Air Pollution: Does Height Matter?

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
Photo credit: R Dwivedi/ CNS
Well the answer is yes-- the closer you are to the ground the more efficient is the inhalation of heavier airborne chemicals. Children are more vulnerable to the health hazards of these pollutants. Besides breathing a greater volume of air than adults relative to their body size, children being small and closer to the ground (as compared to adults) breathe in more of the heavier airborne chemicals than adults. They also have a higher heart rate, which allows substances that are absorbed into the blood to permeate tissues faster.

Dr Nyesigire, a Pediatric Specialist at the Mbabane Government Hospital concedes that there has been an increase in upper respiratory tract complications in children in Swaziland. However, according to him, a high incidence of HIV infection in children makes them more susceptible to TB. In his opinion, “General lifestyle changes in today’s younger generation including physical inactivity resulting in obesity, early sexual engagement with generally older generation exposing them to HIV infection and weak supportive diets have contributed more to lung health complications than general air pollution. However, not having a large number of cases does not necessarily mean they do not exist.”

As Dr Gan Quan of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), points out clearly, there are two main sources of indoor air pollution-- secondhand cigarette smoke and particulates from use of biomass fuels. Understanding the extensive impact of indoor pollution, he emphasizes upon taking preventive measures—“ To prevent exposure to secondhand smoke, smokers should not smoke inside or in front of non-smokers (children in this case). Particulate exposure from biomass fuels can be avoided through upgrading to more efficient fuels such as natural gas. Also good ventilation practices at home and in hospitals, can help minimize indoor pollution.”

In Swaziland, the challenge with biomass fuels is quite minimal considering the wide coverage of electrification projects in the country by the Swaziland Electricity Company.  However, prevention of exposure to secondhand smoke is still critical. While some smoke free zones, particularly in congested areas, have been established, there is minimal communication on minimizing indoor pollution from cigarette smoke at home and community level.

Dr Quan cautions that, “The tobacco industry has had its eyes on the African continent, where smoking rates in many countries remains low, which means much room for growth of the cigarette market. One piece of advice I would offer is that measures should be put into place to restrict the advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco companies. As a tobacco-growing nation, people generally might be more sympathetic to the tobacco industry and are more likely to take tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship for granted.”

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
30 August 2014