Delhi pollution: Children are inhaling 'cigarette-like air' the moment they are born

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaUpdated: Nov 15, 2017, 09:42 AM IST

The deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR means that babies in the region are inhaling a cigarette the moment they are born. Photograph:(WION Web Team)

The deteriorating air quality in Delhi-NCR means that babies in the region are inhaling a cigarette the moment they are born.

"The first breath a child takes after birth makes him an 'infant smoker’. All of us are so-called non-smokers because we are already inhaling so much of polluted air,” said Dr Arvind Kumar, an oncologist.

Parents often choose an auspicious day for the birth of their child, and often plan it along with their doctors. But in Delhi-NCR, that day is governed by levels of pollution.

Doctors say couples who have to undergo caesarean delivery, often request them to plan the surgery on days when there is no, or very less pollution. This demand shot up manifold during Diwali last month when air pollution levels were extremely high.

“Pollution levels were off the charts during Diwali season, so we asked the doctor to delay the surgery. We are being extra cautious since the time the baby has come home. We’ve bought air purifiers, sealed our windows,” said Vijaya Saxena whose granddaughter was born just a week ago.

Doctors say when a baby born in Delhi-NCR takes the first breath, he/she inhales toxic smog equivalent to 10-12 cigarettes.

“We bought an air purifier before the birth of our daughter because there is so much pollution that children’s lungs are not developed properly. Earlier, people used to buy clothes before the birth of a child, now that is replaced with air purifier,” said Deepa Gupta, mother of an infant daughter.

Children inhale double the amount of air an adult does. So they are at higher risk of developing respiratory problems. According to UNICEF, the biggest cause of infant mortality is pneumonia which is directly linked to air pollution.

“Children who are growing in a polluted environment, there lung capacity is reduced. And there are high chances that he will develop asthma," said Dr Ankit Parakh, child lung specialist.

A research done by Berkeley Earth in China in the year 2015 showed that people are inhaling smoke equivalent to 1.5 cigarettes. In contrast, an Indian inhaled smoke equivalent to 25 cigarettes.

The pollutant which has emerged as the most lethal killer in the polluted air is PM2.5, the particulate matter which is linked to most of the respiratory issues. PM 2.5 is nasty because it can get stuck in the lungs and cause or aggravate asthma and other long-term health problems.

WHO guidelines call for no more than 10 micrograms of PM 2.5 per cubic metre of air. In most parts of Delhi today, the level is close to 400 calling for urgent need to take steps to immediately curb pollution.