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Concrete Cough: When a Bustling City Becomes a Breathing Hazard

For a long time, Mumbai was considered immune to the challenges of air pollution, including haze and smog, due to its coastal location, which provided a distinct advantage. The coastal city is said to possess a 'natural cleaning mechanism' where robust onshore and offshore breezes effectively clear dust and other suspended particles, ensuring the city's air remains comparatively clean.


Despite its geographical advantage, Mumbai faced its lengthiest period of poor air quality in 2022, surpassing the pollution levels of Delhi. The situation continues to worsen; as of January 6, 2024, Mumbai's Air Quality Index (AQI) reached a hazardous level of 355.


While several reasons are linked to the current situation, the primary cause is the dust arising from construction sites. In their "Mumbai Annual 2023" report, ProjectX India highlights approximately 1,200 ongoing construction sites across Mumbai. This has resulted in the generation of large amounts of dust particles and the emission of volatile organic compounds, along with nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and carbon monoxide. This surge in particulate matter and harmful emissions significantly contributes to the deterioration of air quality in Mumbai, posing a severe environmental and public health concern.


Mumbai suffers from inadequate green cover due to its crowded public spaces, congested roads, and massive population. Rampant concretisation has further contributed to this problem. It is important to note that green cover plays a crucial role in mitigating air pollution by filtering, directing, and dispersing winds, which aids in diluting concentrated pockets of pollution. Despite the presence of Sanjay Gandhi National Park within the city limits, the green oasis has failed to purify the air.


Landfill and large-scale waste burning in the open, traffic emissions, the usage of unclean fuels by dhabas, restaurants, and bakeries, along with the presence of a range of industries using ready-mix concrete plants and casting yard plants, are additional factors affecting Mumbai's air quality.


This unchecked increase in air pollution has an impact not only on the environment but also on overall public health; with cases of chronic cough and respiratory problems increasing significantly, air pollution has become a matter of public health emergency.


In an interview with Forbes India, Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director at the Centre for Science and Environment, said, “Air pollution, we know, is a public health emergency.  In Mumbai and Maharashtra, it is among the top four killers in the state today. And with all the new studies which are emerging not only in India but especially in different parts of the world, it is very clear that when these very toxic tiny particles go inside the lungs, they are so tiny that they can break through the blood barrier and get mixed with the bloodstream and hit every organ of our body. In fact, today, it is scary; conventionally, we always thought air pollution is only related to respiratory problems, affecting your lungs and respiratory system, and that myth is now busted; almost all metabolical diseases are now caused by air pollution because it reaches all parts of our body”.


Ultimately, the pervasive impact of air pollution extends across a spectrum of health concerns, conditions ranging from cancer and strokes to diabetes and high blood pressure. Alarmingly, this influence isn't restricted to adults. Even newborns and developing fetuses within the womb are not immune to the detrimental effects of air pollution. These widespread effects emphasise the immediate need for thorough actions to tackle and lessen air pollution.


Addressing air pollution is challenging, but adherence to scientific guidance is crucial. The responsibility lies both on the government and the common masses. Given the urgency of climate change, immediate action is essential to implement these changes without delay.


 


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