#fossil fuels #health

The Quest For Clean Air

Air pollution is costing lives. Too many of us are breathing dirty, toxic air and facing its direct consequences.

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It takes more than just having breakfast to keep you healthy. If you didn’t live in a countryside far away from the industries, then know this: the air you’re breathing is toxic air.

For a city girl like me, It’s usual business to be stuck in a nearly hour long start-stop traffic behind smoke-belching automobiles during my auto ride to and back from work. As I patiently count along with the signal timer (123, 122, 120..), the choking diesel aroma drifts quietly into my lungs and I think to myself: This will pass – when the traffic jam will be out of my sight, the pollution will be out of my lungs.

traffic scenes

But no, on my way, I make a turn onto a highway and see myself riding straight into another light brown haze. No surprise, I pass through here everyday. Heaps of sand,  cement, construction debris and dug up holes make themselves known. I guess sometimes engineers forget they dug holes and some other times they forget why they dug them. So, even as I maneuver through this scene every day, I think: this too will pass.

commutes on auto rickshaws

Now, it’s only a few more turns until I reach my destination. The biggest hurdle is yet to be crossed. A historical monument (open garbage dumping site for the last 10 years). For now, it’s more than just a garbage dump site. It’s burning and spewing dark smoke for meters. Although for a brief moment I feel choking and sickness in my stomach, I move through the thick black fumes, and think: gosh! when will this pass?

Garbage burning

I cry a sigh of relief as I almost reach work. Only a few more minutes until I reach the the heights of the tall building and I suddenly remember I’m almost running late for a meeting.

As I walk straight into the meeting room that has its windows opened – the winds of polluted air I just thought I passed, blows right in. And I can smell it in the air.

A deadly cocktail of polluted air sweeps in and I think: this will not pass! There is no fleeing away from this.

As I sat in the meeting gaping at the open windows in the room, I knew that this time the concoction I was breathing belonged to the wild agricultural waste burning on one side and another one of the largest and most lethal sources of SO2 and NO2 invisible to the sight of most urban residents- coal based Thermal Power Plants that hide behind the borders of the city.

smoke from thermal power plants

I realised then that the air I breathe is beyond what meets the eye. Beyond just vehicular pollution.  The results of intense urbanization, density of cars, and the practice of burning waste contribute to the yellow haze over our cities. But what we see is only one side of the story of air pollution. Some criminals lie out of sight of many urban Indians.

Know what you breathe.

Grace Saji works as a Content Developer in Greenpeace India