India's Air Pollution is So Bad it's Causing Lung Damage in Kids

By Alissa Walker on at

The deadly heatwave that swept through India this week has melted streets with its searing 48-degree temperatures. But it’s also making life even worse for its cities’ most vulnerable residents—the millions of Indian children suffering from lung damage due to the toxic urban air.

As a country, India has a number of converging factors which contribute to poor air quality: booming industrialisation, exceptionally crowded cities, unchecked vehicle regulations, and the widespread burning of trash. But exactly how dangerous is India’s air for kids? This weekend’s New York Times points to a study that tracked the health of 11,000 Indian children aged 4 to 17 for three years:

This unprecedented study, by the Kolkata-based Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI), found that key indicators of respiratory health, lung function to palpitation, vision to blood pressure, children in Delhi, between four and 17 years of age, were worse off than their counterparts elsewhere — the figures were twice to four times as bad.

How bad? Here are the numbers:

  • In lung tests conducted on 5,718 students, 43.5% suffered from “poor or restrictive lungs”
  • About 15% of the children surveyed complained of frequent eye irritation, 27.4% of frequent headache, 11.2% of nausea, 7.2% of palpitation and 12.9% of fatigue.
  • Delhi’s numbers were far higher than that among the control group of 4,536 students selected from 17 schools spread across the “much less polluted” rural areas of Uttaranchal and West Bengal.

The conclusion was nothing less than devastating: About half of the 4.4 million children who live in Delhi have irreversible lung damage.

While the smog in China’s booming megacities receives constant press, in truth, the air in India is far worse. According to a World Health Organisation ranking that measures air quality, 13 of the 25 cities worldwide with the highest concentration of particulate matter are in India. Delhi’s air is twice as bad as Beijing’s.

The writer of the New York Times story, Gardiner Harris, provides a frightening personal twist on the data: After moving his family to India, his own son suddenly developed asthma and doctors later discovered that he had lost half of his lung capacity. This not only makes his son more likely to develop other diseases, it will probably shorten his lifespan.

When Harris went looking for medical counsel concerning his son, one researcher provided simple advice: “If you have the option to live elsewhere, you should not raise children in Delhi.”

[Indian Express via New York Times]

Top image via Indian Express