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Reviews on Environmental Health

Editor-in-Chief: Carpenter, David O. / Sly, Peter

Editorial Board: Brugge, Doug / Edwards, John W. / Field, R.William / Garbisu, Carlos / Hales, Simon / Horowitz, Michal / Lawrence, Roderick / Maibach, H.I. / Shaw, Susan / Tao, Shu / Tchounwou, Paul B.

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Volume 33, Issue 1


Air pollution and public health: the challenges for Delhi, India

Arun Kumar Sharma
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, Dilshad Garden, Delhi 110 095, India
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Palak Baliyan / Prashant Kumar
  • Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 7XH, UK
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2017-12-21 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2017-0032


Mitigating the impact of pollution on human health worldwide is important to limit the morbidity and mortality arising from exposure to its effect. The level and type of pollutants vary in different urban and rural settings. Here, we explored the extent of air pollution and its impacts on human health in the megacity of Delhi (India) through a review of the published literature. The study aims at describing the extent of air pollution in Delhi, the magnitude of health problems due to air pollution and the risk relationship between air pollution and associated health effects. We found 234 published articles in the PubMed search. The search showed that the extent of air pollution in Delhi has been described by various researchers from about 1986 onwards. We synthesized the findings and discuss them at length with respect to reported values, their possible interpretations and any limitations of the methodology. The chemical composition of ambient air pollution is also discussed. Further, we discuss the magnitude of health problem with respect to chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), bronchial asthma and other illnesses. The results of the literature search showed that data has been collected in last 28 years on ambient air quality in Delhi, though it lacks a scientific continuity, consistency of locations and variations in parameters chosen for reporting. As a result, it is difficult to construct a spatiotemporal picture of the air pollution status in Delhi over time. The number of sites from where data have been collected varied widely across studies and methods used for data collection is also non-uniform. Even the parameters studied are varied, as some studies focused on particulate matter ≤10 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM10) and those ≤2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5), and others on suspended particulate matter (SPM) and respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM). Similarly, the locations of data collection have varied widely. Some of the sites were at busy traffic intersections, some on the terraces of offices and residential houses and others in university campuses or airports. As a result, the key question of the extent of pollution and its distribution across various parts of the city could be inferred. None of the studies or a combination of them could present a complete picture of the burden of diseases like COPD, bronchial asthma and other allergic conditions attributable to pollution in Delhi. Neither could it be established what fraction of the burden of the above diseases is attributable to ambient air pollution, given that other factors like tobacco smoke and indoor air pollution are also contributors to the causation of such diseases. In our discussion, we highlight the knowledge gaps and in the conclusion, we suggested what research can be undertaken to fill the these research gaps.

Keywords: air pollution; chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases; pollution exposure


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About the article

Corresponding author: Dr. Arun Kumar Sharma, Department of Community Medicine, University College of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, Dilshad Garden, Delhi 110 095, India, Phone: +91 9811339344

Received: 2017-09-14

Accepted: 2017-11-11

Published Online: 2017-12-21

Published in Print: 2018-03-28

Author Statement

Research funding: Prashant Kumar acknowledges the support received by the Natural Environmental Research Council (grant number NE/P016510/1) through the project – An Integrated Study of Air Pollutant Sources in the Delhi National Capital Region (ASAP-Delhi) – under the UK-India NERC-MOES Program on Air Quality and Health in Megacity Delhi. Conflict of interest: Authors state no conflict of interest. Informed consent: Informed consent is not applicable. Ethical approval: The conducted research is not related to either human or animal use.

Citation Information: Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 33, Issue 1, Pages 77–86, ISSN (Online) 2191-0308, ISSN (Print) 0048-7554, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2017-0032.

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