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Research Last Updated: Aug 19, 2019 - 10:44:02 AM

Health Effects of Air Pollution in South Asia
By E. Kalair, N.Abas and N. Khan, Kalair Energy Networks, 14/8/19
Aug 17, 2019 - 11:38:09 AM

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Air pollutants, chemical contaminants and bacteria enters human body through air, water and food. Air pollution is an ignored threat lurking everywhere in the world. China, India and Pakistan virtually become gas chambers in winter as peak smoggy months have become the fifth season in Asia.  Road traffic requires street lights during smog season in Xingtai, New Delhi and Lahore due to fire kilns, diesel vehicles due to industries coal and farmers stubble burning practices. Indian stubble burning related respiratory infection diseases cause more than $30 billion economic losses to India and Pakistan [IFPRI 2019].

Air pollution is a grave concern worldwide as more than 91% people live in environment where WHO’s air particulate matter pollution standards of annual mean of 20mg/m3 (PM10) and 10mg/m3 (PM2.5) are seriously violated. Air pollution levels of PM10 and PM2.5 rise to 127mg/m3 and 69mg/m3 in India and adjacent cities of Pakistan in smog seasons which exceed WHO save limits [WHO 2019].

Unfortunately annual mean levels of PM10 and PM2.5 are six times higher than annual mean and more than twice of 24-hour means of 25 and 50mg/m3 in India and China. WHO standards also impose limits of 100 μg/m3 8-hour mean on ozone (O3), 40 μg/m3 annual and 200 μg/m3 1-hour means limits on NO2, 20 μg/m3 24-hour and 500 μg/m3 10-minute means on SO2 in air. This article focuses on only particulate matter pollutions. Transboundary air pollutants adversely affect nearby countries. India is biggest polluter in SAARC countries [Abas, 2019].

Air pollution and global warming are the biggest challenges the humanity faces today. Underwater surfaces of glaciers are melting 100 times faster than mountain glaciers. CO2 has reached 415ppm and temperature increased by 1°C compared to preindustrial times.  Sulfur dioxide is a pollutant yet it reduces global warming by reflecting solar radiations in stratosphere. Volcanic eruption in Philippine in 1991 injected SO2 clouds in stratosphere which reduced local temperature for four years. Solar geoengineering experts proposed to use 95 aircrafts doing 60,000 flights in air to spray hundreds of thousands tons of SO2 in the stratosphere annually to reduce solar insolation on ground. However, scientists also fear from possible change in rain pattern and atmospheric chemistry [Economist 2019]

Long-term exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution in India and China took lives of nearly five million people from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung diseases in 2017. Three million deaths in India and China are directly linked with PM2.5 and rest two millions are attributed to PM10. According Business Standard, Asia Insurance Post and other reports the air pollution annually kills 1.2 million Indians [Ahmed 2019]. Air pollutions affects airways and blood streams.

Air pollution is one of the worst problems the humanity faces today. We need nutrient food once in 8 hours and clean water every 3 hours but fresh air every second in routine. A relaxing man breathes 0.5 liter air in four seconds, 7.5 liter in one minute, 10,800 liters daily and 3,942,000 liters every year. An average person inhales 236 million liters air in 60 years in South Asia.

WHO organization recommends 10mg/m3 and 20mg/m3 of PM2.5 and PM10 in air but India and China have about 69mg/m3 and 127mg/m3 annual mean air pollutions. One liter of air has 1.29 gram weight out of which 0.069mg and 0.127mg are PM2.5 and PM10 dust particles. It is very interesting to determine how much pollution mass the lungs and blood streams can tolerate safely?

PM2.5 particles enter blood streams through air sacs and PM10 particles remain in lungs. CCOHS studies show a coal miner inhales 1000 grams of carbon particles in his life and after death diagnostics show only 40 grams of particulate matter in his lungs. It means lungs retain 4% of inhaled pollutants, then where does go the rest of course and fine particulate matter?

At rate of 0.069mg/L and 0.127mg/L an average person inhales 16 grams of PM2.5 and 30 grams of PM10 particles. An average person inhales about 46 grams of particulate matter out of which a lion’s share is thrown out by human natural defense system, yet X-ray images of above 60 people are often dark. How much of inhaled pollutants stay in lungs and how much enter into blood streams.

