Doctors Issue Urgent Health Advisory on the occasion of National Pollution Prevention Day

On the occasion of National Pollution Prevention Day, a critical health advisory has been released by leading medical professionals, at a press conference organized by the SwitchON Foundation with support from Association of Chest Physicians West Bengal, South Asian Medical Students Associations and Society of Emergency Medicine of India , West Bengal Chapter and West Bengal Doctors Forum addressing the escalating concerns surrounding air pollution and its detrimental effects on public health.

The health advisory provides numerous ways in which citizens, Schools, Colleges, and Government can prevent impact of air pollution, besides preventive measures and practices that should be adopted in everyday life to better prepare from the onslaught of polluted winter days.
In light of the worsening air quality levels observed, the medical community emphasized the urgent need for heightened awareness and precautionary measures to safeguard the well-being of individuals. Several leading doctors of Kolkata like Dr. Arup Halder from CMRI Hospital, Dr. Soirindhri Banerjee from IPGME&R & SSKM hospital, Dr. Suman Mallik from NH Narayana Super Speciality Hospital, and Dr. Sanjukta Dutta from Fortis Hospital attended the press conference.

Vinay Jaju, Managing Director, SwitchON Foundation said, “Health professionals are calling the air pollution a health emergency. This health advisory serves as a collective call to action, emphasizing the shared responsibility of individuals, communities, and policymakers in addressing the escalating challenges posed by air pollution.” He further added stating – “Through our report it was found that the air quality of Victoria is increasing at an alarming rate even in the monsoon seasons. Over the last three years, Victoria has been emerging as the most polluted site in Kolkata.”

According to The Air Quality and Health in Cities report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Project, Kolkata continues to grapple with its unenviable status as the world’s second most polluted city. This persistent deterioration in air quality demands urgent and comprehensive measures to address its adverse impact on public health and the environment, as highlighted by continuous monitoring from the Central Pollution Control Board and the West Bengal Pollution Control Board.

Addressing the Press Conference Dr Arup Halder, Consultant Pulmonologist, CMRI Hospital stated: “According to the global burden of diseases air pollution is the 4th leading cause of mortality in the world and we lose 90 lakhs people every year due to air pollution in the world. This war against air pollution can only be fought with awareness. On this National Air Pollution Day, we urge everyone to be mindful of their environment and take measures to protect their respiratory health”
Dr. Soirindhri Banerjee, Senior Resident, Radiation Oncology, IPGME&R & SSKM hospital said, “I have witnessed a concerning correlation between prolonged exposure to air pollution and an increased risk of certain cancers. The toxic elements in polluted air can trigger cellular changes, emphasizing the imperative for public health measures to mitigate this environmental risk.”

The health consequences of air pollution vary depending on pollution levels and exposure duration. Vulnerability to these impacts differs among individuals due to demographic factors and existing health conditions.The Health Advisory released by the eminent doctors enumerated the role of citizens, Schools, Colleges and the Government for protection and prevention of air pollution.
Citizen’s role in Air Pollution
Refrain from burning wood or trash
Opt for telecommuting, public transport, carpooling, bicycling, or walking
Waste Management and segregation
Implement energy-saving practices at home and work
Utilize N95 masks during smoggy days
Choose a predominantly plant-based diet
Use high-efficiency home air purifiers or indoor air-purifying plants
Avoid outdoor activities during high pollution levels
Institution’s / Office role in Air Pollution
Promote waste reduction and energy efficiency.
Adopt green infrastructure and technologies.
Make workplace cycle friendly
Limiting outdoor activities
Government’s role in Air Pollution Mitigation strategies:
Public information on air pollution levels and awareness
Establish effective emergency response plans to deal with sudden spikes
Manage C&D Waste Properly
At the press conference the State of Air Quality Report of Kolkata 2023 was shared. It was found that the air quality in the adjacent areas of Victoria Memorial area is showing alarming trends. There has been a 70% surge in the Air Quality Index (AQI) between December 2021 and December 2022. The spikes of air pollution are moving towards January to December, as per the last three year AQI records. However, it was strange to notice that formerly one of Kolkata’s most polluted areas, Rabindra Bharati University recorded an AQI of 344 in January 2021 which saw a decreasing trend with 296 AQI in the last winter (December 2022) and in January 2023, AQI drastically reduced for 34% from January 2021. It was alarming to notice that despite monsoon’s usual air quality improvement, Victoria experienced a 34% rise in June and 22% in August pollution from 2021 to 2023. It was also seen that air is more polluted during the morning time as compared to night.

Dr. Suman Mallik, Clinical Director, Chief of radiation Oncology, NH Narayana Super Speciality Hospital said, “Lung cancer is the leading cancer site among the cancer patients in Kolkata and West Bengal and its rise over the years has been alarming (14.9% in 2006-07 to 20% in 2020). It is now seen more commonly among females and non smokers than it used to before. Ultra-fine particulate matter in the air (particularly PM 2.5) brought about by vehicular emissions and poor waste disposal are responsible for epithelial proliferation and overgrowth leading to cancer. ”

Dr Sanjukta Dutta, Consultant and head of emergency medicine department, Fortis hospital Kolkata and Past president, society for emergency medicine, India, West Bengal Chapter stated, “Air pollution is a major environmental health threat. It damages our vital organs like lungs, brain, cardiovascular system, it reduces our lifespan significantly. Recent data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that air pollution has a vast and terrible impact on child health and survival.”