LAHORE: The public health experts have warned that nine out of 10 people breathe air that exceeds World Health Organization (WHO) guideline limits for pollutants, with low-and middle-income countries, including Pakistan suffering the most.

Addressing a workshop on effects of the smog here in Lahore, General Cadre Doctors Association President Dr Masood Sheikh said around seven million people per year die of air pollution worldwide.

Quoting a report of the WHO, he said, 4.2m out of 7m people die of exposure to ambient air pollution including smog.

Dr Sheikh said they are at greater risk of lung damage by smog and can even end up in reactivation of tuberculosis.

He said the effects of smog on living organisms will not only harm human and animal health but will also affect the entire environment. Various geographical conditions, global temperature changes, and environmental variations all have an impact on human health and the environment, including animal life.

The smog refers to a mixture of smoke particles and solid and liquid fog. It is usually visible as a blackish or yellowish fog that stays suspended in the atmosphere. It is a kind of air pollution and poses serious environmental and health issues in many areas across the globe.

Dr Sheikh said high levels of ozone in smog irritate the respiratory system, leading to wheezing and coughing. “Smog triggers asthma attacks and severely worsens asthmatic conditions leading to wheezing attacks, chest tightness, shortness of breath”, he said.

Continuous smog exposure increases the chances of premature death from respiratory ailments and cancers. Smog results in higher incidence of allergies, coughing and irritation in chest, eyes, throat and nose.

After exposure, the affected individuals generally suffer from these effects for a few days.

“But, the particles present in smog keep damaging the lungs even after the irritations go away”, Dr Masood Sheikh said. Dr Fatima Majeed, a public health consultant, said industries and vehicles are the biggest contributors to smog-forming pollutants.

Therefore, the best method of reducing smog is to manage gaseous emissions from industries and cars, she said.

“It is fundamental for industries to use renewable energy sources and manufacture environment-friendly consumer products”, Dr Fatima said.

Dr Rana Rafique said due to smog exposure, pregnant women can give birth to babies with birth defects and low birth weight.

He said even exposure to smog particulate matter measuring as low as 5 µg can pose risks of extremely low birth weights at the time of delivery.

Smog exposure leads to some severe birth defects in newborns, Dr Rafique said adding that these include spina bifida, which is a condition depicting spinal column malfunctions.

It also results in anencephaly that refers to a formation defect of a baby’s neural tube during development. The baby is born with an incomplete skull and an underdeveloped brain in this condition.

Dr Asad Abbas Shah said various lung conditions occur due to the harmful effects of smog.

He said these include bronchitis, and pneumonia. “This is because smog causes damage to the lining of the lungs and also makes it difficult for individuals to breathe properly”, Dr Shah said.

Lung damage can further lead to several complicated health conditions like –Tuberculosis, ARDS (Acute respiratory distress syndrome).

Dr Shahbaz said the use of environment-friendly consumer products like eco-friendly sprays, paper, paints, plastics and solvents could help address smog pollution.

He suggested that the individuals can replace energy-intensive devices with energy-efficient ones to reduce energy demand and thus lower the problem of smog.

They must also refrain from discarding packages of products as it exacerbates potential air and smog pollution, he said.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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