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In another proof that worsening air quality in Indian cities is affecting people’s health, a study has found that Indians have 30% lower lung function as compared to Europeans. Things could get worse if immediate steps are not taken to curb vehicular emission, doctors warned.

The study was conducted on 10,000 healthy, non-smoking individuals in Pune, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kashmir. "We measured the Peak Expiratory Flow Rate (PEFR), the rate at which a person exhales, to assess lung function. North Indians fared slightly better than South Indians but overall the results were appalling – we found that lung function in Indians was 30% lower than Europeans," said Dr Sundeep Salvi, director of Pune-based Chest Research Foundation, who led the study.

Similarly alarming results were seen in an international study on lung function in 17 countries, including India, by Canadian researchers.

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Indians were found to have the worst lungs in the study which measured the volume of air exhaled one second after a forceful exhalation. The test is called forced expiratory volume (FEV).Air pollution is the main reason for worsening lung health of India, according to Dr Sundeep Salvi, director of Pune-based Chest Research Foundation. "The number of motor vehicles, a major contributor to air pollution, in India has gone up from 37.2 million in 1997 to 100 million in 2012. In 1951, there were just 0.3 million motor vehicles," he said.

"Even cars and buses running on CNG, which is touted as a green fuel, release ultra fine particles (less than 10 microns in diameter). These can enter directly into the lungs and other organs and probably causes more harm," Salvi said.

Dr Randeep Guleria of AIIMS’ department of pulmonary medicine said lung health in metros has deteriorated sharply. "We are seeing a sharp increase in cases of chronic bronchitis, allergies, persistent cough and inflammation of airways in the last few years." Dr Guleria said when pollution levels peak, such as on Diwali, the number of emergency admissions for respiratory problems and heart attack increases sharply. "People who smoke are at double risk. Many smokers – aged between 25 to 30 years – who come to us with respiratory diseases have lung function equal to that of a 70-year-old," he added. As per the 2010 global burden of disease report, outdoor air pollution caused more than 6,20,000 premature deaths in India and nearly 18 million healthy years of life were lost that year.

Gaurav Bansal, a researcher at International Council on Clean Transportation’s (ICCT) India team said apart from improving public transport, policy instruments to reduce carbon content in fuels are required to improve air quality. "New vehicle emission standards (Euro V/ VI and/or US Tier II/III) must be adopted in India too," he said.

BREATHING UNEASY A study conducted across 10,000 Indians found that the main cause of worsening lung health in the country was air pollution

Times of India
02 September 2013, New Delhi.

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