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Doctor Warns of Health Risks of Breathing Mumbai Air as if Smoking 1,000 Cigarettes in a Short Time

Respiratory illnesses are being seen among young people too.

New Delhi:

With the pollution in Delhi and its surrounding areas hogging the limelight, the air quality in Mumbai has been flying under the radar nationally. But the situation in the country’s financial capital is so bad that not only was it among the world’s most polluted cities on Sunday, but a hospital had to also set up a special Intensive Respiratory Care Unit to attend to patients with respiratory issues.

This is despite the city’s geographical advantage of being located on the coast and being surrounded by water on three sides, which leads to strong winds blowing away most of the pollutants in the air. 

/indidna visited the special respiratory ICU started by Global Hospitals in Central Mumbai’s Parel and found that cases of patients with respiratory problems have doubled in the past six months. 

We also went to a construction site at one of the Maharashtra government’s flagship projects, the coastal road, and found the civic body, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, violating its own guidelines aimed at combating pollution.

Special ICU

Dr Prashant Borade, Director, Department of Critical Care, Global Hospitals said that, in the past few months, they have been seeing patients who are reporting breathlessness even after getting cured of a lung infection. These patients are then diagnosed with inflammation in their lungs or hyperacute airway diseases.

Nearly 50%, or one in two, of all patients with such symptoms who are visiting the Outpatient Department are having to be admitted for at least one or two days. Almost 30% are needing admission to the ICU, he said, adding that cases of lung cancer are also rising. 

These cases have gone up since Covid hit and Dr Borade attributed the rise partly to viruses becoming more virulent and causing long-term problems in the lungs. 

“Apart from that, the other cause is air pollution. The Air Quality Index is increasing every day and so is particulate matter of less than 10 microns. These particles enter the lungs. If they are over 10 microns, they may get filtered at the nose level or airway level, but those under 10 microns don’t, and cause these problems,” he said.

The doctor said the hospital has seen a 100% increase in patients with respiratory illnesses. Patients with chronic respiratory illnesses are getting worse and even those without them are going to the hospital with hyperacute airway diseases.

“The symptoms of such airway diseases are breathlessness, wheezing and chronic cough, which doesn’t go away even when they are given antibiotics. It looks like asthma but it may or may not be asthma… We have to give inhalers and some patients even need steroids. Pollution reduces the immunity of the lungs,” he said.

In an alarming statement, Mr Borade said he is seeing such symptoms in young patients too, and many of them have to be admitted to the ICU. He also said the polluted air may be leading to heart diseases and heart attacks over the long term. Lung cancer cases have also gone up slightly.

“Inhaling this polluted air is like smoking 1,000 cigarettes in a short span of time. This is going to get worse after Diwali. This is despite the government taking several measures to curb the bursting of firecrackers. Air pollution also goes up during the winter and that is one of the reasons we have opened this special ICU,” he said.

Mr Borade also said that a tuberculosis patient who had been discharged and had been improving has had to get treatment again, and said the pollution may be a cause of this.

What Can You Do?

The doctor said it is imperative for patients with chronic lung conditions like bronchitis, asthma or lung damage to wear masks when they are stepping out. This is also true, he said, for the immunosuppressed, like the elderly and those with diabetes and cancer. He also advised against evening walks and said people should opt for an early morning walk in places with greenery instead.

Construction Violations

/indidna also visited a construction site of the flagship 29.5-km coastal road project – which will stretch from Marine Lines in the south to Kandivali in the north – and found the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation flouting its own pollution guidelines. The civic body had, incidentally, issued over 400 notices for violating these guidelines in a single day last week.

The guidelines, which were framed in October and were emphasised by the Bombay High Court on Monday, stipulate that construction sites should not leave material uncovered and not transport it without a tarpaulin cover. Projects exceeding one acre must also have a 35-foot-high barricade, while those under one acre should have a 25-foot-high barricade. Water sprinklers must also be used to prevent dust spreading in the air and adding to the particulate matter. 

At the construction site in Haji Ali, /indidna found almost all of these guidelines being violated. Construction material was kept in the open, no sprinklers were used, and the barricading was only seven feet high. 

The average AQI in Mumbai was around the 200 mark on Tuesday, while the figure was above 400 for Delhi.

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