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5 Ways To Protect Your Kids From Delhi's Toxic Air

12/05/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 11: A child takes precautions against air pollution as fire crackers add to the smog and air pollution on Diwali on November 11, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Air quality in the Capital deteriorated alarmingly on Diwali night as pollution levels spiked as much as 23 times higher than normal in arguably the most polluted spot of the city. Experts say these particulate matters which are way above the permissible limit are extremely dangerous for people suffering from asthma and other respiratory and cardiac problems, and also for children and the elderly. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

By Tina Chadha

Ask any Delhi resident these days to describe the city's summer weather and they will report "scorching hot" conditions, but for those who check their mobile weather app the current conditions reveal a more sinister story that goes well beyond the record-breaking heat. Dust. Smoke. Haze. These are the words one sees instead of the usual expected adjectives of "cloudy," "sunny" or "rainy" alongside temperatures reading in the 40s Celsius. The sky outside doesn't always reveal the entire story when it comes to the air we are breathing. Air that is often filled with tiny, dangerous particles that harm our health, particularly the most vulnerable--children and the elderly.

Declared the world's most polluted city by the World Health Organization in 2014, Delhi's air leaves a lot to be desired. There are plenty of villains in this air apocalypse: outdated fuel standards for our vehicles yield astronomical emissions; nearby factories, coal and gas plants sputter out toxic smoke; annual crop burning in neighbouring states is so massive in scale that NASA can track it from space; waste burning both inside our local colonies and massive landfills spews poisonous fumes every day.

[Children's] lungs are not fully developed until their late teens and they breathe more air per kilo of body weight. That means more harmful particles entering their body.

One thing has become apparent after two rounds of odd-even car rationing--it's going to take more than a two-week episode of limited car restrictions to clean up our air. And it's going to take a dedicated proactive strategy on an individual level to protect our family's health. To live in Delhi and guard your health "pollution control" is not a politician's PR campaign--it must be a personal mantra, a daily mind-set and regular habit. If it's not already, it certainly should be especially for those of us with young children.

When I first started talking to experts about air pollution, I learned an eye-opening fact: air pollution is not always visible. The sky does not always reveal whether the air outside is "good" or "bad." Tiny particles suspended in the air made of harmful materials can travel hundreds of miles before they settle and are ultimately inhaled, travelling deeply into our lungs and entering our blood stream. And children are more vulnerable. Their lungs are not fully developed until their late teens and they breathe more air per kilo of body weight. That means more harmful particles entering their lungs, bloodstream and wreaking havoc over the short and long term on their body.

My heart was shredded when my otherwise uber-healthy eight year old recently developed breathing difficulties and had to be started on inhalers.

As a mother to three young children, a professional and a person who loves to get off the sofa and get outside to move, Delhi's air concerns me. A lot. I go to sleep at night and wake up most mornings wondering what outdoor activities we should shorten or reschedule altogether. I think twice before opening the windows until I've checked my air quality apps to see what air I might be letting into my home. I wonder if it's just a coincidence that I have nearly year-round allergies and a dry cough after a four-decade-long allergy-free, healthy life. And my heart was shredded when my otherwise uber-healthy eight year old recently developed breathing difficulties and had to be started on inhalers.

Short of packing up and leaving town what is one to do? When faced with an obstacle we try to tackle it. Or so I was taught from childhood. There is always a solution. So I've tried to learn a lot about this health and environmental emergency facing India and many other countries too. Many solutions are beyond our reach as individual citizens. They require institutional changes by government and improvements to local infrastructure. But there are, thankfully, some things we can do. There are some short-term, interim measures we can take to help safeguard our health, and the health of our children, from air pollution.

Avoid aerobic activity during the "bad" air times. That typically means early morning and late afternoon and evenings.

So how can we protect our little ones from taking the brunt of the bad air in our city? Well for starters, keep a few things in mind:

1) Check the readings. Download real-time air-quality apps to monitor hourly readings and even see forecasts for the next day. Check out: http://safar.tropmet.res.in/ or http://aqicn.org/city/delhi/r.k.-puram/

2) Avoid aerobic activity during the "bad" air times. That typically means early morning and late afternoon and evenings. Talk to the coach about moving the children's cricket, tennis or football practice to late morning timings. Perhaps on weekends and school holidays a midday indoor AC environment is possible. Try ice skating, for example, at the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon for better air while also getting a break from the searing heat.

3) Talk to your child's school. Ask them to monitor air quality both inside the class room and outside. Then encourage them to adjust outdoor sports and activities to help limit exposure during the bad air times. Ask them to create "idle-free zones" on the streets outside the school gates to reduce "pollution hot spots" in the places where the children walk and wait on a daily basis.

4) Look into buying a high-quality face mask for your child. These can filter out dangerous airborne particles. Look for either N95 or N99 rated masks and be sure the fit is secure with no outside gaps to let outside air in. The gap would negate the positive benefit and protection from the mask by allowing pollutant particles back in.

5) Consider an indoor HEPA air filter for your home, specifically for your child's bedroom. This would ensure 8-10 hours of sleeping time with cleaner air for your little one. There are some great options on the market from the affordable SmartAir filter at ₹3,000 to the pricier options from Smart and BlueAir. Best to look for air-cleaning devices with HEPA filters, the only ones that can remove PM 2.5 particles from the air.

For Tina's tips for how to have cleaner air at home click here

For more information on Delhi pollution and how it affects you and your family, click here.

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