LAHORE: Air pollution is a broad term that refers to any chemical, physical (particulate matter), or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere — a complex, dynamic, natural gaseous system that is essential to support life on planet Earth.
Stratospheric ozone depletion due to air pollution has long been recognised as a threat to human health as well as to the Earth’s ecosystem. Globally, air pollution is directly responsible for a large number of respiratory disease cases, and resultantly, the deaths caused by them. The World Health Organisation estimates that 4.6 million people die each year from causes directly attributable to air pollution.
Pakistan is no exception. The country is suffering from a rapid increase in respiratory diseases. Respiratory disease is the term used for infections of the respiratory system. These include diseases of the lung, pleural cavity, bronchial tubes, trachea, upper respiratory tract, and of the nerves and muscles used in breathing. Respiratory diseases range from the mild, such as the common cold, to life-threatening, such as bacterial pneumonia or pulmonary embolism.
Many advanced countries have well-established epidemiology disciplines that provide data on how many residents suffer from these problems. In the US, for example, people suffer 1 billion colds every year. Similarly, one in seven people in the UK are affected by some form of chronic lung disease, most commonly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.
In Pakistan, however, despite a rapid increase in air pollution, no awareness progammes have been launched to apprise the general population of the threat posed by respiratory diseases. Many people in this country are unaware that in addition to the major stationary sources that are often identified with air pollution (factories, mills, etc), the greatest source of emissions is actually mobile, principally the automobile. Unfortunately, while there are many air pollution control technologies and urban planning strategies available, the worldwide costs of addressing the issue are quite high and difficult to achieve.
This article seeks to convey suggestions and recommendations that will help people combat the ever-increasing air pollution and work towards minimising its hazardous effects. One such suggestion to improve air quality is by conducting research into alternative energy resources that are not as polluting as gasoline-powered engines. All over the world, more deaths are linked to air pollution per year than to car accidents. One alternative source is bioethanol fuel biodiesel. Similarly, solar energy should be considered as a viable fuel.
Several mortalities are attributable to indoor air pollution. A possible solution is to change the structure of houses by making them airy and bright, focusing on a high level of hygiene. Laws enforcing air quality standards, like the Clean Air Act in the US, have reduced the presence of some pollutants. Such laws, already formulated by the public health department and the Environmental Protection Agency, need to be enforced.
Research published in 2005 suggests that 310,000 Europeans die from air pollution each year. Annual deaths in Pakistan due to respiratory diseases have not been well-documented. This necessitates a great need for microbiologists and epidemiologists to work with the public health sector to play an effective role. However, this requires proper funding from the government or other agencies.