenpeace Southeast Asia’ Analysis of IQAir data.

On a particularly smoggy day, it’s not hard to imagine the toll that air pollution takes on people’s health and lives. But what many don’t realise is that the total impact of air pollution on human life and the economy may be far more severe than thought.

In Hyderabad, 7 ‘air quality check stations’ are set up at different locations monitoring the quality of air we breathe daily.

Currently, the air in Hyderabad is ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups as per the weekly forecast by QIAir. Air in Kokapet area is the most polluted, followed by Nacharam and Malakpet.

The bad air quality is exacting a heavy price on the population with winters being the worst-hit season in terms of air pollution.

Pulmonologist Dr Raju who has been practising in the city for the past eleven years said that ‘patient flow’ has increased by three folds post-COVID-19 pandemic.

Children contribute to 20 percent of the total number of patients that are affected due to increased air pollution every day. “More than 100 patients walk in with lung-related ailments with ‘wheezing’ (whistling or rattling sound your breath makes when your airway is partially blocked) being the most common symptom in patients,” the doctor elaborated.

Stating that people residing near the industrial area are the most affected, the doctor underlined that the influx of people in large numbers into the city has also contributed to the increased pollution.

Another pulmonologist, Dr Nalini says that Hyderabad is facing an ‘unusual season’ (mix of summer and winter seasons) currently. “With many suffering vitamin deficiencies post lockdown, they are easily getting prone to respiratory diseases.

Pointing out the fact that many people intake medication from pharmacies without consulting a doctor, Nalini said that they receive half treatment and hence their condition gets worse.

Zoo park area most affected

According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) data recorded till mid-October, Nehru Zoo Park and Kokapet areas in Hyderabad have the highest AQI values with 158 and 154 respectively, when compared to the other places in the city.

Raju Colony near Jeedimetla and Sanath Nagar area recorded the lowest AQI. Higher AQI indicate unhealthy air quality in a particular area.

In Telangana, Ramgundam, Mancherial, Bellampally and Karimnagar had the highest AQI in October with Karimnagar bearing the most unhealthy air.

The data further revealed that pollution is the lowest in the air around 6 am while the highest in the evening around 6 pm.

With over 10 million people living in the city, Hyderabad stands number one in the bad air quality index among the 33 districts in Telangana.

However, if the current air quality is compared to beginning of the year, the AQI has lowered as many areas in the city crossed the 200 mark in January 2023.

It is to be noted that the air quality of the area had started improving in March itself and that the value had come down to 61 in June. A key indicator of air quality is the amount of PM2.5 in the air. PM stands for particulate matter and 2.5 refers to size.

As per the latest update by IQAir, PM2.5 concentration in Hyderabad is currently 7.2 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value

How to stay protected?

Highlighting the dangers of ‘bird feeding’, especially the pigeons which flock at multiple places in the city, Dr Raju recommended that the activity must be avoided to safeguard children and elders from lung diseases.

“Masks are the sole protectants for people with sensitive lung health. Avoiding crowded places can also avoid the risk of airborne infection,” the doctor emphasised.

It must be noted that elderly people in the house must avoid contact with children immediately after they come from outside. Avoiding intake of any ‘advised’ medication from pharmacies may also reduce the recovery time.

Cognitive abilities affected

According to an environmental activist, Lubna, the spiking air pollution in the city is also affecting the ‘cognitive abilities’ (skills your brain uses to complete essential day-to-day tasks) and reproductive abilities of citizens.

“Stones found in various organs of the body are rooted to air pollution. Since the naturality of the food is reduced due to processing, with the state government rapidly launching food processing units, the food items are eventually turning harmful,” added Lubna.

Major sources of pollution are the transport and construction sites. The gaseous stench from nalas in the city releases a pungent smell, contributing to air pollution.

Indoor air vs outdoor air

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels, and in some cases, these levels can exceed 100 times that of outdoor levels of the same pollutants. In other words, sometimes the air inside can be more harmful than the air outside.

The primary causes of outdoor air pollution are solid, liquid particles called aerosols & gases from vehicle emissions, construction activities, factories, burning stubble & fossil fuels and wildfires, etc.

The main causes of indoor air pollution are harmful gases from cooking fuels (such as wood, crop wastes, charcoal, coal and dung), dampness, mould smoke, chemicals from cleaning materials, etc.

Moreover, some startling figures have come to the fore in an Air Quality Life Index report compiled by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

The state’s annual average PM2.5 levels (concentration of fine particles) have reached 38.2 g/m³, staggeringly higher than the permissible limit of 5 g/m³ set by the World Health Organisation.

Do air purifiers work?

According to Dr Raju, air purifiers work well in places which have high amounts of air pollutants, like those near construction sites. However, they make negligible differences in places otherwise.

However, not all air purifiers safely clean the air.