Bengaluru: Government schemes aimed at curbing household pollution could alone help prevent as many as 2.7 lakh premature deaths every year, without additional measures such as traffic restrictions, a study led by IIT-Delhi researchers has found.
According to the study, if household pollution is omitted completely, an additional 18.7 crore people would be breathing in air compatible with the Indian annual air-quality standard — taking the total population enjoying the luxury to 58.5 crore.
The results, however, do not apply to heavily-polluted cities such as Delhi, and pertain to areas where the use of coal- and wood-fired stoves and kerosene lamps contributes to pollution.
The study, conducted by a team from the IIT-Delhi Centre of Atmospheric Sciences, in collaboration with the School of Public Health at University of California Berkeley and the Delhi-based pollution research agency Urban Emissions, was published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
It dwells on the impact of government schemes such as Ujjwala, which envisages the replacement of solid cooking fuels such as coal with LPG in all households, and Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Jyoti Yojana, for rural electrification, on curbing overall pollution, not just within households.
“We wanted to see what the health benefit from reduction in ambient air pollution would be if these schemes are implemented successfully,” study co-author Sagnik Dey of the IIT-Delhi Centre for Atmospheric Sciences told ThePrint.
The enemy inside
Multiple reports have suggested that the rise in particulate matter linked to household-related activities is nearly as lethal a cause of pollution as the usual suspects such as vehicular and industrial emissions.
“There is no doubt that air pollution has become the biggest environmental risk in India with a very large health burden,” Dey said.
“As much as 77 per cent of the Indian population is exposed to polluted air that does not meet the Indian standard, which is already four times higher than WHO standard.”
Household air pollution (HAP)
According to a World Health Organisation report released late last year, as many as 98 per cent of children in India live in unsafe pollution level, with the toxic air stalking them inside their homes as well.
Household air pollution (HAP) is a common symptom of developing nations like India where biomass fuel like coal, wood and kerosene are used in large quantities everyday to power household items including lamps.
As of 2017, according to the “State of Global Air 2019” study quoted in the PNAS research, 60 per cent of India’s population was exposed to household air pollution in 2017.
Air quality might be affected by many different types of contributors, but the most common indicator of pollution is the amount of particulate matter in the air we breathe. The most common of these measures are particulate matters of sizes 2.5 micrometres/microns and 10 microns, called PM 2.5 and PM 10, respectively.
PM10 are particles like dust and pollen, while PM2.5 are produced by emissions from vehicles as well as indoor fuel. PM2.5 particles are deadlier as, being smaller, they can enter lungs and the blood stream much more easily.
The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (2016) intends to provide 8 crore “below poverty level” households with LPG connections by 2019. According to the latest data from January, about 75 per cent of the planned LPG connections had been dispersed by January 2019.
The Deen Dayal Upadhyay Grameen Jyoti Yojana, launched in 2014, claimed 100 per cent rural electrification in May 2018, though with the caveat that a village is considered electrified if 10 per cent of the households have electricity.
According to the researchers, there are four main factors that contribute to household air pollution. In the order of decreasing contribution, they are, biomass for cooking, space- and water-heating, and kerosene for indoor lighting.
The study envisaged seven scenarios where the use of each of these pollutants was decreased by varying degrees. Acknowledging that 100 per cent success for any scheme in a country as “socioeconomically and behaviourally diverse” as India was not possible, they lay out three “realistic scenarios”: a) the first “assumes that 75 per cent of all emission from residential cooking and lighting and 50 per cent of all emission from space- and water heating in a district are eliminated”, b) a moderate scenario “where 50 per cent of the residential cooking and lighting are phased out and 25 per cent of space- and water heating are eliminated”, and c) slow progress, “which assumes that 25 per cent of all emissions from residential cooking and lighting are mitigated and the government fails to devise any policy for mitigating space heating and water heating”.
“Complete success in implementation of any social scheme is a challenge due to multiple factors,” Dey told ThePrint, “So we also wanted to see what the benefits are for intermediate success using multiple scenarios.”
While an ideal implementation of the schemes — that means, 100 per cent coverage — could help avert 13 per cent of India’s premature mortality burden, the study found, scenarios A and B could register a decline ranging from 5-8 per cent, with PM2.5 exposure falling from 13 to 21 per cent.
“Triple health benefits are expected from reduction in household emissions,” said Dey.
“Firstly, reduction in household exposure everywhere would lead to reduced health burden. Second, reduction in ambient exposure is expected at larger spatial scale in the highly polluted Gangetic Plain where districts would come under touching distance of meeting Indian annual air quality standard.”
“Thirdly, since both ambient and household exposure would reduce, background disease rates are also expected to reduce,” he added.