According to Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), “Lungs are constantly exposed to air pollution, but luckily they have defense mechanisms that protects them by removing dust particles from the respiratory system…When a person breathes in, particles suspended in the air enter the nose, but not all of them reach the lungs, as the nose is an efficient filter that removes dust particles by blowing or sneezing actions…All of these airways are lined by cells. The mucus these cells produce catches most of the dust particles. Lungs anatomy is shown in Fig.1.

Fig.1 Lungs and airways anatomy

Tiny hairs called cilia, covering the walls of the air tubes, move the mucus upward and out into the throat, where it is either coughed up and spat out, or swallowed. The air reaches the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the inner part of the lungs with any dust particles that avoided the defenses in the nose and airways. The air sacs are very important because through them, the body receives oxygen and releases carbon dioxide….Dust that reaches the sacs and the lower part of the airways where there are no cilia is attacked by special cells called macrophages. These are extremely important for the defense of the lungs. They keep the air sacs clean. Macrophages virtually swallow the particles. Then the macrophages, in a way which is not well understood, reach the part of the airways that is covered by cilia. The wavelike motions of the cilia move the macrophages which contain dust to the throat, where they are spat out or swallowed. Besides macrophages, the lungs have another system for the removal of dust. The lungs can react to the presence of germ-bearing particles by producing certain proteins. These proteins attach to particles to neutralize them.” [CCOHS 2019].

Organic and inorganic dusts may cause fibrosis by lung reaction. Organic dusts like mouldy, feathers, sludge, hair particles may cause farmer’s lung, bird fancier lung, sewage sludge and animal handler lung diseases. Inorganic dusts like asbestos, coal, iron and tin may cause asbestosis, pneumoconiosis, siderosis and stannosis dieases. Fibrosis means lungs plasticity, hard to breathe.

Nose is an efficient filter that removes large particles, yet small particles enter into windpipe where cilia removes smaller particles, but smallest particles reach air sacs to pass into blood streams. The fine particles entering through lungs and chemical contaminants entering with nutrients from stomach into blood are removed by liver. Thus liver and lungs clean blood and airways.

Liver cleans blood but presence of pollutants and contaminants can affect it. Large amounts of dust particles damage the fluid macrophages and cilia too. Air pollution may render the lungs dusty, called “pneumoconiosis”, leading to fibrosis. As result of constant exposure to high level air pollution lungs loose elasticity and become stiff which causes breathing issues.

Liver is the largest organ in our body. It cleans blood by taking toxin out, produces digestive liquid bile and stores energy in the form of glycogen. These toxins are produced during breakdown of meats and nuts. As soon as nutrients, minerals and vitamins from intestine enter into blood they first go to liver. It converts good stuff into form useful for other organs the rest is absorbed in bile to send back to intestine through kidneys into pee out of body.

Nanoparticles in air we breathe enter into our blood streams and accumulate at diseased parts of your arteries. These dust particles pose risk of heart disease and strokes. Long-term exposure to air pollution causes vascular damage and short-term high pollution exposure triggers heart attacks and strokes. These nanoparticles accumulate on fatty plagues inside arteries. WHO guidelines really do not protect us from nanoparticles in vehicle exhaust [Michael 2017].

Pollutants enter body through inhalation as well as skin. Our bodies act as big sponges for dust particles. Skin allow dust particles enter as well as toxins in body to come out. According to Tom Carberry, in case of heavy metal poisoning, doctors chelate heavy metals out of the body through the skin. We emphasize more global warming but nobody speaks the rich people on planet have polluted the environment with trillions tons of toxins [Janet 2015].

We know chemical pollutants like fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides enter into our body through water and food. Blood and urine tests can reveal air, water and food pollutants in your body. Liver does a lot for us but chronic exposure to copper, arsenic, or chromium in drinking water cause liver toxicity. Acute exposure to contaminants in drinking water can cause irritation or inflammation of the eyes and nose, skin, and gastrointestinal system [Yassi 2001].

These chemicals such as metals/metalloids, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), persistent organic pollutants (POPs), perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs), radioactive elements, electronic waste, plastics, and nanoparticles can contaminate our food—crops, livestock, and seafood—and drinking water [Lisa 2019].

Contamination pathway starts from industries – air, water, food and soil – through inhalation, contact and ingestion direct to humans or via livestock. Many food items, vegetables, fish and seafood, mediate contaminants to our stomachs [Silva 2016]. Occupational works may mediate ingestion of lead from hand into mouth contact. Skin cancer has been associated with long-term exposure to drinking water contaminated by arsenic, gastric cancer with lead contamination, and liver cancer with consumption of grain contaminated by mercury [Järup, 2003].

