Air Pollution Now Affecting Children From the Day They Are Born
Babies are being exposed to toxic air at birth. Why we need to treat air pollution as a health emergency.
‘Our children are exposed to toxic air the minute they are born,’ says Dr Arvind Kumar, Chairman, Center for Chest Surgery at Sir Gangaram Hospital. He follows it up with this. ‘And we want to cut more and more trees.’
Data from a recent study carried out by the Lung Care Foundation, first published by IndiaSpend, indicates that unlike even a couple of decades ago, 50 percent of all lung cancer patients today are non smokers.
They studied over 150 lung cancer patients over a six-year period between 2012 and 2018.
“70 percent of the patients who were non smokers were under 50 years old.”
Pollution and Lung Cancer
In a recent interview with FIT, we asked Dr Kumar if heightened pollution can have a direct impact on lungs/ lung cancer.
He explains that the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke are similar to those found in the ambient air we breathe today that contains PM 2.5.
PM 2.5 particulate matter is extremely harmful. These fine particles can get deep into lungs and bloodstream and carry the risk of damaging your heart and lungs, according to the US Environment Protection Agency. World Health Organisation (WHO) had classified outdoor pollution as a cancer causing agent in 2013.
Three to four decades ago, the average age at which a person was first exposed to toxic air was at around 20, main exposure being to cigarette smoke. It takes 20 to 25 years of exposure for serious damage to be done. At the time, the average age of lung cancer cases in India was in 50s and 60s.Dr Arvind Kumar, Oncologist
As the current study indicates, the average age at which Indians are getting lung cancer today is in their 30s and 40s.
Examine the scenario now. Children are being exposed to toxic air from day one of their birth. Can you imagine at what age they’ll be susceptible to lung cancer? We are living in a public health emergency. Why are we not waking up to it?Dr Arvind Kumar
In 2017, Indian Medical Association (IMA) did declare a public health emergency when the air quality index in the national capital breached the 999 mark.
Lung Cancer in Urban, Non Smoking Population on the Rise
The data, as visualised by IndiaSpend above, indicates that lung cancer is affecting young urban Indians with little exposure to bio mass and other traditional cooking fuels. In comparison, in the US, 82 percent of all lung cancer patients are over 60 years old.
A recent study found that 8 out of 10 Delhi kids had compromised lungs. Lung damage that is irreversible.
Dr Kumar and his team want to catch lung cancer patients at stage 1, when help is effective. Currently, most patients are diagnosed at stage 3 and 4. They are pushing for early screening and massive awareness drives across schools and colleges.
“We need to reach out to as many people as possible to spread awareness and bring about policy level change. Cutting trees and planting saplings is not a solution. A sapling will take decades to replicate the benefits of a fully grown tree.”
(With inputs from IndiaSpend)
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