GM foods are a potent threat to food chain as “atoms for peace” were a potent destruction threat. United States of America has lifted ban on GM crops (Franken Food), yet Europe says no to GMO [William 2019]. Franken food is a term developed by consumer groups questioning the health and safety of genetically modified (GM) plants. It is not clear yet the WW-3 will be won by artificial intelligence armed robot, superpowers, GM humans or zombie type laggards using 5G technologies. These all future forces will not be affected by air pollutants, water and food contaminants certainly. Humans have imparted their intelligence to inanimate machines and cells to animals already [Tia 2013, David 2019].

Air pollution shortens children life expectancy by an average of 20 months that has the greatest impact on children in south Asia. Life expectancy may increase by one year in India and Pakistan by taking effective measures against air pollution. According to a study, “147 million years of healthy life were lost in 2017 globally due to air pollution... Despite state reforms to reduce pollution levels, China remains the country with the highest mortality rate due to air pollution, responsible for around 852,000 pollution-related deaths in 2017. Nearly half of the world's population is exposed to household air pollution—including an estimated 846 million people in India and 452 million in China.” [Physics 2019].

“Data from the UN health body shows that every day, 93 percent of children under the age of 15—a full 1.8 billion youngsters, including 630 million under the age of five—breath dangerously polluted air… "Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives.” Air pollution is stunting our children's brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected," warned Maria Neira, the head of the WHO's department of public health and environment. [WHO 2019].


IFPRI, India's stubble burning air pollution causes USD 30 billion economic losses, health risks, Eureka Alert: Public Release, 4 March 2019. https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/ifpr-isb030119.php

WHO: WHO Air Quality Guideline values, Accessed 27 July 2019.


Naeem A, S. Saleem, E Kalair, N Khan, Cooperative control of regional transboundary air pollutants, Environmental Systems Research, 8: 10. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40068-019-0138-0

Economist, could solar geoengineering counter global warming?, The Economist, 23 July 2019

Ahmed A, Air pollution killed over 1.2M in India in 2017: Study, AA, 3 April 2019. https://www.aa.com.tr/en/life/air-pollution-killed-over-12m-in-india-in-2017-study/1441430

CCOHS: What are the Effects of Dust on the Lungs?, Accessed 27 July 2019.


Michael LP, Pollution nanoparticles may enter your blood and cause disease, New Scientist, 26 April 2017. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2128923-pollution-nanoparticles-may-enter-your-blood-and-cause-disease/#ixzz5utoYErGx

Janet R, Air pollutants enter body through skin, Science News, 13 October 2015. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/air-pollutants-enter-body-through-skin

Yassi, A-L., T. Kjellstrom, T. deKok, and T. Guidotti. Basic Environmental Health. New York: Oxford University Press. 2001.

Lisa AT, Wageh SD, Environmental Chemical Contaminants in Food: Review of a Global Problem, Journal of Toxicology, 2345283, 2019. doi: 10.1155/2019/2345283

Silva da Araújo CF, Lopes MV, Vaz Ribeiro MR, Porcino TS, Vaz Ribeiro AS, Rodrigues JL, do Prado Oliveira SS, Menezes-Filho JA, Cadmium and lead in seafood from the Aratu Bay, Brazil and the human health risk assessment, Environ Monit Assess. 2016 Apr; 188(4):259.

Järup L, Review Hazards of heavy metal contamination, Br Med Bull. 2003; 68():167-82.

William B, "Atoms for Peace" Was Actually a “Threat to Peace” – AEC Official in 1955, National Archive, OCNUS.NET, Jul 21, 2019.

F. William Engdahl “Franken foods”: US FDA Lifts Ban on GMO “Franken salmon” Global Research 23 March 2019. https://www.globalresearch.ca/us-fda-lifts-ban-gmo-frankensalmon/5672412


Tia G, Intelligent Robots Will Overtake Humans by 2100, Experts Say, Live Science, 7 May 2013. https://www.livescience.com/29379-intelligent-robots-will-overtake-humans.html


David C, Japan approves first human-animal embryo experiments, Nature, 26 July 2019. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02275-3?utm_source=twt_nnc&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=naturenews&sf216478596=1


Physics, Children in South Asia hardest hit by air pollution, says study, Physics.Org, 3 April 2019. https://phys.org/news/2019-04-children-south-asia-hardest-air.html


WHO, Air pollution kills 600,000 children each year: WHO, 29 October 2019. https://phys.org/news/2018-10-air-pollution-children-year.html

Source:Ocnus.net 2019

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